July 31, 2015
English professor Hal Wyss passed away July 28 after a short illness at the age of 75. He is survived by his wife, Melissa ("Missy"), a longtime dance instructor at Albion College, and a daughter, Trudy. The Wyss' older daughter, Laura Wyss, passed away in 2014.
A native of Delaware, Ohio, Wyss attended Wesleyan University and The Ohio State University, where he focused his master's and doctoral studies on American writers and literature.
During his 35-year tenure (1970-2005) with Albion's English Department, Wyss also worked as an administrator, serving at different times as the assistant, interim or acting dean of the faculty, as well as dean of Albion's Summer College and director of the Basic Ideas program. Wyss served on all major faculty committees and was an early member and chair of the committee overseeing the College's premedical program. He also served as an advisor for the Newberry Library program for more than 20 years.
In addition to courses on composition and linguistics, Wyss developed and taught courses on horror and science fiction, the work of individual authors, literary criticism, and interdisciplinary studies of the environment. Wyss was a director or lead planner of the College's 1985 symposium commemorating Ring Lardner's 100th birthday, the College's 1985 Sesquicentennial celebration and the 1992 symposium "Worlds in Collision: The Legacy of 1492."
Wyss was named Albion College Advisor of the Year and was also a recipient of the Student Senate's Teacher of the Year award.
"I'm a physician, but I write a lot of papers and journal articles. As I write today, Dr. Wyss is still my editor in my mind," said Katie Nori Janosz, '93, director of nutritional medicine at Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak.
"Dr. Wyss wouldn't just hand back a paper with a grade on it; he would sit down and talk about what was right and what needed to be corrected," Janosz continued, noting that Wyss' "love of English and love for his students" inspired her to take a second major in English. "He was always focused on what you needed to do to be better. It's his voice that still helps me with what I'm doing today."
An avid birdwatcher, Wyss authored two books, on eagles and hummingbirds. "The passion and energy he brought about birds was absolutely contagious," said biology professor emeritus Jeff Carrier about a class on South Florida he teaches regularly through the Albion Academy of Lifelong Learning. "All the participants in the class soon became as excited as he did when they spotted a bird they hadn't seen before."
Carrier noted that he and Wyss also shared a love of fishing and South Florida authors. Carrier and Wyss once toured Hemingway hangouts in Key West and led the faculty coterie on Carl Hiaasen during the author's visit to campus. "When I was provost, I read the department chair reports while I was doing research in the Gulf of Mexico," Carrier recalled. "On about page four of his report, Hal put in half a page from a Carl Hiaasen novel, to see if I was really reading the reports. Even though I was 100 miles out to sea, I managed to send him a postcard with another Hiaasen passage on it. He was a prankster that way."
English professor Mary Collar remembers meeting her long-time co-worker under somewhat chaotic circumstances – she was on campus for a job interview, only to find that Hal had just replaced the academic dean she expected to meet. "It could have been a very awkward and off-putting first impression of the college. There wasn't even a single book in that academic dean's office—as Hal himself wittily observed, Collar recalled. "But what a perfect choice as face and soul of the college Hal was that day—and remained. He was witty, calming, informed, wise, and modest. Someone I was ready to work for, someone I was happy to work with."
Within the Albion community, Wyss held leadership roles with the Albion First United Methodist Church, the Albion Academy of Lifelong Learning and the Albion Rotary. He was a member of Albion Community Theatre, the Albion Historical Society and the Riverfront Committee.
"Not long ago, I had dinner with Hal and Mary Collar and I asked them a fairly technical question about poetry. The two of them gave me about 10 times more than I wanted to know about the structure of poetry, but It was really neat to have that coming from both of them," said Jim Whitehouse, '69. "My relationship with Hal had nothing to do with either of our professions. We shared a love of the written word. He was a happy spirit, brilliant and intrepid, never letting anything get him down."
Donations to the Hal Wyss Scholarship Fund may be made to the Albion College Development Office, 517/629-0208; contact Marie Ames, senior director of development, for more information, . Alumni, colleagues and friends are encouraged to share memories of Dr. Wyss through College social media or by contacting the Office of Marketing and Communications (), which will publish shared memories in the next edition of Io Triumphe! magazine.