It has taken me almost a year to find the words to talk about Sy. I respected him so deeply. I greatly admired his commitment to justice and his generosity and kindness.
When I was a sophomore at Carleton in the 80’s, I signed up for Calculus I. My most advanced math class in high school had been a Trigonometry class, in which the teacher practiced golf swings (he was the golf team coach), and I copied everything off my best friend. Needless to say, I was in way over my head in Sy’s class.
After the first quiz, on which I received the first “F” of my life (I thought the world would end), I trudged over to Sy’s office to drop the class. He was not having it. He told me that my problem was not lack of ability but rather the fact that no one had taught me how to learn math. Sy proposed weekly tutoring to teach me how to learn math, and a friendship was born. He turned me into an “A” math student.
When I learned of Sy’s love of fly fishing, I hooked him up with my dad, who was then living in the Big Hole Valley in Montana, right on the river. My dad has fly fishing in his bones. In my family, Norman McLean’s “A River Runs Through It,” is a sacred text, and whatever questions you have about religion, the answer will always be, “God is in the mountains.”
Sy fished with my dad in Montana a few times over the years, and he even drove many extra miles to spend an afternoon with my mother. My parents were astonished by the fact that Professor Schuster took the time to get to know them. For many years, he and my father stayed in touch.
What overwhelmed me and amazed me after Sy’s passing was how many people—friends, colleagues, family, former students, etc.—felt such a deep connection with Sy. He was devoted to his family and to his students and seemed to have a boundless capacity to hold all those in his life in a circle of kindness, compassion and generosity. He had such a gift for connecting authentically with a huge number of people. It was tough not to feel like I should be doing more to be a better person when I even thought about Sy. Still is.
My daughter and I visited Sy in Northfield in 2016 and stayed with him. I wanted her to meet him and vice versa. Sy and Marilyn sent a lovely gift when she was born and he checked in usually every few months over the years to see how my daughter and I were doing—and vice versa.
What stands out poignantly from that visit is Sy’s homemade lox and his Turkish coffee, which he told me was a habit he learned from his Romanian grandmother. I realized then that he was holding in his circle of compassion and generosity, not just those of us present, but those who had passed and those who were yet to come. And somehow holding and embodying the hope for justice for all.
My daughter is now almost 17. We were talking about high school recently and she said, “Can you believe I’m better in Math than Eva, her friend whose mother is a research scientist with a Ph. D. from Cornell. Into my head popped a thought in Sy’s unmistakable voice. It said, “Well of course she is good in math. She is your daughter.” I cried a bit, but I also felt comforted that his voice is still telling me I can do more, that we all can do more, than we imagine we can.
I am forever grateful to Sy for the 30 years of friendship I was lucky enough to share with him. My dad says Sy was one in ten million. I agree, but would also add that he was a true mensch and a light in my life.
Many years ago, as young boy, I met and knew Sy. My memories are vague but are of a smiling man who was always sweet and generous with me. My father, Arthur Gropen, taught w Sy at Carleton for many years. Out of the blue, this evening, he came to my mind. I’m sad to read of his passing, but glad to know his family was with him when he did.
I just learned of Sy’s passing from The Voice.
During the winter term of my senior year (Class of 1969), I joined several like-minded activists for a group independent study. We read and reflected on and critiqued Jules Henry, Richard Hoggart, Herbert Marcuse. It was eye-opening and as exciting an intellectual experience as I had at Carleton, and I had many.
My enduring memory of Sy is his smile, a patient, loving, knowing smile that balanced the pain we all felt with optimism and an appreciation for the ultimate goofiness of life. He did so without being patronizing: there were no figurative pats on the head, he was tough-minded, too.
Sy, your gifts endure in the memories of those whose lives you touched. Thank you.
