News & Publications
The College Magazine - Summer 2008
Print Shop Manager, Annapolis
In his 30 years at St. John's, Chris Colby mentored students, shared his stories and talents,
and earned the friendship and admiration of the great college community
Chris Colby, a 30-year member of the St. John's College community, died of cancer on Thursday, March 27, 2008, at the age of 58. He joined the college in 1977 as assistant manager of the Print Shop and was promoted to manager in 1979. Earlier this year, he guided the purchase and installation of a new press that greatly expands the college's printing capabilities. He was known by those who worked with him as a gentle and kind man, a hard-working and helpful colleague, and a talented artist and craftsman. He enjoyed—among many things—weaving, cooking for friends, writing short fiction, and sharing stories of his adventures in life.
At a memorial service held at the college in April, friends, co-workers and students remembered Colby's gifts to the community. John Christensen, the college's director of admissions, said Colby missed vacations and weekends to finish Print Shop projects on deadline, but also "gave of himself"
"For some, he built bookshelves in our apartments or houses; for others he repaired harpsichords and other musical instruments; for still others he built kitchen cabinets and helped construct decks," Christensen said. "He loved these projects for the lasting friendships that often resulted, but also because he simply enjoyed putting his skills to use for others in the community...
"I think he was at his happiest in these activities, but he was also happy in another role—that of mentor and surrogate father for any number of students, some of whom worked for him and some of whom he met in the writing workshops he attended or through working with them on the Gadfly and Energia."
Howard Morsberger worked alongside Colby since 1981. "He was so much more than just a 'boss,'" he said. "He was above all a mentor, a friend, and a companion. Chris was a passionate, but calm and soft-spoken man who gave me room to make mistakes and grow from them."
Jack Brown (A08) described his initial dismay at being assigned to work at the Print Shop;; as he grew to know Colby he realized how fortunate he was. "I had requested a job at the library, or IT, and did not relish spending a year standing in the dark making photocopies while a vaguely sinister-looking man looked on from the shadows," Brown said. "As you can probably guess, that attitude changed; the Print Shop quickly became my home away from dorm-room, and Chris my St. John's mentor. It was in the Print Shop that I learned unofficially about the college. I heard the latest news, absorbed the 30 years of lore Chris had stored up in him and loved sharing ... When I look back on four years here, Chris will be one of a few people who really stand out. He was one of the people I was most looking forward to keeping informed about what I was doing with my life, and visiting when I came back."
Colby became his unofficial mentor and career adviser, Brown added. ""I will go better places for having known him, my experience at this school was enriched for having known him, and I cannot express my profound sadness for the knowledge that when I leave here...I will be leaving behind a school, a Print Shop, and a community that is a lesser place for having lost Chris Colby."
Colby's wife, Mary—who worked for 15 years in the college's Admissions office—-preceded him in death. They are survived by their daughter, Yve. Associate Admissions Director Roberta Gable (A77) described how St. John's was like another home for Colby. "He loved the college, and he loved the Print Shop, and he loved us," she said. "And I would say that the Print Shop was the great love of his life if it weren't utterly eclipsed by the great and steadfast and abiding love he had for Mary and Yve, a love which was, I think, the defining purpose of his life."
by Mark Daly, Director of Laboratory
Albert Ritchie Toft, who was a lab technician at St. John's College in Annapolis from 1960 to 2005, died of complications from Parkinson's disease April 20 in Annapolis. He was born August 1, 1933, in Pasadena, Maryland, attended George Washington University, and was a scientist at Goddard Space and Flight Center in Greenbelt for 35 years.
I heard about Al when I was hired as director of Laboratories at St. John's in July 1985. He worked as a machinist along with a carpenter named John Cooke in the laboratory's physics workshop. The physics workshop was, and still is, located in the basement of Mellon Hall. As Director of Laboratories, one of my responsibilities was supervising the workshop. I would collect broken equipment, equipment that needed to be modified to suit the college's needs, and pencil drawings of ideas from me, students and tutors, and place them on a workbench in the empty physics laboratory during the day. Al worked evenings and weekends, so I communicated with him through notes and pencil drawings. The next day I would return to find my equipment repaired or modified, and my pencil drawing coming to life with a note, "Is this what you wanted?" Most of the time, Al would take our ideas and improve on them. I would push his creative talents further with a revised drawing, place it on the empty workbench, and the next day the new creation would take shape. I could dream, scribble down an idea, and put it on that empty workbench, and he, with his gifts of knowledge and creativity, would make it happen.
When I finally got to meet Al, he lived up to the picture I had painted of him in my mind. I walked into the dusty old basement workshop to be greeted by a cheerful, "Hello, young man." Here was the man who could make those drawings come to life. He looked like a scientist: clean cut, dark-rimmed glasses, and a lab coat. He was friendly and had an intelligence that commanded respect.
Some time later, I visited Al at the Goddard Space and Flight Center, and he gave me a tour of the facilities. I came to realize the prize St. John's was keeping in that dusty physics workshop. Al was hired at Goddard as an entry-level technician and worked his way up. He was now a leading scientist in the optics laboratory. His major contributions to the space program were inventing a new coating for the mirrors in space and inventing a way to coat them uniformly. He was a distinguished scientist with published works and his accomplishments were noted in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum.
Al was a problem solver who loved a challenge. His positive outlook and problem solving abilities permeated his entire being. As his Parkinson's disease advanced, he remained upbeat and always talked about the future. I remember once he pointed to a dollar bill on the bench, and told me, "I couldn't reach to pick up that dollar and put it in my pocket. I took my pill, sat down for five minutes, and now I can do it." He was fascinated by his affliction; he looked at it as a scientist.
Al was a caring and compassionate man. When his good friend John Cooke was approaching 90, he was still working in the workshop. His vision was going, and his work suffered. Al wouldn't hurt his friend and tell him to retire, so he came up with a way to do it gently. I learned from Al's example, and when Al's Parkinson's began affecting his work, I offered him the same respect and compassion.
Today as I walk through the laboratory classrooms in Mellon Hall, I see Al's legacy around me. The equipment that was repaired, modified, or created by his hands speaks to me. Some speak to me of the brilliant scientist, the problem solver. Others remind me of his compassionate, friendly nature. They just say, ""hello, young man."
ROZANNE KRAMER (SFGI68)
Rozanne Edwards Kramer, a St. John's Santa Fe Graduate Institute alumnus and former manager of the St. John's Annapolis bookstore, died March 21, 2008. Ms. Kramer was born in Leavenworth, Kansas, and as a child of an army colonel, she traveled extensively throughout her childhood. She earned a bachelor's degree at Oberlin College and worked on The Evening Star in Washington, D.C., and The Evening Capital in Annapolis.
She joined the St. John's staff as manager of the Annapolis bookstore. When St. John's opened its Santa Fe campus, she moved West with her then-husband, Clarence Kramer. After earning her graduate degree at St. John's, Ms. Kramer earned a second master's degree in Special Education and enjoyed a 15&345;year career as a teacher and drill team coach. She is survived by three children, five grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.
JOHN DROEGE (A85)
John Patrick Droege, of Plymouth, Mass., died on January 28, 2008. He was 46 and was employed as a technical salesman.
After graduating from St. John's, Droege earned a master's in American History from the University of Notre Dame. An avid outdoorsman, Droege was a member of the Manomet Center for Conservation Science.
His parents, John and Aileen Droege, would love to hear from classmates and tutors who knew John; contact them at: JDroege1@comcast.net.