A Bittersweet Farewell to a Most Happy Fellow

David Stameshkin reflects on his more than three decades at F&M

When David Stameshkin was young, he thought he might like to be a rabbi. He enjoyed and even excelled at many skills rabbis need: leadership, counseling, mediation, teaching and even entertaining.

Looking back at his 34 years at Franklin & Marshall College, it’s hard not to conclude that he actually became one in all but title, performing most of the tasks rabbis handle—and more. He has worked in a variety of administrative offices, including the Office of Student Life, College Advancement and the Office of the President, while also teaching courses and producing musical parodies, writing humorous columns for the school newspaper, and being a general creative force-to-bereckoned- with.

If you ask him to describe how he has felt as he has multitasked the years away, the answer is swift and sure: “Lucky.” He is retiring this summer.

My Life in a House 

“I wake up in the morning and think, ‘Oh, boy, I get to see my students today,’” says Stameshkin, the associate dean and House prefect for Bonchek College House.

He is relaxed but bursting with energy on a sunny spring afternoon in his Bonchek office, a bright little room that is crammed with mementos and work-related paraphernalia—his two-volume history of Middlebury College, a draft of his memoirs as a cab driver in Chicago, the Yellow Cab driver’s hat from those years, papers, books and a prankstore jar for “ashes of problem students.”

Stameshkin’s reflections were preceded by a quick but enthusiastic tour of the common rooms of Bonchek House. With rapid-fire delivery, he presented the seminar room, where first-year students participate in the required seminars, and the cozy community room where films are shown and guest speakers visit, all with the excited air of a proud homeowner showing off his new residence for the first time.

Stameshkin has been a champion of the College House system from its start in 2005, reveling in the seamless blending of academic and residential life that places faculty members and administrators on-site in offices. The College Houses are student-governed, and the role of the prefects and dons are to help the students as they work on projects.

“I could sit here all day and talk with students one-on-one,” he says of that much-loved aspect of his job. The feeling is mutual—a couple of generations of students benefited from his availability, constancy and help.

In honor of his commitment to students, such as Steve Becker ’11, and to Jewish life on campus, two scholarship funds have been established in Stameshkin's honor: the David Stameshkin Emergency Fund for Students and the David Stameshkin Jewish Student Engagement Fund. Photo by Eric Forberger.

“Dean Dave” 

Stameshkin landed in Lancaster from Vermont when his wife, Colleen, secured a tenure-track position teaching philosophy at Millersville University in 1976. Once in the Red Rose City, he finished his Ph.D. dissertation and then found work in 1978 as director of the Harrisburg Urban Semester, an academic  internship program run by the Central Pennsylvania Consortium, a group of private liberal arts colleges (Dickinson, Gettysburg and F&M). He then made the move to associate dean of students at F&M in 1984.

Stameshkin holds an A.B. from the University of Chicago in political science, an M.A. in history from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, and a Ph.D. in history from the University of Michigan–Ann Arbor.

“Dean Dave” (as he was known to students in the ‘80s) has worked under six F&M presidents in a variety of roles. He has seen a lot of changes, including incredible growth, especially in the area of student life. While he believes that this administrative growth is good, Stameshkin is emphatic when talking about the administrative task of supporting faculty.

“The point of a liberal arts college is the interaction between faculty and students. Everybody is working for that moment when faculty and student interact.” And the F&M faculty, he believes, are “top-rate, outstanding people who care about their students and their work.”

Small, liberal arts colleges such as F&M, he says, attract faculty and staff who want that interaction, who want to be more than just lecturers in front of hundreds of undergraduates. “It’s an amazing place,” he says. “Classes with 20 students, teachers who want to talk to them and nobody in between. They can do research with students! It’s a treasure.”

Stameshkin feels so strongly about this treasured aspect of the F&M experience that he has been known to tell visiting high school students that if they are the kinds of students who sit in the back of the room not wanting to be called on, they probably shouldn’t come to F&M.

This white tiger from Susannah Hendrey ’11 and gourd from Nancy O’Brien Walker ’87 are two of the many mementos in Stameshkin’s office. Photo by Ian Bradshaw.

Having Fum–and Listening–Along the Way 

“Dean S” (as he is known to the current generation of students) is not a back-of-the-room kind of fellow. While at F&M, he dove into activities outside the office and classroom, using his entertainment skills to write and produce 14 “infamous” “Fum Follies,” which are musical parody shows that focus on student life at F&M and such topics as fraternities and sororities, the College Houses, pre-meds and environmental issues, since 1985.

Stameshkin, who was the first recipient of the College’s Richard Kneedler Distinguished Service Award in 2003, also helped to initiate the annual College picnic for faculty and professional staff in 1986, christening it “DIPNIC.”

Alumni, faculty and professional staff who have been on campus any time since 1985 have fond memories of “Fum Follies,” the musical parody shows Stameshkin wrote and produced. In all there were 14 “Fum Follies,” including “The DaVinci Coed;” “The 40-Year Old Freshman;” and “Harry Fummer and the Desperate House Dons.” In this photo from 1985, Stameshkin and Lynn Woodward (Admissions) star as Gabe and Muffy in “High and Dry,” the original “Fum Follies” show.

His own fondest memories of his tenure bring him back to “fun and laughter,” especially moments when “everyone is laughing” at the “Fum Follies.” He believes strong, confident institutions such as F&M should be able to laugh at themselves. (View a slideshow from Fum Follies through the years.)

When asked to describe his own legacy, Stameshkin grows serious. He would love to be known as someone who helped young adults “grow up.” And he’d like students to say, “He was there for me.”

“When people are 18 to 22 years old, they are often looking for someone to talk to about things. They come to me. I’m a pretty good listener. We have really great conversations,” he says. “There are lot of people on campus who do that. We all do that.”

He remembers his father, a salesman, telling him: “When you have a conversation with someone, if they don’t walk away feeling better about themselves, you have failed them.” That memory clearly stayed with him over the years. He has offered students—and, over the course of his long career, the sons and daughters of students—his ear and his counsel with the goal of helping them feel “better about themselves” when they walk away from his chats.

But this brings the story back to his childhood dream of becoming a rabbi. For Stameshkin, part of his mission has been to live the Hebrew phrase “tikkun olam,” which is part of a prayer asking God to give us strength to repair the world. And through his counseling, his teaching, his entertaining and his listening, he hopes that he has helped, in some small way, “repair the world.”

David Stameshkin has touched the lives of countless members of the community as a mentor, a colleague and friend. Here is a sampling of what people have to say about his influence:

Student: “Dean S. has been a mentor and father figure to me since day one. His constant joy and compassion are inspirations for how I want to live my life.”

– Carra Kramer ‘12

Alumna: “If it wasn’t for the support of Dean Dave, I’m not sure I would have graduated from F&M. It was very clear to me that he genuinely cared about me as a person, and took the time to support me outside the classroom.”

– Bonnie Cox ‘86

Faculty Member: “He’d say it’s not about him—we love David because he really, truly wants to know all about us. Our stories go from his ears straight to his heart.”

– Annalisa Crannell, professor of mathematics and former Bonchek College House Don

 


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