Daniel Walden, PhD, Professor Emeritus of American Studies, English, and Comparative Literature at Penn State University died Friday, November 8, 2013 at Mount Nittany Medical Center at age 91, surrounded by the love of his children, grandchildren and countless friends, colleagues and students. Though officially retired from Penn State in 1988, Dan continued to teach one course each semester, alternating between the departments of English and Comparative Literature, including the last course he taught on ethnicity and literature the first two weeks of fall semester 2013 before illness prevented him from continuing.
Born Daniel Weinroth in the Logan section of Philadelphia, Dan lived in a first floor apartment in North Philadelphia, and later, Northeast Philadelphia, with his mother, Reba, father Benjamin and brother Morton, all of whom pre-deceased him. His parents later divorced and many years later, Dan was introduced to his father’s second family and had the joy of meeting his half-siblings Marianne and Richard. Marianne and her husband Gary Selbst became a regular part of Dan’s family celebrations in his later years, who, along with Richard, visited with him during these difficult past months.
He grew up in what he described as a semi-religious home, attending a conservative synagogue, Adath Jeshurun. To quote Dan from his 1974 book, The Experience of Being Jewish, “the experience of being Jewish, of living the warmness of community, of being a part of an organic, progressive community that has existed proudly and contributed mightily for thousands of years – this might be enough.” But for Dan, it was not enough, but rather a starting place to extend that spirit of warmth, community and progressiveness to everyone who crossed his path.
Dan began studying voice in Philadelphia during his high school days, graduating from Northeast High School in Philadelphia in 1940. He volunteered in 1942 for the Army Reserves. He was activated in 1943 and opted to learn radar repair, training in Florida and later, Wem, in the northern part of England. He prepared for the invasion and crossed the Channel two weeks later, serving in France, Germany, Holland, the Netherlands, and Belgium. Dan served 20 months in the combat zone. He counts the Army as his first career, cementing his life-long commitment to fairness and justice.
Upon returning to the States, it was his love of singing and the theatre that called him. During his tour in Europe, he sang solos in several churches in Chester, England. When he returned from the war, he moved to NY and studied voice and theater and movement, performing summer stock in New Hampshire, doing ten plays and musicals in ten weeks.
Daniel Weinroth found Jewish singers were not a desirable commodity in the theatre after WW II, and with his brother Morton’s suggestion, changed his name to Daniel Walden. In 1949, he landed a role in the chorus of Annie Get Your Gun with Mary Martin. Later, he played 28 shows a week at the Roxy Theatre with stars like Danny Kaye and Cab Calloway and at the Versailles Club as a back-up singer for Edith Piaf. He worked in the company of Jean Arthur and Boris Karloff in Peter Pan on Broadway and singer Teresa Brewer at the Sawdust Club. One of his great joys came in 1955 when he moved to Paris and got to sing American standards at Le Boef Sur Le Toit.
Despite a promising career in theatre, his experiences with anti-semetism, WW II, the Cold War and McCarthyism led Dan to strive for meaning and service beyond entertainment. Daniel returned to New York and became a casework assistant at the Traveler’s Aid Society in Times Square and with the help of the GI Bill, began attending City College of New York. A spark was lit, and his dedication to his academic life and human services became primary over the theatre.
It was in 1956, during this time of transition, that Dan met the love of his life, Beatrice Schulman, at a party in Greenwich Village. Set up by a friend, it was an instant match. They married on October 12, 1957 and enjoyed 54 years of marriage before Bea’s death in November 2011.
Dan pursued the life of a scholar with a vengeance and work ethic that defined his entire career. Bea’s love and support allowed their house to be transformed into a home for countless students who have gone on to become scholars and citizens of great achievement.
