Hawley resident Richard Ohmann, author and Wesleyan professor, dies at 90

  • Richard Ohmann, a Wesleyan University professor and author who spent several decades in Hawley, died Oct. 8 at the age of 90. He is pictured here with the wood he would chop at his house in Hawley for fuel. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 10/28/2021 4:40:19 PM

HAWLEY — When Hawley was planning its bicentennial event in 1992, it needed someone with the skill and mindset to dig through the small town’s history. Richard Ohmann, a Wesleyan University professor who spent his summers in the town, was just the type of person needed to help bring the celebration together.

Alice Parker, one of Ohmann’s good friends in Hawley, said he fit right into the community despite his renowned status as both a professor and an author.

“He had this distinguished, professorial air about him,” Parker said, “and also that native New England, craggy look.”

Ohmann died Oct. 8 at the age of 90. He bought a summer house in Hawley in the 1960s and began to split his time between the town and New York City when he retired. He also spent several years on the Mohawk Trail Regional School District School Committee.

An Oberlin College and Harvard University scholar, Ohmann taught English at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Conn., from 1961 until his retirement in 1996, where he protested against the Vietnam War and helped usher in a wave of “teaching politics and literature,” according to his stepdaughter Nicole Polier. Ohmann was also an accomplished author, who published several “field-changing books,” including one with American linguist and philosopher Noam Chomsky, according to Wesleyan’s obituary for Ohmann.

“He was one of many, many generations that was greatly changed by the anti-war movement and that was sort of what radicalized him,” Polier recalled. “He thought deeply of pedagogy … and was one of the founders of women’s studies at Wesleyan.”

Despite his status as both “a local and global citizen,” Polier said he “wasn’t egotistical” and he was the most caring father you could find, even if he wasn’t her biological dad.

“This isn’t just the story of a bada** professor,” Polier said by phone from New York. “I regarded him as my dad and he regarded me as his daughter. He helped me raise my child. He was not only a father, but just the most dedicated grandfather you ever saw.”

Polier described Ohmann’s house in Hawley as a sort of “farm” where he did all the chores on the property, even in his old age.

“He did all of his own wood cutting up to five years ago,” Polier said. “He seriously loved it up there.”

Parker described Ohmann as a “lovely man” with whom she ended up going on several driving trips to New Hampshire to visit a mutual friend who was in declining health. She added she had “wonderful” dinners at the Ohmann household as well.

“We had wonderful conversations along the way. We’d keep talking with no problems,” Parker said. “We always had a lively conversation. … He had a whole lot of odd knowledge. He was just a fascinating person to talk to because you never know what topic would come up.”

Parker said Ohmann was a “gentleman, a farmer and a scholar” with a “lovely sense of humor,” which is what she will remember the most about him.

“It brings a smile to my face,” Parker said, “because there was always a smile on his.”

During his time in Hawley, Polier said Ohmann’s “magnetic personality” brought many people to the town.

“All kinds of people passed through there,” Polier said.

Polier said Ohmann was “venerated” by Wesleyan students, but to her, he was always just her dad.

“He was a larger-than-life person,” Polier said. “I cannot tell you how much I miss him.”

Ohmann is survived by his daughter, Sarah Ohmann; Polier; and his step-granddaughter, Alison Polier. Donations can be made in his name to resist.org, Planned Parenthood or trainingforchange.org.

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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