My mother, Elaine Thurston, thought highly of Sy. I know she and my father enjoyed both your parents socially as well. I recall that when my mother felt defeated by lack of progress in social justice issues or in the anti-Vietnam war struggle, a phone call or meeting with Sy would give her reassurance. On behalf of the Thurston family our condolences.
I got to know Sy when I served on the Faculty Affairs Committee with him in the late 1980s. He was a wise mentor with a good sense of how
things at Carleton really worked. I appreciated his advocacy of faculty and his willingness to speak truth to power.
This was such a lovely service and remembrance of Sy. I miss him terribly and with some guilt because I did not visit him at the end of his life. His love of classical music was mentioned but not his love of literature. I was particularly grateful to him because he carried around my first book (in hard cover) in his back pack for me to sign and then he asked me to talk to him about the poems I later published. I wrote one of these poems with him in mind. It is titled
What would we be without Glen Gould’s
This speech of the Gods
Would simply float off to heaven
With us tethered by a thread, until
Too high in the stratosphere,
The stratospause, we — holding on
For dear life by the skin of our teeth–
Would have to drop back onto
This hard, cold, flat earth of ours.
So here is the poem, dear Sy. I meant it for you and never gave it to you — until now. But I do know your memory will be as a blessing to us all.
When I arrived at Carleton in 1989 as the new Dean of the College, I quickly learned that Sy was one of the wise souls at the College. And I soon learned the truth of this, from personal interactions and from his comments in faculty meetings. What I remember best, though, is what a good conversationalist he was. I particularly remember his conversations at receptions that I hosted in Headley House, and the twinkle he would get in his eye when he smiled at someone’s joke or his own wry comment. When my children came through the crowd, Sy would always pay attention to them – and at one point he learned that my daughter Emily (then about 11) was learning to fish and liked it; he talked to her at some length, and before many weeks went by he called and invited her to go fishing with him. When she arrived home she was beaming ear to ear; no fish, but she’d had a blast and learned a lot. The last time I saw Sy was probably a year and a half ago when my husband and I visited a friend at Millstream Commons, and when we came downstairs to leave, there was Sy by himself in the lounge; we stopped to talk and had a wonderful conversation. Sy will always represent to me the best of Carleton and the best of a balanced life – a life of intellect, social activism, principle, love of family, devotion to students, and humane attentiveness to others.
Farewell Uncle Sy. You are favorite uncle. My childhood memories with You still some of the best of my life. Our train trip from New York to Minneapolis was one of the highlights of my childhood. When I moved to California, I stopped in Northfield to visit. This too is one of my best memories.
Just last night, Marcia and I were using a water level to set posts for a porch cover. The marks didn’t look right at first, but I knew Willie Water Drop doesn’t make mistakes when it comes to finding level.
I love you Uncle Sy. Thanks and farewell.
I took a beginning math class from Sy, because I needed to fulfill the requirement. I was drawn to it because it was billed as “math for people who hate math”. It lived up to the promo. I became excited about math! And it even included writing a term paper…for math! I was surprised to Ace the course. My only A at Carleton!
From shortly after Carl and I arrived in Northfield in the mid 1960s, Sy and Marilyn became close friends both as colleagues and Sy as a mentor. What a brave smart man Sy was. We will miss him!
Sy and my family were so very close. I remember my dad telling me about what a trusted friend and mentor Sy was, especially during his firing and tenure battle. Sy and Marilyn were treasured friends to all of the Wellstone’s and Sy played a crucial role in Paul Wellstone’s success. I remember Sy teaching me to paddle a kayak and catch a fish.
I really only knew Sy in recent years, and not very well, but he was so warm and friendly. I was most aware of Sy as an activist, how he was always working for the most important causes, and for Paul Wellstone’s attempt to get tenure and his political campaigns. I admired Sy enormously. I loved reading about and seeing photos of Sy’s life.
Sy and Marilyn welcomed Dick and I when we first moved to Northfield. I have fond memories of them teaching us to cross-country ski at the golf course (back then when it was allowed!) We spent many evenings at their home eating dinner and playing cards.
