Dr. Nicholas Varga, whose career as an educator, archivist and author at Loyola College spanned nearly four decades, died from complications of neurological surgery Tuesday at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 79.
Dr. Varga's areas of expertise were the history of Maryland and the politics of Colonial New York.
In an autobiographical sketch, he wrote that he adhered to the theory that teaching history was more than "merely the facts and interpretations of history" but more importantly "how to draw valid conclusions from the available evidence and also how firmly such conclusions were to be held."
Born and raised in Elizabeth, N.J., he was the son of immigrant parents from what is now Slovakia. After graduating from high school, he enlisted in the Army and served as a heavy machine gunner in Europe during World War II.
Wounded after crossing the Rhine River, Dr. Varga spent two years recovering. He was discharged with the rank of sergeant. His decorations included the Bronze Star for valor, Combat Infantry Badge and the Purple Heart.
He entered Boston College, where he graduated cum laude in 1951, and earned a master's degree the next year. He earned his doctorate in 1960 from Fordham University.
Dr. Varga came to Loyola College in 1955 as an instructor in the Department of History and Social Sciences and remained there until retiring in 1992.
He liked to tell the story of a motto on a 1960s-era poster that read: "Bloom where you are planted."
"I did not start out with any such intent," he wrote, "but I guess that's how it worked out."
With his white hair, side whiskers, corduroy pants and tweed jackets, Dr. Varga seemed to embody the college academic.
"Nick was always fascinated with history and enjoyed transmitting that to others. He was enthusiastic and generous," said Dr. John R. Breihan, who teaches history at Loyola and was a longtime friend and colleague. "He was also gifted with a playful intellect."
An example, he said, was Dr. Varga's annual celebration of Colonial America's May Day, when he wore a dangling dollar bill from the breast pocket of his jacket. It recalled Jolly Old St. Tamenend or St. Tamina, the semi-legendary chief of the Delaware Indians, who became the patron saint of New York's Tammany Hall during the 19th century.
After becoming Loyola's archivist in 1976 - a position he held until his death - Dr. Varga began organizing years of college records, memoirs, paintings, photographs and other memorabilia from the college, which was founded in 1851. His book, Baltimore's Loyola, Loyola's Baltimore, was published in 1990 by the Maryland Historical Society.
One of the joys of writing the college history, he said, was being able to destroy the myth that American Catholic and Jesuit colleges were established to educate the sons of immigrants.
"I found that the early students admitted to Loyola came from the families of doctors, lawyers, businessmen, widows and enterprising women. The sons of immigrants did not begin to appear on the Loyola registers until the mid-1890s," he wrote.
Joanne J. Dabney, who had been Dr. Varga's archival assistant, recalled the day he asked her to type his obituary.
"It was so bizarre, and there he was breathing down my neck. I said, `Nick, this is 25 pages long. You can't have an obit that long. Whose going to read it?' He said, `That's what I want written down.' He was a genius and never let you forget it," Mrs. Dabney said, laughing.
"He was not one to leave detail to chance," said his son Damian Guy Varga of Sykesville.
He was the founder of a campus chapter of the American Association of University Professors and had served as president of the United Nations Association of Maryland.
Since 1998, the former Hampden resident had lived at Oak Crest Village in Parkville. He was a communicant of Patronage Mother of God Byzantine Catholic Church in Arbutus.
A memorial Mass will be offered at 10:15 a.m. Jan. 29 at Alumni Chapel on Loyola's campus at 4501 N. Charles St.
In addition to his son, Dr. Varga is survived by his wife of 53 years, the former Margaret Joan Skinner; another son, Colin Peire Varga of Philadelphia; a daughter, Deidre Krasnansky of Westminster; and three grandsons.