In Memoriam: John Schumacher, '66

Picture of John Schumacher

From "Dedications honor Robison, Schumacher" in The Polytechnic, April 25, 2001

Located behind Walker Laboratory, Schumacher Park was constructed to honor the memory of John Schumacher '66, former professor and chair of science and technology studies, who passed away November 18, 1999, after a long battle with pancreatic cancer.

"I'm really pleased that we have dedicated this area of campus ... given his devotion to the campus," said Eddie Knowles, vice president of student life.

Schumacher's constant dedication to spending time with students, friends, and colleagues made him one of the most-liked members of the campus community.

He was "one of the more radical professors at Rensselaer in challenging students to think critically," said Ted Mirczak, acting vice president for administration.

The park's lovely plants pay a "very simple homage to the memory of John," said Faye Duchin, dean of the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, at the ceremony.

"So many of us knew John ... as a very gentle soul. I hereby dedicate this park to the memory of John Schumacher."

A large number of family, friends, and Rensselaer faculty and staff attended the events of the park's dedication.

Rachel Schumacher, one of John's daughters, noted, "He would have been very touched by this. He gave a lot of his life to RPI."

The Rensselyrics opened the dedication ceremony with performances of "Ordinary Day," "What You Own," "Only You," "I've Got My Fingers Crossed," "Galileo," and "Kyrie Eleison."

The ceremony concluded with refreshments and a selection of Mozart performances by the members of the RPI orchestra.

The park's landscape was designed by students enrolled in the ecological economics, values, and policy program.

Their landscape design—which uses only native, chemical-free perennials—received funding support from both the Institute and a private foundation.

Since Schumacher enjoyed practicing organic gardening, the Rensselaer administration felt that the creation of the park would be the most fitting way to honor his memory.

"Our folks were proud to participate in it. It was a good thing," said Mirczak.

From Rensselaer Magazine, March 2000

John Schumacher '66, professor and chair of science and technology studies, died Nov. 18 after a long struggle with cancer. Known for his unbounded willingness to devote time and thought to students, colleagues, and friends, Schumacher was a beloved presence on campus.

"There are two people at Rensselaer who have been icons. One is Dean [Thomas] Phelan. The other is John Schumacher. They hold places in the community unlike anyone else. I would call John the conscience of the community," says Doyle Daves Jr., interim provost.

In 1966, Schumacher graduated cum laude from Rensselaer with a degree in mathematics. Over the next three years, he earned master's degrees from Rensselaer in mathematics and philosophy. In 1974, he received his Ph.D. from the University of Oxford and started teaching at Rensselaer.

"I'm deeply saddened by John's death," says Langdon Winner, professor of science and technology studies. "He was a man of vision and relentless creativity, a wonderful person, friend, and colleague. His legacy shines all over this campus in the novel educational programs he created and in the lives of hundreds of people fortunate enough to have known him."

Schumacher's academic interests were far-ranging, and included theories of knowledge, philosophy of natural and social science, and philosophy of education. In 1989, he published his only book, Human Posture: The Nature of Inquiry.

"He never accepted what was," Daves says. "He always wanted better. He was rough on his colleagues but never on the students. He wasn't a man you could ignore. He didn't have a need for facades. The way he dressed and the way he was were a deliberate statement. Here was a man who was a tenured professor, a department chair, and he was an anarchist. If ever there was an oxymoron..."

Schumacher is survived by his wife and three daughters. He once told a newspaper reporter, "We need to do some caring in the workplace, to make it possible to work happily and live happily at the same time."

The Department of Science and Technology Studies set up a Web page that featured personal remembrances of Schumacher.