They were so warm and welcoming to me and my wife after I came out. I’m grateful to have known Sy and marvelled at his capacity for strong political discourse simultaneous with gentle caring & compassion.
Sy was an amazing world change artist and so committed to making a difference. Craig’s first memories of Sy was when he was in high school and Sy was teaching students activism against the Vietnam War, and supporting walkouts, and anti draft movements. I remember meeting him through Mike and Nancy Casper and Paul Wellstone, and supporting Welfare Rights. And so many things after that. I loved that when we would see each other at something, we’d be sure to go say hello, and either he would ask me what I was doing lately to change the world, or I would ask him the same! He was an incredible gift and a model for us all. Remember his newspaper column?
As long as I remember, Sy has been there. He was basically family and a huge influence in my life. He loved my obnoxiousness as a child and was a champion when I was a young adult l will miss him dearly. I was so happy he got to meet my husband, daughter and son. He will be with me always.
Please note that this and many more memories of Sy can also be found on the Carleton Farewells site.
Sy and I had adjacent offices in Goodsell for many years, both of which opened into the department meeting room. To the non-mathematician Sy’s office appeared cluttered with piles of books and papers on every horizontal surface. But we knew that his multi-stack system was provably as powerful as a Turing machine.
Sy would usually meet guests who sought his counsel in the meeting room for lack of sitting space inside his office. Thus I was often privy to at least the beginnings of his discussions before I was able to close my door. The visitors included planners of fishing trips as well as faculty meetings. For many good outcomes for the faculty Sy was involved, at least behind the scene. In addition to tenure denial cases he was proactively involved in many more cases for the welfare of junior faculty by assuring that procedures were upheld and that voices that tried to subvert fair processes were muffled. He was the departmental steward, the advocate for the faculty and the enlightener of the administration.
He was always encouraging with students be they political activists, first year students in introductory courses, or majors seeking advise on graduate schools or positions in industry. In seemed that he was especially helpful to women and under-represented minorities and most of all those planning on teaching math at the secondary level.
He was so personable that his influence and stature as a mathematician might be overlooked. He helped develop my own interests in geometry, graph theory and combinatorics often posing problems with computational solutions that led to more general algorithms. Mathematicians at national meetings, even for many years after his retirement, would ask about him and remark on his contributions.
I especially recall his slight smile when he had a pleasurable memory. So may I have them too as I remember him.
Such a beautiful tribute to a kind soulful brilliant man. I enjoyed hearing some of his stories and will miss the twinkle in eyes and smile. Thank you for letting us take care of him, it was an honor.
I always thought of Sy as my union steward. He embodied what a loyal opposition could be at an institution like Carleton College. His kind of service imprinted on me, as a new faculty member in 1986, that speaking truth to power was both a right and an obligation. I’ve spent the last three decades in awe of his example.
I’ve known Sy since I first came to Carleton over 25 years ago. One of my fondest memories of him is how, at least in the early years, he always would ask the rabbi to gather a minyan so he could say Kaddish on the Yahrzeit of his parents. This simple act spoke volumes about the kind of man he was, as well as the ideas and ideals that drove him and that, though both word and action, he was able to inspire in others. May his name be recalled for a blessing.
As my sister Joan Prefontaine wrote below, Sy was like a member of our family and he and Marilyn were very good friends of our parents, Frank and Joy Wolf. In addition to agreeing wholeheartedly with what Joan wrote, I can add a specific memory of Sy’s wonderful inclusiveness. Sy was kind enough to invite me when I was just a high school student to at least one strategy session about protesting the Viet Nam war. I recall being in awe of the discussion going on in the Schuster living room, and soaking in all the various perspectives about how to be most effective. In the early days of protesting the war, it helped to know that smart and well-informed adults were in the fight with us, and valued our youthful contributions. Sy was a terrific role model for being engaged with the world and doing what one could to bring about change and justice. I am very sad that his winsome, curious, hopeful energy and love have passed from this world. May greater justice in our actions and our world spring from our memories of Sy Schuster.
