Charles E. Crain, 87, college religion professor

October 29, 2002|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Charles E. Crain, a former religion professor at Western Maryland College who worked tirelessly to bring diversity to the school's campus, died of cancer Friday at his Westminster home. He was 87.

Dr. Crain was born in Linton, N.D., and was raised in Minneapolis. After earning a bachelor's degree from Asbury College in Wilmore, Ky., in 1936, he began graduate studies at Drew University in Madison, N.J.

In 1941, he earned his bachelor's degree in divinity from Drew, and in 1951, a doctorate in philosophy and religion from the university.

Before coming to Western Maryland College -- now McDaniel College -- in 1949 as assistant professor in the philosophy and religion department, Dr. Crain held several pastorates in the Newark, N.J., Conference of the United Methodist Church.

His sabbatical studies at the University of Cambridge in England and the University of Tubingen in Germany focused on the Protestant Reformation.

Dr. Crain, who was highly regarded for his scholarship, was also an outspoken supporter of civil rights and diversity, both on campus and in the community.

"He was way ahead of the curve on civil rights," said Dr. Ira G. Zepp, retired professor of religious studies at Western Maryland and a former student. "He believed in a diverse student body and regularly sought out black students."

Luther H. Martin, professor of comparative religion at the University of Vermont and also a former student, said, "The 1950s were a rather dead time, but he had social concerns. He was one of those people who stood out on campus in those years."

Dr. Crain, who was director of religious activities at the college, also was a member of the college's admissions and standards committee, curriculum committee, Student Life Council and the Religious Life Council. He was also an active member of the Human Relations Committee of Carroll County.

In the classroom, he was known for his low-key lecturing style, which was enriched by a wry wit.

"He combined the humanistic ideals of a liberal arts education with the Judeo-Christian-Islamic concern for social justice. If you gave Charles a chance, he could make an intellectual and moral difference in your life," said Dr. Zepp, who retired from Western Maryland in 1994.

"He was an excellent, reliable and solid scholar who always worked very hard," said Dr. Zepp, who recalled Dr. Crain's office lights burning late into the night while the sound of his clacking typewriter punctuated the stillness of the night.

"He was more of a mentor to me that I realized at the time," said Dr. Martin. "I'm not the sort that particularly remembers the name of teachers from my formative years, but he was one of them. I have very vivid memories of Charlie."

"Charlie's courses at WMC provided, in other words, the foundation for my own career in the academic study of religion. And, his intellectual curiosity and his ability to make novel materials accessible to such a naive student as myself provided an example I subsequently sought to emulate in my own teaching," Dr. Martin wrote in an e-mail to Dr. Zepp.

David Carrasco, also a former student and now professor of Latin American Studies at the Harvard Divinity School, wrote in another e-mail to Dr. Zepp that Dr. Crain was a "focused professor who conveyed a sense of the deep value of serious study of major thinkers."

He recalled a lesson that Dr. Crain instilled in him after turning in a late paper for which he received a lower grade.

"He explained that the work was good, but the rule was clear. I was not angry but amazed that he taught me that talent without real order was only talent and not the basis for the developing mind in search of structure. I am better today for his teachings," Dr. Carrasco wrote.

His professional memberships included the American Academy of Religion, American Society for Reformation Research and American Association of University Professors.

Dr. Crain, who retired in 1978, enjoyed playing tennis and golf. He was also a collector of American and English postage stamps.

Services were held yesterday .

Dr. Crain is survived by his wife of 61 years, the former Marjorie Cowles; two daughters, Susan C. Sonoski and Connie W. Brown, both of Pearl River, N.Y.; three sisters, Sarah Anderson, Lucille Albright and Aldith Boss, all of Minnesota; and a granddaughter.

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