One year ago today, I ran into your dad in Wegmans parking lot. He was going into the store as I was coming out. Your dad commented, “You’re particularly smiley today!” so I shared with him that it was my birthday. As he wished me a happy birthday, he reached into his pocket, pulled out his wallet, and tried to hand me a $20 dollar bill. I refused it. He responded—with great patience—that I could either accept it graciously and go back into Wegmans and buy a nice bottle of wine to celebrate my birthday OR I could stand there in the parking lot and argue with him which, he explained, was “NOT the right choice” and "You will lose." I laughed, accepted the $20 graciously, and bought that bottle of wine. Today, one year later, I bought a good bottle of wine to celebrate my birthday AND to celebrate your dad. His kindness, his humor, his love, and his delight in celebrating with a good bottle of wine.
When my dad passed, the world as I knew it shifted. The weighted center, the gravitational pull of the earth was different. I didn’t know what the world would be like without my dad in it. What I found was that what he left behind was more solid than I thought. I don’t know much, but I do know that the love that your dad left behind is solid. And you will lean on it, and carry it, and stand on it, and pass it on. You--all of you--were blessed and so was he. I love you all.
Thirty eight years ago, Dr. Melander took me to dinner at the Tavern and my life was influenced forever. I was an eighteen year old tap dancing college student who was the wide-eyed, ever practical friend of his daughter. He managed to find me on campus regularly to visit (and subtly check-up on Leigh).
Through his gentle encouragement, upon graduation I spent the next twenty years in academic publishing where I intersected with Dr. Melandar regularly. He was always on the bleeding edge of innovation in higher education. He and I both attended the first Educause conference that lead the wave for education technology in higher education. I remember him explaining the changes he envisioned for “correspondence courses" that then became distant learning and now as virtual online learning. He believed in MOOCs before anyone imagined them.
He encouraged me to follow my dream and leave the traditional publishing world and start my own venture. For the last eighteen years, I have worked with education entrepreneurs who have developed innovations in education and need help in commercializing and scaling. I’ve worked with many brilliant university professors whose work had far greater impact due to our involvement.
At the heart of all was Geno and for that I'm eternally grateful.
I'm writing this note today in Italy where we took my parents to celebrate their 60th wedding anniversary in their hometown they left over 65 years ago. It would make Geno smile to know I was reflecting on his contributions over an espresso and elegant pastry.
Most people would say they are indebted to their parents for giving them life; for that old seed and egg that made them. Me? I’ve always said I’m grateful to Geno Melander.
I wasn’t yet born when Geno came into my life, so I can’t really tell you exactly how it happened. My father emigrated from Egypt in 1953 and became a “lousy half-time instructor” at the University of Minnesota. Geno, too, was a lousy half-time instructor at the University of Minnesota. One day, while passing in the hall or sharing an office or escaping a faculty meeting, they must have struck up a conversation that impressed them both because it lasted consistently until 2015 when my father passed away. 62 years. That’s a lot of talking. That’s what they did. And they loved it. My father referred to Geno as his “very best friend” and several people have told me that Geno consider my father his “very best friend”, a phrase I usually attribute to 12 year-old girls.
A couple of years into this life-long conversation, Geno introduced my father to the woman who became my mother. My father’s very odd pick-up line was, “Oh, I see you have big eyes, too”. I can’t imagine that old seed and egg would have found one another if it hadn’t been for Geno Melander. And so, I credit him with my very existence. Geno was my father’s Best Man and Jackie was my mother’s Matron of Honor at their four-person courthouse wedding on October 4th 1957.
Later on, Geno and his family moved to Pennsylvania. He and my father did the best they could to conduct a long distance love affair in an era when making phone calls across state lines came with a per-minute price tag that prohibited these two men who were raising young families on professors’ salaries from talking as much as they would have liked to. They wrote letters, a few of which I found in my father’s files after he died. I can’t decide if they were serious men who preferred being funny or funny men who preferred being serious. If they had been funny men who preferred being funny they could have given Mel Brooks and Carl Reiner a run for their money back in the days of early television. But if they had, then tens of thousands of college students in Minnesota and Pennsylvania would not have had their lives influenced so positively or profoundly by these two towering, confident, and curious academics.
I have only a few vague impressions of the Melanders during my life. A trip to Sandwich, Cape Cod. A night at their home in State College during an Eastern road trip. Geno and Jackie made the long drive from their home to Philadelphia in 2005 to see a film festival screening of my film, Sweet Land. They traveled to Minnesota in 2015, just a few months before my dad died for one last big talk. My point is I probably spent a grand total of 20 hours with Geno in my entire life, yet he is with me always.
