George Barker Engberg (1912-99)
Daniel R. Beaver, November 1999
George Barker Engberg, professor emeritus at the University of Cincinnati, died April 11, 1999, in Rochester, New York, at the age of 86. His life was marked by a remarkable capacity to balance and meld personal, family, and professional responsibilities into a seamless whole. He had a vocation and he made a life, not a career, in education. He was, in a term paraphrased from C.S. Lewis, a "mere professor."
Engberg was born and grew up in Cambridge, Minnesota, and, in 1934, earned a Bachelor of Education degree from the University of Minnesota. He taught high school until he was called up for military service in 1941. He was discharged as a Major of Infantry in 1946 and returned to the University of Minnesota, where he earned the PhD in history in 1949. He spent his teaching life at the University of Cincinnati where for 35 years he taught economic, labor, and immigration history, first in the College of Business Administration and then in the McMicken College of Arts and Sciences. In the classroom and seminar he impressed hundreds of undergraduate and graduate students with his careful attention to the intricacies of historical research and writing. He was awarded the Solon J. Buck Prize by the Minnesota Historical Society for his article "Lumber and Labor in the Lake States" published in Minnesota History in 1959.
Engberg was also active in university governance and in the affairs of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) where he gained a reputation as a forthright defender of academic freedom. In 1975 he was instrumental in unionizing the University of Cincinnati faculty under the leadership of the AAUP and chaired its first Collective Bargaining Council. He chaired the first union Contract Compliance Committee as well.
Every history department, indeed every college and university, should have a George Engberg. He was one of those rare people, virtuous, benign, and creative, who could bridge professional and personal conflicts to achieve a larger objective. Whenever individual ambitions and private agendas seemed to make harmony impossible, the department could always "let George do it." Then, in the face of the narcissism and cliquish maneuvering so characteristic of university politics, he would proceed, to the amazement of those not-so-selfless, to accomplish the task. We miss him very much. A departmental undergraduate achievement award has been created and named the Engberg Prize in his honor.
—Daniel R. Beaver
University of Cincinnati