Jerome Balmuth died peacefully at his home in Hamilton, NY on September 28, at the age of 93. His vibrant engagement with life and with the world of ideas inspired his children and grandchildren, as well as generations of students at Colgate University, where he taught philosophy for 56 years.
Born May 8, 1924 in Brooklyn, NY, Jerry was the eldest of the four children of Betty (Levin) and Mortimer Balmuth. He graduated from New Utrecht High School in 1941, where he was chief editor of the NUHS newspaper. He was drafted into the U.S. Army in January 1943, assigned to a Signal Corps radio repair unit that was shipped to the European theatre in September 1944. He attended officer school and was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the U.S. Infantry at Fontainebleau, France on his 21st birthday, assigned to General Patton’s 3rd Army 8th Mountain Division, 317th Infantry, stationed in Bavaria. He was transferred to Dachau in May 1945 with the U.S occupation, where he served as the base’s Supply Officer for German POWs and officers held there. At the time of his discharge in July 1946, he held the rank of Acting Captain in the Military Police Escort Guard Unit which accompanied military war criminals to Frankfurt for possible prosecution.
Jerry attended Amherst College on the G.I. Bill, and graduated Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude in 1950. He entered the graduate program at the Sage School of Philosophy at Cornell University, where he held a Danforth Fellowship and earned his M.A. In May 1954 he joined the department of philosophy & religion at Colgate, receiving tenure in 1962, and continuing to teach full-time until 2010. Professor Balmuth’s provocative teaching style was renowned as he challenged students to wrestle with philosophical issues in his classes, which ranged from logic and the philosophy of language to aesthetics, modern philosophy, and ethics of law. He was the recipient of every teaching award at Colgate and was recognized as the Harry Emerson Fosdick Professor of Philosophy in 1995.
A fierce proponent of the value of a liberal arts education to a rich and full life, and believer in Colgate’s mission to create a diverse community that entertains and promotes critical thinking and open dialogue, Jerry was instrumental in many key evolutions at Colgate. When Colgate expanded recruitment of African-American students in 1967, Jerry was a mentor to many of these new students. He was active in the sit-in of 1968 protesting discriminatory practices of the university fraternities. He welcomed the arrival of female students when the school became coeducational in 1970. As one of Colgate’s first Jewish faculty members, he played a key role in expansion of the Jewish community on campus and the establishment of the Saperstein Jewish Center. He also embraced opportunities to engage with nonconventional students through Colgate’s summer programs for IBM executives and Elderhostel.
One of his greatest joys was the successes of his former students. He asked that the epitaph on his gravestone read, “He sought to transform thought into practice. Many of his students are teachers.” Jerry Balmuth sought out every opportunity to engage others in critical thinking. Whether it was at the family dinner table, in a classroom, or at a faculty or alumni gathering, he always elevated the conversation and challenged us to examine and expand our understanding of the world and our lives. His lifelong love of learning will live on with his family and his students for years to come.
He leaves his wife, Martha (Seidel); his children: Deborah Balmuth and Colin Harrington of Windsor, MA, Beth Raffeld and Philip Khoury of Leverett, MA, and Andrew and Akemi Balmuth of Rancho Palos Verdes, CA; his grandchildren: Eli Raffeld and Jennifer Wu Raffeld, Miriam Raffeld, and Hanna Balmuth; and his sisters: Lorraine Widman of Portland, Oregon and Marilyn Stolove of Plainview, New York. He was predeceased by his first wife, Ruth (Brown), and his brother, Daniel Balmuth. Uncle Jerry was also a beloved part of the lives of many nieces and nephews who survive him.
A service celebrating the life of Jerome Balmuth will be held at Colgate at a future date to be announced. Gifts in memory can be made to: The Jerome Balmuth Endowed Scholarship at Colgate University.