Especially his wet index finger on my bare belly.
It happened during a gathering at my parents house on Minnehaha Parkway. I know I was older than ten, because that’s when we moved into that house. And I was probably younger than 12 because I remember spending that evening in the basement with the younger kids playing board games, eating pizza rolls, and drinking Kool-Aid. I temporarily escaped upstairs, maybe in search of better food or a caramel-colored soda.
Geno called me over. He was in a suit and tie, a yellow tie. He was sitting by the fireplace on my parents’ couch that was upholstered in bold red and blue, based on an early American floral pattern. He started to tell me a story and then, in front of the large gathering of professors and wives, he told me to lift up my shirt. I did, because it was Geno. He wet his index finger. Not licked it, but soaked it in his mouth. Then he used it to draw moist, saliva hieroglyphics and figurines on my skin to accompany his story. The face of a man - he had big eyes. A boat. Waves on the ocean. A lawn in need of trimming. A woman cooking. All in saliva.
I have no exact recollection of what the story was about. Maybe there was a punchline at the end, making me think it actually might have been a joke Geno was telling me; a joke he’d told to countless others, to any kid would lift up their shirt. But in my memory it remains a kind of magical, illustrated biography; Geno’s interpretation of the events surrounding my parents and the family they made together. And I remember the feeling of those drawings on my belly as though Antoine de Saint-Exupéry was drawing the original images of The Little Prince by pressing his DNA into mine.
I’m sure Jackie or one of her daughters can replace my memory with actual facts. But I hope they don’t. I like my memories of Geno. And while I know his family and friends will miss him terribly now that he’s gone, I can’t say that for myself. Not in those terms, at least. Geno is not missed; he is today what he has always been for me: essential and mystical and present.
Nearly 50 years of memories with Gene. When did it begin? In October 1973, I was in my office at the University of Delaware. I had just accepted an offer to return to Penn State in January 1974 as assistant dean in the College of the Liberal Arts. My secretary came into my office and said that I had a call from a Dr. Melander at Penn State. I took the call. It was the first of many calls--and they were always lengthy encounters. About 1.5 hours into my call with Dr. Melander, I broke into the conversation and reported that I had a meeting to attend, and was there a specific question he would like to ask me. He replied, saying, "would you be willing to serve as a member of the newly formed Bachelor of Philosophy Program". I replied I would. The call ended, and I attended my meeting. As the years passed, I had many such telephone conversations with Dr. Melander. Lovingly, I renamed the man--he was Dr. Eugene Meander. I always loved the conversations, especially as they meandered over the landscape of thought. The conversations roamed everywhere!
Fast forward through the years, and this fellow--a great friend, mentor, connoisseur of fine wines and culinary delights, ideas and philosophy--becomes, along with Jackie, a wonderful family friend of the Romano clan, my wife Stephany, and our two children, Alexandria and Bradley. I don't recall how many dinners we all enjoyed--but they were always wonderful encounters in everyone of the past five decades. As the years past, it became abundantly clear to me, that this Minnesota born Swede, with some claim to lutefisk, was an Italian Wannabe--he savored the food, the culture, the people, everything Italian. As the years past and our conversations blossomed more deeply into Italian culture and civilization, once again, it was time to address his name, and he was renamed, lovingly, of course, GEEE-NO! Melandini. To him, I was Giovanni.
He was also my personal librarian. He recommended books of all kinds--Italian cookbooks, Italian novels, books on philosophy, culture and on and on. I read all of his recommendations. But he not only recommended the titles--the actual books arrived in the mail. Only two weeks before his unexpected departure, two more books arrived in the mail from GEEE-NO! The last one entitled, "I Am God", by Giacomo Sartori. I suspect, that is where he is, counseling God and others nearby.
His was a life richly lived. I miss him greatly.
Geno was a neighbor and very dear beloved friend of my mother Silvi Lawrence. I had wonderful opportunities to spend time with him and Jackie on multiple occasions. The first time was at my mothers home and besides the bottles of champagne and chocolates they also came with the delectable "cheese crackers" he had made fresh that day. Grated parmesan piled into disc shapes and baked in the oven. So simple and absolutely fabulous. A man who can take something as beautiful as Parmesean and elevate it to something even more beautiful - well I was smitten ever since. Much love to the family and know there is one more person out there who smiles when they think of Geno, husband, father, teacher & world traveling Cellist.
