WMU News

Otto Grundler

Sept. 21, 2004

Dr. Otto Grundler, who spent 34 years at Western Michigan University building the Medieval Institute and its annual congress into internationally acclaimed resources for the academic world, died Sept. 12 at his home in Kalamazoo. He was 76.

Grundler, who retired from WMU in 1995, was director of the Medieval Institute from 1976 until his retirement. He also was a professor of religion and had been a member of the faculty since 1961, the year before the first medieval congress was convened with an attendance of 150 scholars.

Under Grundler's direction and leadership, the institute and annual congress grew in scope and reputation. Today, the institute enjoys world renown and is one of only a handful of places in the United States that offers interdisciplinary graduate programs leading to a master's degree in medieval studies. The institute has a thriving academic press that specializes in medieval subjects, annually publishes four academic journals and has some 200 books in print. The institute's International Congress on Medieval Studies attracts some 3,000 scholars from around the globe to WMU each May, making it the largest and one of the most prestigious medieval studies events in the world.

"Kalamazoo in May is like Grand Central Station for those involved in medieval studies," Grundler noted proudly in 1992, on the occasion of the congress' 30th anniversary. "My colleagues around the world refer to Kalamazoo as 'a mecca for annual pilgrimages by medievalists.'"

Grundler was educated in Nordhorn, Germany, and first came to Michigan to attend Western Theological Seminary in Holland, where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1950. He went on to study theology at the University of Gottingen in Germany and earn a doctoral degree in theology from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1961. He served as a pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Stillwater, N.J., for six years while he began his academic career as an instructor of German language and literature at Westminster Choir College and a Princeton teaching fellow in history and Christian thought. He came to WMU as an instructor in religion.

Upon Grundler's retirement in 1995, Dr. Diether Haenicke, who was then president of WMU, established an annual prize in his honor to note his distinguished service to the University and his life-long dedication to the international community of medievalists. The $2,500 Otto Grundler Prize is awarded annually at the medieval congress to the author of a book or monograph judged by the selection committee as an outstanding contribution to the field. It has become a major international prize for scholarship in the area of medieval studies.

There will be a memorial service at 11 a.m. Friday, Sept. 24, at Kanley Chapel on the WMU campus. No other service or family visitation period is planned. The family suggests that memorials be made to the Medieval Institute Scholarship Fund through the WMU Foundation, Kalamazoo MI 49008-5403 or <www.wmich.edu/wmuf>.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, 269 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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