Carl Bode, teacher and noted historian

January 06, 1993|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,Staff Writer

Carl Bode, educator, biographer of H. L. Mencken an historian of Maryland, died of a stroke yesterday at his home in Chestertown. He was 81.

A prolific writer with boundless energy, Dr. Bode produced a steady stream of poems, books and essays until ill health intervened about a year ago.

He was the first biographer of Mencken and founded the Mencken Society in Baltimore, a forum for Mencken scholarship and fellowship. In 1978 he wrote "Maryland: A Bicentennial History," and he authored dozens of columns, most of them in a light vein, for The Evening Sun editorial pages from the early 1970s into the 1990s.

A native of Milwaukee, Carl Bode came to the University of Maryland College Park in 1947 as a young professor of American literature. His specialty -- Henry Thoreau -- naturally led to an interest in Mencken.

"He was the last [Mencken biographer] to meet and listen to a good many of those who actually knew Mencken," said James H. Bready, who writes a column for the Sunday Sun on Maryland authors, "so he became a valuable resource."

Meanwhile, Dr. Bode taught undergraduates for 35 years at College Park, expanding from American literature to "American studies," a kind of modern sociology that allowed him to examine the often-quirky behavior of fellow citizens. He retired to "emeritus" status in 1982, and he and his second wife, the former Charlotte Smith, whom he married in 1972, moved to the Eastern Shore about a year and a half ago.

Through most of his last decade of teaching and first decade of retirement, Dr. Bode wrote occasional columns for The Evening Sun. They were usually framed in the first person and often poked fun at humankind's foibles. The columns covered life on the university campus. But Dr. Bode also discussed "perceptive witches I've known," basketball coach Lefty Driesell as "Christian educator," and the "porkettes" -- wives of pork producers in the Midwest.

"Carl brought the editorial pages a sparkle and a wit and a class that the rest of us found it very hard to live up to," said Bradford Jacobs, the retired Evening Sun editor who engaged Dr. Bode as a columnist. An admiring letter writer called the columnist "a combination of Mark Twain, Ring Lardner, Art Buchwald and Russell Baker."

His eldest daughter, Barbara Bode, said Dr. Bode's "proudest moment was being named a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature." That occurred in the late 1950s, when Dr. Bode took leave from College Park to be a cultural attache for two years at the American Embassy in London.

Dr. Bode received academic degrees from the University of Chicago and Northwestern University, as well as honorary degrees from three Maryland colleges -- the University of Baltimore, Salisbury State University and Western Maryland College.

He was the founder and first president of the American Studies Association and a member and former president of the Thoreau Society. The family said services and burial will be private, but a memorial service is being planned at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Dr. Bode's first wife, the former Margaret Lutze, died in 1970.

Surviving, in addition to his wife, Charlotte, and daughter, Barbara, of Washington, are two other daughters, Janet Bode of New York City and Carolyn Bode of Santa Monica, Calif.

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