Dear Gene, what’s it like in the next phase? I imagine you’re taking a few minutes of eternity to read the wonderful memories and thoughtful words shared here. Your departure from this phase caught us all off guard, but you advanced quickly and I believe that’s the way to do it. I am excited for you and happy for you. And jealous that you’re now seeing what we all will see some day. While saddened that you’re no longer here, we all relish the wealth of memories we have and they are eternal. I want to recount three that always bring a smile to me and make me laugh when I remember them.
SUMMER SANGRIA TWILIGHT found Tom Horner and I sitting with you and Jackie on the porch at your home, sipping sangria and talking about everything. The warmth of the setting sun was exceeded only by the warmth this memory of friendship brings to me.
DISORGANIZED DINNER PARTY…and LUTEFISK was when Tom and I were invited to a dinner party by a friend at her historic farm in the Spring Mills area of Penns Valley. We were delighted when we arrived and found that you and Jackie were also guests for the evening. Our hostess was a dear woman who was also a bit disorganized. She had set up an assortment of beverages in her kitchen and you and I went to get some drinks for ourselves and for Jackie and Tom. Of course we lingered in pleasant conversation and first sips. Our hostess came into the kitchen to get more ice. Her freezer decided it would party too and when she opened the door half a dozen or more frozen food items spilled out onto the kitchen floor. I will never forget you and I looking at each other, sharing the mirth and absurdity of the attempted escape by the frozen food. Stifling our laughter we helped her retrieve her cold goods. The high point of the evening was the hilarity elicited when you and Jackie, in the manner of a tag team, delighted us all with the many places on planet Earth where you’d eaten Lutefisk.
EYE TO EYE AT THE OPHTHALMOLOGIST happened on a warm spring day as Tom and I pulled into a parking spot at the doctor’s office and immediately you and Jackie pulled into the spot next to us. We got out of our cars to greetings and animated chatting which continued into the waiting room where few empty seats were to be found. You and Tom found a corner and sat down and talked about old houses and antiques. Jackie and I found two chairs nearby and talked and laughed about the many interests we shared. She was especially delighted by the wonderful and remarkable family the two of you created.
Gene, we are all blessed and enriched by the gift of knowing you in this world. As you return to your cello, remember that E will always be F flat. We’ll see you again soon enough dear friend.
When I was 18 my father passed away, and Gene quietly and without fanfare did his best to step into the void that was left in my life - or at least, I always felt like that's what he tried to do. Not like he suddenly started checking up on me or anything, but when he saw me I felt like he always made sure to give me genuine attention and invited me (in a very gentle way) to share my fears and burdens with him. When my first marriage was ending, his ability to listen and advise without judgment was a true godsend. He was the father figure of my early adulthood that I know my actual father would have wanted me to have, and I am deeply grateful.
It is with sadness that I write these few words about my friend Gene Melander. Gene, better known as “Geno”, taught me more about the charms and faults of my ancestral home than my own family. He flooded me and my wife with tons of books and recommendations for things Italian both near and far. Geno, you old wannabe Italian, I imagine you roaming those lavender hills in your adopted country with a glass of wine in your hand. Ciao Geno
Gene and I took a philosophy class together some 35 years ago. I was a student, but Gene was in the midst of his career. Yet, there he was, in class, still pushing the envelope, trying to learn and understand despite his already busy schedule. Less than a week before he passed, Gene gave me a book on Plato that he had just read and wanted to know what I thought of it.
Gene never stopped trying to discover, and his life and career were about promoting and facilitating this goal among others. We’ll miss him so much not only because he was such a pleasure to be with but because he was always gently nudging us to become the best people we could be. We honor his memory most when we continue his quest to discover life’s vistas until we too pass into stardust.
It was always a joy to see Gene and Jackie whether it was at The Tavern or when
I was in their home working. Gene just had a genuine interest in what I was doing
or what my family was doing. The last time that we talked he shared his new interest in the cello with me. He played a soothing note and then said, "you try".
and I did. "Isn't that the most wonderful sound ?" Gene asked.
The note was like Gene himself--soft, calming, reassuring, memorable. That note, like
Gene, will remain with me and I will share it with all.
I always think of Gene with a sly smile on his face. He entered every meeting anticipating learning something new or bringing a new twist to an existing idea. I could count on Gene to be the voice of reason and the arbiter of the possible. He had the soul of a Greek philosopher and the sense of humor of a satirical pundit. It was a pleasure and a joy to encounter Gene and Jackie around State College because the conversation was lively, scholarly and profound. Penn State and State College are much better places for having Gene and Jackie Melander in our midst. I am a better person for having the privilege and pleasure of knowing and working with both of them. It is my sincerest hope that Gene has found a round table, a cup of coffee, and a group of intellectuals with which to commune. They will be enlightened, as was I, with each and every one of his observations.
