Edward K. Spann (1931-2004)
Christopher J. Olsen, December 2004
Edward K. Spann, professor emeritus of history at Indiana State University, died at age 73 on July 5, 2004. A nationally recognized and award-winning scholar, he remained active as a scholar even after his official retirement.
Born in Fairlawn, New Jersey, on April 12, 1931, he attended Colorado College and Iona College, where he finished his undergraduate work with a triple major in English, history, and philosophy. He received his PhD from New York University in 1957 and began his teaching career as an instructor at the City University of New York in 1958 and New York University in 1960. In 1961 he joined the faculty at Indiana State University. In 1983 the university bestowed upon him the Theodore Dreiser Research and Creativity Award, and in 1998 he was named Distinguished Professor of the College of Arts and Sciences. In 1999, after 38 years of service, he retired from Indiana State.
Spann wrote prolifically. In 1972 the State University of New York Press published his first book Ideals and Politics: New York Intellectuals and American Liberalism, 1820–1880, which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. His second book, The New Metropolis: New York City, 1840–1857, won the Annual Manuscript Award given by the New York State Historical Society in 1977. His other books include Hopedale: From Commune to Company Town, 1840–1920; Brotherly Tomorrows: Movements for a Cooperative Society in America, 1820–1920; and Designing Modern America: The Regional Planning Association of America and Its Members, 1914–1938, all of which were completed during his tenure at Indiana State University. During “retirement” he wrote two books: Gotham at War: New York City, 1860–1865 and Democracy's Children: The Young Rebels of the 1960s and the Power of Ideals.*
He was active in Terre Haute, Indiana, the town where he reared his children, whom he considered his greatest accomplishment in life. He was a founding member of the Eugene V. Debs Foundation and was very active in his local community, including promotion of the downtown district that borders Indiana State University. He was known throughout the community for his regular contributions to the Terre Haute Tribune Star, penning strong letters that supported the city's revitalization. He also contributed two books on Terre Haute history during his “retirement”: Juliet Peddle of Terre Haute: The Architect, The Historian 1899–1979 (which he co-authored with Helene C. Steppe), and Ralph Tucker of Terre Haute: A Mayor and His City.
Spann was a respected, demanding teacher, and someone committed to rewarding outstanding student scholarship. In 1979 he established the Bryant Spann Memorial Prize in memory of his son, Bryant E.R. Spann, and in honor of Eugene V. Debs (the Socialist leader and Terre Haute native), who dedicated his life to active protest against social injustice. Twenty-three prizes were given between 1979 and 1997, when the prize was discontinued.
In 2000 Spann and his wife Joanne endowed the Bryant Spann Memorial Scholarship, which is awarded annually to an Indiana State University student who is of junior class status and a history or history teaching major. Five awards were given during his lifetime, and it will continue to be awarded annually by the department of history.
He enjoyed the outdoors. He was known for playing tennis and riding his bike for fun and exercise. On days when weather permitted, he would ride his bicycle the eight miles round trip to work.
He is survived by his wife, Joanne Ellison Spann; his three children, Laura Spann Morrow, Suzan G. Spann, and Jason H. Spann; his two grandchildren; a brother; a daughter-in-law; and three nephews. He was preceded in death by one son, Bryant E.R. Spann.
— Christopher J. Olsen
Indiana State University
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