I have known Sy since I came to Carleton in 1974. We were both members of the fishing crew and the poker group. One of my fondest memories of Sy is when we used to take “wilderness” canoe trips with our children. Sy “adopted” my daughter (Anna Jean) for the trip so I could take my 13-year old son (Carl) in my canoe. It was a great trip and AJ still talks about it. Sy was an exceptional man in every regard and I always thought of him as the conscience of the faculty. I have missed his good company since I retired and moved away. He was truly a good man. I learned much from him and I loved him dearly. PCR
Sy seemed to be a part of our family throughout the years and I cannot recall a time when I did not know him. My father, Frank Wolf, spent many a fine hour with Sy as they shared the same interests and politics. Sy and a few other Carleton faculty members spent time at our cabin on Bay Lake and whenever I saw Sy he loved talking about those trips as well as other fishing adventures. He and Marilyn were both very active and enthusiastic members of the Carleton and Northfield communities. They added much to everyone’s quality of life. I am grateful to have known them both.
Sy was a champion for all students and had a real love of mathematics. His exams (like that of many Carleton professors) were legendary, but the challenge was not without the support and knowledge and encouragement to learn and do more.
Sy was a customer at my family’s fly fishing store in south Minneapolis in the 1980s. He was a customer on his first visit, a friend thereafter. He went to Montana one summer with my husband and our two teen-aged kids and seemed to enjoy the young people more than the oldsters. I could imagine the kind of professor he was from his warm, encouraging conversations with our kids.
Fly fishing is a sport that requires patience, focus, humility and quite often, a sense of humor. Sy had all of that and so much more. Tom, Baird, Carrie and I were so fortunate to have known him.
I remember arriving at Carleton as the wife of a faculty member and pregnant and new to the midwest..and there was Sy. How we first met with him and Marilyn, I am not sure. But after we did, we were together many weekends, in front of the fireplace, on the screened in porch. For the five years we were there we were part of the family , taken in, welcomed. Often we spent evenings with Sy, Marilyn, Paul, Eve and the Wellstones. They were good good years to be a young mother, eventual middle school teacher in Northfield our last year, and to have Sy there, hosting, laughing, challenging, supporting. What a gift to have known him!
It’s hard to find words for what I owe to Sy. When Julie Klassen and I were denied tenure in the mid-eighties, Sy volunteered to be my advocate during the tenure appeal. He spent much of one sabbatical term working on the case. As in Paul Wellstone’s case, the appeal succeeded. Sy hated injustice, and did enjoy the battle. As others have said, he was a true Mensch. I miss him.
Sy took me under his wing when Steve and I arrived at Carleton in 1971. I was a third year graduate student at the U and not too confident. At one point Sy approached me with a graph theory problem about which he had a new idea. We collaborated and I presented the paper at a professional meeting. Sadly, after we submitted the paper, we learned of an error, so this did not turn out to be my first publication. But it was a wonderful recognition that I was worthy and capable and that really built my confidence.
I will also remember many evening dinner parties — I still use Sy’s salad dressing recipe — and both Sy’s and Marilyn’s encouragement as we were raising our young family.
Sy was a power to be reckoned with on the political front and I learned also from him how to disagree firmly and how to achieve goals strategically without being obnoxious or making enemies. Sy brought all these qualities to his engagement with the mathematical community, especially the North Central Section of the Mathematical Association of America. We will miss his sharp mind and his wonderful sense of humor.
