Magazine Feature / People

Professor shared love of history, music

Eric Arnold was a passionate historian who also had a knack for music and other art forms, friends recalled Aug. 13 at the Iliff School of Theology Chapel.

Arnold, a history professor emeritus, died August 6 after a brief illness. He was 68.

Born in Cleveland on Dec. 4, 1939, Arnold received his undergraduate degree from Oberlin College and doctorate from Columbia University. He joined the DU faculty in 1969, retiring in 2006.

Arnold was a man who simply loved life and culture: “He was passionate about all his interests, from the history of Napoleonic France, to opera, to historic railroads, to the Denver Broncos,” said Ingrid Tague, DU history department chair.

Much of his work focused on French history, as he was an original member of the Western Society of French History. His love for the subject was apparent in his teaching, in which he would try to bring history alive for his students. Arnold would often show up to class in a vintage military uniform or bring a period rifle to a class on World War I, Tague said.

Franz Schubert’s “Chorus of spirits, floating over the water” — the song that friends said “brought tears to his eyes each time he heard it” — played at Arnold’s service. He often invited friends, students and colleagues to his home to listen to symphonies and made copies of sheet music if he thought they would enjoy it.

Son Dan Arnold said his father was “almost as likely to recommend a piece of music as to say ‘Hey, I’ve got a joke for you.’”

History Professor Carol Helstosky recalled Arnold’s eagerness to engage in conversations, saying the two often would “chat by the photocopier [in the history office],” adding that he was always asking her how her family was doing. Helstosky said “he always ended the conversation saying he enjoyed talking to me and [then] would say, ‘Don’t let the jerks get you down.’”

Arnold often befriended those who were notably different from him — either in personality or on the other side of the political spectrum (Arnold was known for having strong liberal views), says longtime friend Terry Keepers, a self-described introvert who was intrigued by Arnold’s extroverted personality.

“[Through him] I learned it was okay to talk to a waiter at the table or even the people at the next table,” he said.

When Keepers got sick with lyme disease three years ago, Arnold asked what he could do for his friend. When Keepers said he could give him a call occasionally, “He called me every day for the next three years.” That’s the kind of person Arnold was, Keepers said.

Arnold is survived by his wife, Kathy; sons Dan, Chris and Brian (with first wife Barbara Cobourn); and four grandchildren. Contributions in Arnold’s name can be made to the Oberlin College Library.

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