I don't think I can say that I KNEW Gene, but I had the honor of meeting him several times, and even of being invited to his and Jackie's home for dinner with Dick Pencek, back in 2011 when I was in the US doing research. And when I was last in Pennsylvania, last May, he came to Dick's wine and cheese and salmon dinner, and he was also with us when we went to brunch. It seems a bit presumptuous of me to try and "sum up" Gene in a couple of words, but I will try to give my impression: very kind, very wise -- but also with a twinkle in his eye that suggested a lot of mischievousness -- and very humble (and since "humble" sounds like "mumble" I will say, too, that I sometimes found him difficult to understand: but that must be because I am French -- mind you, John Romano did pull his leg a lot about that, mm?).
I am so glad that I took those pictures back in May, especially the one where he is sitting like a patriarch with a glass of wine in his hand on Dick's patio. Adieu Gene! I hope you enjoy your time in the afterlife like you (obviously) enjoyed Dick's dinners. Brigitte
I can't think of Gene with thinking of Jackie. It was she who I met first (through the historical society) and always admired how she managed this organization and acknowledged the contributions of others over her own. She also is a wise woman, who one time, when I met her in a parking lot with a scowl on my face related to a slight disagreement I was having with one of our sons, that I should give him some time and advised me that given two or three years, he would realize how much I HAD LEARNED in a short time. It was just what I needed...a deadline.
Years later, I had the opportunity to wok with Gene on an international programs-related committee and quickly realized what a dynamic duo the two of them made....forgive the pun, but then, Gene was a specialist in puns. But while working with him, i realized that he was an honest-to-goodness MALE FEMINIST!
So, I will continue with a few of my favorite Gene isms and other memories.
First, Jackie told me that when their first grand daughter (Gwen) was born, she and Gene cared for her while her mother was ill and she (Jackie) told me several times she would find Gene leaning over the crib, with a smile on his face, totally captured by this new-born who was sound asleep...how tender!
During Arts Fest one year, I introduced Jackie and Gene to a friend who was visiting. Gene remarked that she resembled Meryl Streep and she replied that she felt uncomfortable when she was told that. Gene's response was, "Well, I am told that I look like Menachem Begin."
Comments about deferring retirement...
"I don't want to retire because I have nightmares about having to arrange chairs for Jackie's meetings."
"I look forward to retiring, but probably would spend too much time trying to decide what wine to have with breakfast."
I will always remember Gene and Jackie "cuddling" on a bench in HARRISONS, thoroughly enjoying their time with one another....as well as the food, of course.
We all were blessed to know this fine man.
In life there are a certain number of individuals who are close friends and seem to make life special. Gene was one of those people. He had a deep concern for people and their struggles and joys in Life. I cannot remember a time when we were together with a group when this was not part of the conversation.
Gene met many of my students. As many of these students blossomed into professionals in the fields of preservation and decorative arts, he would love to talk to them about their philosophy. I often wished I had had Gene as one of my bosses. He seemed to know why we were in the field to begin with. Gene often talked to me about the influence I had on my students. These conversations - unknown to Gene - I think always made me work harder to be a good teacher because it was a responsibility.
We will miss Gene and John Romano's verbal discourses at our salmon and wine gatherings. You know he thought all day about what topic he was going to confront us with at the "Greek" dinners. It was so obvious he valued friendship.
Geno my friend - who is going to make sure now I have to sing the Rutgers fight song?
When I came to Penn State in 1979, Raniero Corbelletti, head of the Department of Architecture, told me that it was difficult to make friends in State College. Fortunately Gene and Jackie stepped up to the challenge. Jackie and I, acting as the good cop, bad cop members of the Design Review Board and Gene as my valued mentor, colleague, neighbor and friend who was always up for a spirited conversation. Whether it was having lunch at the Waffle Shop to critique Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander or bumping into Gene in aisle five at Wegmans, you could count on a quick one liner or, more likely, a conversation about Cape Cod, politics, education, music, the theater or his beloved family. It is clear that all of these shared stories about Gene will insure that his first run will live on without missing a note.
Will and I were blessed to have Gene and Jackie Melander and their daughters Jody, Leigh and Lynn as neighbors when we moved from L.A. to State College in 1971. For over twenty years we celebrated holidays & special occasions together. We moved into our home on Fairway Road on a snowy December day. The next morning we looked out to find our sidewalks cleared of snow. We thought "what a great place to live, the city sure takes care of its residents". This continued for several days. On the 4th day the sidewalk wasn't cleared and we called the borough. They had a good laugh at our L.A. naivete and said they didn't clear sidewalks and we must have a very good neighbor. That was Gene, & emblematic of so many other events. Through the years we reveled in cooking as Gene and Will went through their Greek and Chinese cooking phases, Then there was Gene's Oriental rugs" fascination. He was a great seeker of knowledge, a wonderful listener,a terrific husband and father and friend and a gentle and good soul. We, like all his family and friends will miss him.
