Publication Date

November 1, 2023

Perspectives Section

In Memoriam


Environmental, Political

John Broesamle

John Broesamle. Logan Hall/Sideways 8 Creative

John Broesamle, professor emeritus of history and noted champion of the wilderness, was born on February 10, 1941, and died at the age of 82 on June 17, 2023, in Ojai, California. A prolific author, university leader, and beloved instructor, Broesamle was professor of 20th-century American history at California State University, Northridge (CSUN), from 1968 until 2002. He was also a leader in developing curriculum and programs, serving three years as associate dean of the School of Social and Behavioral Sciences. During his tenure, he supported the creation of the Pan-African studies and women’s studies programs. Some university colleagues affectionately called him “Our Red Dean” because of his passion for academic freedom, free speech, and the rights of the disabled.

After completing his BA at the University of the Pacific, Broesamle earned his MA and PhD from Columbia University, where he studied with Richard Hofstadter, William E. Leuchtenburg, and John A. Garraty. He earned national awards such as the Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, the Woodrow Wilson Dissertation Fellowship, and the Danforth Program Associate Award for teaching excellence. Columbia recognized him as a President’s Fellow and Honorary Erb Fellow. CSUN recognized Broesamle with the Distinguished Teaching Award and the Scholarly Publication Award for his book Reform and Reaction in Twentieth Century American Politics (Greenwood Press, 1990).

Broesamle’s impressive academic oeuvre included 10 books and numerous journal articles, book chapters, and reviews. Among his significant books are William Gibbs McAdoo: A Passion for Change, 1863–1917 (Kennikat Press, 1973); Clashes of Will: Great Confrontations That Have Shaped Modern America (Pearson, 2005), with Anthony Arthur; and How American Presidents Succeed and Why They Fail: From Richard Nixon to Barack Obama (Edwin Mellen Press, 2014). In 1988, CSUN commissioned Broesamle to write the first published history of the university. Suddenly a Giant: A History of California State University, Northridge (1993) was based on hundreds of hours of oral histories, which the university archive houses along with other multimedia sources Broesamle collected for the project. His 10th book, Transforming Paradise: How Franklin D. Roosevelt and Thousands of Unemployed Americans Created Today’s Yosemite National Park, will be published posthumously by the Press at California State University, Fresno.

Though his scholarship was notable, Broesamle’s vocation was engaging with students as lifelong learners. He was beloved by generations of students from diverse backgrounds—including many veterans—who flocked to such classes as his tour de force history of the Vietnam War. His erudite and engaging lectures inspired students, who also found him to be “approachable” and “kind.” When protests for civil rights and against the Vietnam War roiled the campus, Broesamle led freewheeling discussions with students during office hours. Although these salons occasionally garnered noise complaints from neighboring faculty, he clearly relished the lively exchange of ideas, and students treasured these experiences long after graduating.

In retirement, Broesamle continued to make remarkable contributions; during this chapter of life, he focused on the environment. He was a passionate outdoorsman who loved hiking and fly-fishing in California’s eastern Sierra wilderness, and he shared the joys of that wilderness with his grandchildren. In his beloved Ojai Valley, he became a legendary advocate for wild spaces. He served as president of the Ojai Valley Land Conservancy and led a successful campaign to preserve 1,700 acres of wildlands. He formed the Ojai Valley Defense Fund, a nonprofit community fund of more than one million dollars. Though Broesamle did not seek the limelight, his community activism and tireless leadership were recognized with awards including the 2003 Environmental Defense Center Lifetime Achievement Award, the 2019 Los Padres Forest Watch Wilderness Legacy Award (shared with his wife Kathy), and the 2023 Rotary International Paul Harris Fellowship for “service above self.”

Broesamle inspired students and peers alike with his integrity, commitment to civil discourse, and can-do spirit. At CSUN, he served as a gifted history instructor dedicated to the value of liberal education. Then, in a retirement that can only be described as dynamic, Broesamle became an intrepid leader of community-based environmental advocacy. Broesamle’s life of service demonstrates how an individual can create impact through what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called an “inescapable network of mutuality.”

John is survived by wife Kathy, children Carolyn and Robert, son-in-law Gil, and grandchildren Aiden, Tyler, and Brady.

Carmen Nava
California State University, San Marcos

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