Wayne McLean Carver

Wayne McLean Carver

  • Funeral Date: 4/18/15
  • Funeral Time: 2:00 p.m.
  • Date of Birth: 5/17/23
  • Date of Death: 3/15/15
  • Funeral Location: Skinner Memorial Chapel, Carleton College, Northfield

Wayne McLean Carver, professor of English at Carleton College for 38 years, and whose vivid short stories drew on his childhood in Utah and experiences in WWII, died at his home in Northfield on March 15, 2015. He was 91.

Wayne began teaching as an instructor at Carleton in 1954, and retired as the William Laird Professor of the Liberal Arts in 1992. In 1969 he received the Danforth Foundation’s E. Harris Harvison Award for Distinguished teaching. He helped generations of college students discover the beauty and depths of poetry and literature.

Wayne’s longtime colleague Bob Tisdale, said of him, “We have lost an amazing fount of literary and pedagogical wisdom (subtle and often sly), institutional memory, and humor that rivaled Twain at his irreverent best. They were giants in the earth.”

Bruce Jorgensen, in a paper he presented at Brigham Young University, said, “His four main accounts of the end of WWII should be required reading for English students. His fiction celebrates the power of speech and is a testament to the oral culture that raised him.”

Wayne was born in Plain City, Utah, on May 17, 1923. He spent his childhood playing baseball and helping on the family farm harvesting onions, sugar beets, alfalfa, and asparagus. His sister Joan remembers that when their mom couldn’t find him they’d look out back and often see him sitting by the old shed reading a book.

He received an associate degree from Weber State University in 1943. “In a life of good luck, the luckiest thing I ever did was to enter Weber College in 1941. I kept friends from Weber High, made new ones, found two teachers who took me seriously and a couple of others corrupt enough to pass me through science courses, discovered the radiant power of literature, and fell in love with the Moench building. Told I had a mind of sorts, I developed a voice to express it. The diseased humiliations of adolescence crept into hiding. I stepped onto the path of writing and teaching and with single-minded devotion stayed on it all my life.”

Wayne enlisted in the army during WWII and served in the European Theatre of Operations, 138 Combat Engineer Battalion. His tour of duty took him through the Midlands of England and Belgium, France, and Germany. He edited an army newspaper and wrote long letters home to his parents in Plain City on a typewriter that he found in the rubble of a bombed bank in Germany.

After the war, he returned to playing baseball and once batted against Warren Spahn, the future Cy Young Award winner. Later, when Wayne spoke about his own performance in the game, he said, “Couldn’t hit a thing.”

He married Marilyn Mills on December 30, 1949. The newlyweds moved from Ogden to Lawrence, Kansas, where Wayne attended the University of Kansas on a teaching fellowship. He went to Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, on the GI Bill and earned a BA in English.

He was invited back to teach at Weber State University and during this time a number of his short stories were published in Furioso and The Carleton Miscellany, including “The Country Behind,” which takes place in WWII. The professional friendships that developed between Wayne and members of the editorial board of the magazine led to a visit by Carleton President Lawrence Gould to the Carver kitchen in Ogden, where he offered Wayne a job. Marilyn and Wayne moved to Northfield in 1954. He was the Associate Editor and later Editor of the Miscellany from 1960 to 1980. In 1961 his short story “Heroes Are Born” was published in Esquire Magazine, and he was awarded a McKnight Foundation Grant. Wayne wrote “A Child’s Christmas in Utah,” a story that celebrates a family Christmas in Plain City during the Great Depression, while he was at Carleton. His reading of it was broadcast on the St. Olaf radio station and WCCO in Minneapolis.

Wayne spent a year doing research in American Studies at the University of Utah while on a Danforth Teaching Grant, and a year in Logan working under a Chapel-Brook Foundation Grant. He helped launch Carleton’s teacher certification program and its American Studies Program, moving the college toward interdisciplinary studies. In 1998, Wayne received the Emeriti Lifetime Achievement Award from Weber State University. He attended the McDowell Writer’s Colony and relished the time he was given there to write.

Wayne recorded interviews with his family and many other people in Plain City with the idea of contributing to an oral history of his people. Some of his tapes were transcribed and published in Plain Songs, an anthology of Carleton writers edited by Keith Harrison. After retirement, he taught “The Shape of Experience” and “Fiction Writing” at the Cannon Valley Elder Collegium. He and Marilyn enjoyed traveling and returned to Belgium in June of 1995.

In later years, he enjoyed holding court with friends at the Goodbye Blue Monday Coffee House. He loved long drives through the Minnesota countryside, eating lunch at Bogus Creek in Stockholm, Wisconsin, and Norton’s in Red Wing, and visiting the Vasa Church at sunset. He continued to read deeply and widely until he died, spending hours sitting at his dining room table reading novel after novel on his Kindle, drinking strong coffee from his favorite mug.

Near the end of his life, when asked if there was anything in particular that he’d like included in his obituary, he paused and said, “I’d like it cleared up once and for all that I never did play professional baseball.”

Wayne was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

He is survived by his daughter Cindy Blehart (James) of Oradell, NJ, his son Patric Carver of Oakland, CA, his sister Joan Facer of Ogden, Utah, and three grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his wife Marilyn, his son Michael, his brother Norman, and his sister Ruth DeVries.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, April 18, at 2 pm in Skinner Memorial Chapel, Carleton College. A reception at Great Hall will follow the service.

Donations in memory of Professor Carver will fund the Wayne Carver Creative Writing Fellowship. Please direct contributions to Carleton College, Gift Accounting, 1 North College Street, Northfield, MN 55057.

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