Dan obtained his MA at Columbia in 1961 and welcomed son Moss in 1962. He continued through his PhD from New York University in 1964, the same year he had the joy of daughter Ruth being born. It was at this time, Dan developed a profound interest in the African-American experience. His first scholarly article was “The Contemporary Opposition to the Political and Educational Ideas of Booker T. Washington” in the Journal of Negro History in 1960. (Source: “Daniel Walden: A Pioneer in the Study of American Urban and Ethnic Culture”, Robert C. Doyle.)
In 1963, Daniel was hired at Michigan State University in its Department of American Thought and Language. He proudly marched on Washington that year to further the cause of equality and civil rights and cherished meeting Martin Luther King, Jr. In 1966, he and Bea accepted an opportunity offered by Penn State to teach simultaneously at the Capitol and University Park Campuses. In 1968, the family moved to State College, PA when Dan assumed a full-time role in the Department of English at main campus.
His On Being Black: African American Literature from Douglass to the Present (1970), with Charles Davis, was a pioneering book. On Being Jewish: Jewish American Literature from Cahan to Bellow (1974) was a pioneering book in the field of Jewish Studies. He founded the journal Studies in American Jewish Literature (SAJL) in 1975 and served continuously as its editor from then into 2011. SAJL was his second great love after Bea and he nurtured it and valued the friendships he made with the colleagues that contributed and now sustain it.
He has published more than 90 journal articles in peer reviewed journals. In 1984 Dan published "The World of Chaim Potok," a whole issue of SAJL. In 1985 Dan publishedTwentieth Century American Jewish Fiction Writers (Greenwood Press). Conversations with Chaim Potok came out in 2002 (University Press of Mississippi) and at the age of 91, his final work was released, Chaim Potok: Confronting Modernity Through the Lens of Tradition (Penn State Press). Professor Walden was Director of American Studies for ten years and was the first to teach African American literature at Penn State in 1968, the first in the nation. This led to the founding of the Department of African American Studies. He followed suit in 1972 teaching the first Jewish American literature and founded the Jewish Studies Program.
Dan and Bea were among the earliest families to establish Congregation Brit Shalom, where he later served as President and was active until his passing.
Along with Dan’s rich careers, his generosity of spirit, service and mentoring, it is his commitment to family and unconditional love that is his greatest legacy to us. In 1980, Dan and Bea welcome nieces Aileen and Beth to their home and loved them as their daughters. Through the years, Dan and Bea provided the same safe harbor to family members, graduate students, and international scholars. His feeling was a full home is a happy home and family is the most important thing. He embodied his love and loyalty in the ten years he cared tirelessly for Bea until her death in 2011.
At Dan’s passing, he leaves behind son Moss (Lisa) Walden of Maple Glen, PA, daughter Ruth (Dan) Walden-Turek of Lansdale, PA, nieces Aileen (Kirk) Galley of State College, PA and Beth McGonagle of Dresher, PA. He was beloved Poppy to Jordan and Yale Walden, David (Jaimi) Williams, Robin (Pat) Woodring, Deanna Walden-Turek, Max and Emma Galley, James and Ian McGonagle, Danielle (Chris) Deck and Jill and Jordan Turek. He was proud to say he had seven great grand-children, Kaylee, Davin, Connor, Mason, Owen, Hayden and Ethan.
Our family wishes to thank Dan’s amazing medical team, including John Coppes, MD, Albert Zoda, MD, Nilesh Patel, MD, Charles Maxin, MD and the outstanding nurses at Mount Nittany Medical Center, and The Fairways and the Inn at Brookline Village.
A memorial service will be held on Monday, November 11, 2013, 1 pm at Congregation Brit Shalom, followed by internment at Centre County Memorial Park. Our family will sit shiva at niece Aileen Galley’s home at 6 pm on the same date. For those wishing to honor Dan’s memory, please consider a donation to the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund, Congregation Brit Shalom, 620 East Hamilton Avenue, State College, PA 16801 or The Penn State Jewish Studies Program, 103 Weaver Building, University Park, PA 16802.
Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at www.kochfuneralhome.com.