Gene Borza and I were newly married (44 years ago) when Gene and Jackie Melander generously welcomed me to their social circle. Along with John and Stephany Romano, Joe and Bonnie Flay, Tracy and George Heitmann and Jane and Vince Norris, they formed a friendship circle that persists all these years later.
It was a time when dinner parties were the preferred way to entertain (let those days return!) and Gene Melander was always a treasured guest and appreciator of food and wine. Not just "oh, a lovely Cotes du Rhone" but "isn't this Cotes du Rhone Villages made by the same winemaker who makes Chateauneuf du Pape?) Over the years, Gene evolved from a knowledgeable appreciator to a fine cook and baker himself. I envied his baking skills! I wasn't surprised to learn he had taken up the cello just a few weeks ago.
Gene Melander was a colleague to both of us. To Gene Borza, a fellow academic and teacher, and to me an administrator in the years I was a WPSX/WPSU staffer and adjunct faculty member. The bureaucracy of Penn State is legendary, so I always respected Gene's gentle patience in working within it, to improve its operations and policies for students, staff and faculty alike.
There is so much to admire in Gene Melander--as a teacher, friend, husband and as an extraordinary father. Karen and Michael Borza grew up with the Melander daughters Jody, Leigh and Lynn, and shared in the excursions and neighborhood like that Jackie and Gene created for their daughters and the tribe of kids who formed around them.
He lived a life of purpose and love.
Every day for four years, Gene and I would have a 5 minute conversation as we waited at Corl Street Elementary to pick up kids. A year or two ago, we had lunch together (which he insisted that I pay for, lol) and we laughed about how much we learned from each other during that time and that how those interactions were our Twitter relationships without being online. I looked forward to his charm and wit every day. He was always the bright spot for me every school day. He was even funny on a cold snowy day as he'd find some snarky way to complain about the weather. When my son graduated from Corl Street, I felt sad that I would not see Gene every day. That's how much he meant to me.
A lighthearted invitation to enjoy a Happy Hour at Spillian in October 2018 turned into one of the most lighthearted, delightful evenings we've had in many years. Geno and JJ had come up to spend some precious time time with Leigh and Mark, and Dennis and I had the pleasure of enjoying wine, cheese, and various other refreshments in an intimate gathering. I was subjected to Geno's distinctive modes of Socratic questioning, revealing his insatiable curiosity and twinkling wit. Although this guestbook entry mode does not allow me to share the picture that I took of the lovely gift Geno bestowed on me, I treasure the ONE PRECIOUS GRAPE he gave me! Yes, it looks simply like one lonely grape, but it symbolizes the marvelous fullness of our one and only meeting. That grape is a microcosm of the immensity of our human experience, savored over wine, cheese, philosophy, and laughter. And a week later we were honored to be admitted to the ASTWSNGU, JJ's and Geno's recognition that we are suitably weird enough to be appreciated by this remarkable family. Thanks to Leigh and family for this opportunity to share our remembrances of our, however brief, unforgettable experience. We love you all.
Gene's youngest daughter Lynn is my first best friend. Our mothers met at the pool when we were about one or two years old. Jackie and Connie became friends, and so did Lynn and Nannette. I loved play dates at the Melander home in College Heights. Their cute Schnauzer "Duffer" would greet me at the door. Lynn and I would scamper around the house with free reign playing hide-and-seek. The smell of cookies that Jackie baked filled the air along with the sounds of beautiful music coming from Gene's record player. A great lure of the Melander household was the puppet theatre in the basement. We were free to create whole narratives between the puppets. As teenagers, I remember a special dinner at their home with almost-rare roast beef, which was delicious (but perhaps why Lynn became a vegetarian). That evening was pivotal for me because of the free-ranging exchange of ideas. Gene deftly steered the conversation in a philosophical direction, which I found to be stimulating, fascinating, and validating. My obligatory "thank you for having me" at the door that night was different because my heart filled with gratitude toward Gene. He had made me feel that my opinions were worth hearing. It was a tremendous gift. Together with Jackie, Gene always seemed to me like the quiet, strong, thoughtful center of the Melander household. I'm sorry I didn't know him better, but the Farrells send their love & comfort to all of you.