March 15, 2005
Harry Prosch, professor emeritus of philosophy, died Friday, March 11, at the Wesley Health Care Center.
Born May 4, 1917, in Logansport, Ind., he was the son of Harry J. Prosch and Clara Rehwald Prosch. After graduating from high school, he worked as post office clerk until he entered the Army in 1942, serving as a supply sergeant in the Pacific Theater. In 1948, he married Doris Becker of Logansport. She survives him.
Harry earned an A.B. degree with honors, as well as A.M., and Ph.D. degrees at the University of Chicago. His master’s thesis was titled “Methodological Pre-Requisites for a Practical Social Science,” and his doctoral dissertation, “The Current Impasse in Ethics.” He taught at Idaho State College, Shimer College, and Southern Methodist University before joining the Skidmore faculty in 1962. He chaired the Department of Philosophy for 15 years and was a full professor from 1977 until his retirement in 1987.
He served on a number of college committees and was elected a founding member of the Skidmore chapter of Phi Beta Kappa in 1971. That same year, he was selected to deliver the Faculty Research Lecture, titled “Cooling the Modern Mind: Polanyi’s Mission.” In his introduction to the talk, then-President Joseph Palamountain said that as a teacher and administrator, in less than a decade, Harry “has developed and shaped Skidmore’s Philosophy Department from rudimentary beginnings into one of the strongest areas of the liberal arts curriculum…. He is to the entire community very much the ideal of scholar, of instructor, and of educational planner.”
Eric Weller, professor emeritus of philosophy and former dean of the faculty, recalled Harry’s approach to teaching Plato’s Dialogues. “During the Symposium (one of the dialogues), all of the main characters sit around drinking, talking about love. The students taking the course—all seniors and of legal age—were invited to Harry’s house for a true, Greek-style symposium, where Harry would serve retsina—a foul-tasting wine. This was Harry’s way of saying, ‘don’t drink too much of this stuff.’ The students loved the experience.”
Harry developed good relationships with his students, added Weller. “He was a curmudgeon who spoke his mind but a softie underneath that exterior. He would bend over backwards for his students, and the brighter they were, the farther he’d bend.”
Another longtime colleague, Warren Hockenos, associate professor emeritus of philosophy, remembered the retsina symposium. “Harry used it to show them that a wine connoisseur would know the qualities that made it a good retsina and worth drinking. That is the role of the philosopher—knowing what qualities make something good.”
Hockenos continued, “Plato’s philosophy is important because it tells you what you have to know to conduct your life properly as a good person. The role of the teacher of philosophy is to bring students to this philosophical thought that Plato developed. And students saw that Harry took them and philosophy seriously. He had respect for his students, and respect for what a philosopher does and thinks, and he had the ability to bring the two together and show how one depends on the other.”
Harry’s research specialty was the philosopher Michael Polanyi, with whom he studied at Oxford in 1968-69. As Willett Visiting Professor at the University of Chicago in 1970, Harry taught a course on Polanyi with the philosopher himself.
Harry wrote three books: The Genesis of Twentieth Century Philosophy in 1964, Meaning (co-written with Michael Polanyi) in 1975, and Michael Polanyi: A Critical Exposition in 1986.
Survivors in addition to his wife include a son, Michael, who graduated from Skidmore in 1982; a daughter, Christine, and her husband, Douglas Murray, of Alexandria, Va.; and two grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
The family has suggested that memorial contributions be made to the Luzerne Music Center, P.O. Box 35, Lake Luzerne, NY, 12846.
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