Julie and I came to Carleton in 1968 for a one year visit. During the five years we were there, Sy and Marilyn took us under their wings and became surrogate parents, friends mentors, and idols. Sy was loving, friendly, quick to laugh. He was a person whose political ideals and ideas were compelling. Our friendship lasted well beyond those early years. I remember how he became close to Paul and Sheila Wellstone who came to Carleton the year after we arrived. It was amazing to see them and spend time with Sy and Marylin, Paul and Sheila. In politics Sy was a teacher and adviser to many of the younger faculty. He lead the charge in reducing the unpopular decision to deny Paul tenure, and he remained close to Paul the rest of Paul’s life. It was a wonder to watch. May hi memory be a blessing to all of us.
I’m feeling such a strong loss from such a wonderful part of my childhood in Northfield. So many of my great memories have Sy in the picture. Throughout my elementary and middle school years, my father and I, and his close friends and their kids would rough it for a week, with hopes to eat fresh fish and not canned food. I was a few years younger than the other kids, which is hard at that age, but Sy in particular was so genuinely kind, interested and inclusive, I couldn’t wait for the next summers trip. Sy also introduced me to tempura fish fried over a camp fire, and the mouth watering taste still follows me. I saw Sy last year, and while he had slowed down, he was sharp as a tack, and that is how I will remember him.
I have so many wonderful memories of Sy that I hardly know where to begin. We met in 1968, when I joined the Carleton faculty and he returned to Carleton from the University. What was a vaguely friendly relationship initially blossomed at a wild and crazy homemade ice cream party at his and Marilyn’s home. There followed nearly fifty years of monthly poker sessions in our wonderful circle of friends, several fishing trips a year, a bit later the pleasures (and frustrations!) of learning to fly fish, and so on. All the while my entire family bonded with Sy, who was until his death functionally their uncle. Even one of my grandchildren fell for him after a delightful visit one afternoon about a year ago. He and I had the closest times together backpacking in Wyoming. For quite a few years, we took a two-week backpacking and camping trip to the Wind River Mountains. The apparent purpose was to fish, but beneath that glossy surface was the pleasure of two weeks of close, often intense conversation on just about every imaginable subject. His keen mind, warm heart, patience, and lack of self-importance made for truly memorable times. I miss him.
Sy, for me was scary back in the day! He was my Best Friend in High Schools Father. I eventually came to realize he was a wonderful, strict father and great guy. Later in life I saw him at a job I was working at and I said hello Mr Schuster, he said Tanya you can call me Sy. I still call him Mr Schuster! Rest in Peace.
Hugs Eve and Paul
I met Sy went I first came to Carleton. We would exercise during lunch time in Laird Stadium. I was always struck by his intellectual curiosity, about his ability to converse about not only math, but politics, the arts, and life at Carleton. A remarkable guy, and a gem in the crown of Carleton faculty.
I knew Sy as such a warm and welcoming member of our Jewish community at Carleton. He was such a wonderful and supportive colleague and friend when I joined the faculty in Hebrew and Judaic Studies in 1999. I remember him at all of our High Holy Day services, Passover seders, and some Shabbat Friday evening gatherings with students – always interested in all of them and eager to hear how they were enjoying Carleton to the full. I will so miss how patiently he listened to everyone and cared about each of us.
Sy was consistently among the most engaged colleagues I had while teaching at Carleton in the Religion Department. He brought a keen sense of fairness to faculty deliberations, championed deserving causes of all sorts! My vivid image of him in recent years includes that little grin he had that seemed to arise from the sheer pleasure of being in a conversation, sharing thoughts, concerns, ideas.
I first met Sy through his screenings of the “College Geometry Project”, which he screened in Olin auditorium (during my Northfield High School days).
I then encountered Sy during the campus and town protests of the Vietnam War in the 1970’s; later through the Rice County DFL politics, the Wellstone campaign, etc.
I worked with Sy on the digitization and DVD version of the “College Geometry Project” about 10-12 years ago, great fun to hear his stories of how that project came
He was a wonderful, smart, creative, and caring man, with a great sense of humor.
Longtime friend, brave wonderful man, great colleague. We’ll miss Sy!