Two MHC Professors to Retire

Posted: May 24, 2006

 Catharine R. Melhorn
 Francis J. DeToma

This spring will mark the retirement of two highly esteemed professors, Francis J. DeToma, Professor of Biological Sciences on the Alumnae Foundation, and Catharine R. Melhorn, Hammond-Douglass Professor of Music and choral director.

DeToma, who received his Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of Chicago, was Mount Holyoke's first immunologist. He cowrote a textbook titled Experimental Immunology, published in 1987. In his 37 years at the College, he played a critical role in bridging the study of biology and chemistry, and in designing innovative courses in those fields from introductory levels to advanced, as well as interdisciplinary courses for nonscientists. Craig Woodard, associate professor of biology, who cotaught Introductory Biology with DeToma, said, "It was clear to the students and to me that he loved teaching, and this made learning fun for everyone, especially me."

DeToma has been a generous colleague and mentor to young professors. Woodard recalled meeting him for the first time: "It was in August of 1995, when I had just moved here from Utah. He helped my wife and me unload all of our things from the truck, and move them into our new home. He was very enthusiastic, helpful, and friendly, making us feel welcome right away."

DeToma will perhaps be remembered best at the College for his important participation in the design and construction of Kendade Hall and the renovation and integration of four science-related buildings--Shattuck, Cleveland, Carr, and Clapp--into a unified science complex. This was no small feat, requiring him to balance the needs of faculty and students in the natural sciences as well as English, women's studies, geography, and politics. His good nature and popularity greatly eased this enormous undertaking. Upon completion of the project, he served as the first director of the Science Center. In keeping with the College's commitment to environmental responsibility, Kendade is certified as a "green" building under the strict standards of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program.

DeToma has also been active in various civic activities in South Hadley, including twice serving as president of the local Lions Club and serving as chair of the local water commission.

Catharine Melhorn came to the College in 1970 and has been the choral director since 1971. She has a B.A. from Smith College, an M.A. in musicology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a D.M.A. in choral music, with a minor in viola, from the University of Illinois.

During 35 years of Melhorn's leadership, the College's choirs have won critical acclaim throughout the U.S. and in South America, Russia, Sweden, Spain, Central and Eastern Europe, England, Wales, and Costa Rica. Her choruses have been noted for performing a varied multicultural repertory, and she has commissioned many new works for women's voices. She shaped Mount Holyoke's annual Christmas Vespers into an enormously successful program for the College, the greater South Hadley community, and alumnae communities in Boston and New York.

In the classroom Melhorn brought her love and knowledge of music to a wide range of courses. She has taught the first-year seminar From Words to Music, as well as courses in conducting, music appreciation, music theory and analysis, and twentieth-century music history. "Cathy helped her students understand that the activity of making music, like all other forms of art, was an intellectual activity as well as an intensely physical one," said music professor Larry Schipull. "Sometimes the intellectual problems are posed by the way the music is composed (say, in a complicated fugal passage), but I have been most struck by Cathy's pedagogical gifts when the intellectual challenges of a piece or performance required the students in her ensemble to examine their role as interpreters and re-creators of art. How do we deal with the anti-Semitic parts of Bach's St. John Passion? If we wish to sing the words of a witch's incantation in a convincing manner, does that necessarily mean we must believe what we are saying? Rather than pretending that the abstraction of music makes the important issues that art raises irrelevant, Cathy willingly chose to deal with the issues, and to make them into valuable learning experiences for her students. I hope her successors are equally willing to teach."

In 1993-1994, Melhorn conducted and taught at the University of Ghana, Legon, as a Fulbright Fellow and produced two video documentaries on Ghanaian choirs. In addition to her contributions to the music department, Melhorn was the creator and, for five years, coordinator of the College's Second*Saturday program, a one-day introduction to the community service and recreational resources of the Pioneer Valley for entering Mount Holyoke students.

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