Robert E. Carlson, 91; taught at West Chester University

Posted: May 26, 2013

Robert E. Carlson, 91, a longtime West Chester resident and history professor who led Chester County's 1982 tricentennial celebration, died Thursday, May 16, of respiratory failure at Riddle Memorial Hospital in Media.

Born in Johnstown, he earned a bachelor's degree in history from the University of Pittsburgh in 1943.

That year, he was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy. He was honorably discharged with rank of lieutenant junior grade in June 1946. He served as a watch and gunnery officer aboard the destroyer USS Hambleton.

In June 1944, he was part of the Normandy Invasion and of the anti-submarine patrol in the Mediterranean. In 1945, he was on radar duty near Okinawa, and in late August of that year, his ship entered Tokyo Bay.

Dr. Carlson remained in the Naval Reserve until the mid-1960s, when he was discharged with the rank of commander.

Dr. Carlson completed his master's degree in 1948 and his doctorate in history in 1954, both at the University of Pittsburgh.

He taught history at Pitt from 1947 to 1961 and was a member of the Phi Alpha Theta History Honor Society.

In 1961, he became a history professor at West Chester State Teachers College, now West Chester University, where he taught U.S. history, history of civilization, history of technology, and ran the senior seminar.

"He was a lifelong learner and educator," his son, Neal, said. Asked by nurses on the last day of life what kind of teacher he was, Dr. Carlson replied, " 'I was a good teacher,' " his son said.

Dr. Carlson was active in the faculty senate and faculty union, and he chaired the history department for many years, before retiring in 1983 as professor emeritus.

A longtime member of Calvary Lutheran Church, he served on the church council.

He served on the board of directors of the Chester County Historical Society. An authority on the history of Delaware and Chester Counties, he wrote many books and articles about them.

In 1982, Dr. Carlson led Chester County's tricentennial celebration, in conjunction with the Chester County Historical Society and the Chester County Board of Commissioners.

In retirement, he and his wife, the former Marjorie Sprengel, moved to Granite Farms Estates, where they helped buy a grand piano and coordinate concerts. The two traveled to elder hostels into their 80s. She died in 2007. The two were married for 61 years.

In addition to his son Neal, Dr. Carlson is survived by a daughter, Valerie Klimowicz; four grandchildren; four great-grandsons; a niece; and nephews. A brother died earlier.

The funeral was held Tuesday, May 21. Interment was in Birmingham-Lafayette Cemetery near West Chester.

Contributions may be made to the Chester County Historical Society, 225 N. High St., West Chester, Pa. 19380.

Condolences to the family may be offered at www.DellaFH.com.


Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.

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