Sy Schuster

2 November 2020
Sy Schuster

Seymour (Sy) Schuster, age 94, died on October 31st. He had tested positive for COVID-19 on October 28. Sy taught Mathematics at Carleton, beginning as a visiting associate professor in 1958. For 5 years, he led the College Geometry Project, returning to Carleton in 1968, and retiring as the Laird Professor of Mathematics and the Liberal Arts, Emeritus, in 1994.  

Sy taught advanced courses in geometry, combinatorial theory, and graph theory, as well as entry level courses, and published on these topics throughout his life. He was an enthusiastic and popular teacher, welcoming conversations on many subjects with students outside of class. 

Sy was equally active in departmental efforts, contributing ideas and hard work, and mentoring younger colleagues. He was also very active in campus committees, including the Committee on Social Responsibility in Investment, the Faculty Affairs and Personnel Committees, and the committees that drafted statements on discrimination and academic freedom, and policies on sexual misconduct. 

Sy had a wide-ranging influence on the teaching of mathematics. In 1961, Sy co-convened a conference at Carleton about undergraduates doing research in math. This was the first larger conversation about this idea, leading to thousands of students across the country doing research annually now. Between 1963 and 1968, Sy received a National Science Foundation grant to create The College Geometry Project to improve the quality of math education for high school teachers. Bringing together mathematicians and filmmakers, they made instructional videos for teachers.

Sy was also very involved in county and state politics, serving on the State Central Committee of the DFL Party for 10 years. He was instrumental in helping to reverse Paul Wellstone’s tenure denial at Carleton and made crucial contributions to each of Wellstone’s Senate campaigns. Northfield residents remember Sy helping to teach high school students about activism during the Vietnam War and supporting the work of the Organization for a Better Rice County (OBRC), a community organization written about in Wellstone’s How the Rural Poor Got Power.

Sy also knew how to have fun, playing in a monthly poker game for over 40 years, going on fishing trips with friends, and backpacking and fly fishing in Wyoming and Montana. His ability to connect with people was evident throughout his life, including with current students at Jewish holiday celebrations. One colleague wrote that “Sy combined deep seriousness, compassion, and wit more thoroughly than anyone else I have ever known.”

Read more about Sy’s life in a StarTribune article.

Sy’s family has created a memorial website that includes a more detailed obituary, a photo gallery, a way to leave remembrances, and a link to donate to the Sy Schuster Award for Leadership in Diversity and Inclusion given by Carleton’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

If you’d like to make a memorial gift to Carleton, please indicate “in memory of Sy Schuster” on your check or in the box on the online giving form.

Sy delivered the following address at the annual Honors Convocation in May 1994.

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  • 2020-11-02 13:57:48
    Louis Newman

    I have extremely fond memories of Sy. He was unafraid to speak his mind on issues confronting the College, no matter how controversial. And he always did so with great dignity and respect. No wonder that he garnered the respect of other faculty, including those who disagreed with him. He was also a great friend to the Jewish students of Carleton and regularly showed up with his wife, Marilyn, to Jewish holiday events and to our annual Forkosh Lecture in Judaic Studies. I will greatly miss his wisdom and his ability to combine fierce moral conviction with a gentle demeanor.

  • 2020-11-02 15:28:12
    Bereket Hailaeb

    Goodby my DEAR FRIEND. I will miss you!

  • 2020-11-02 18:50:36
    Trish Ferrett

    I will really miss Sy. He reached out and supported me in my first 3-4 years at Carleton. Then over the years, we met at the gym, talked about good health, talked about family. I had no reason to know Sy — but he reached out to me, over the years. I loved his activism, good will, and friendship.

  • 2020-11-02 19:01:01
    Elsa Watson

    Sy taught my Calc I class, first term, freshman year. He was so kind, cheerful, and encouraging - exactly what a nervous freshman needed. I'm so sorry to hear about his passing. I have such fond memories of him.

  • 2020-11-02 21:33:51
    Nozomi Ikuta

    I was in Sy's 2A Math 12 calc class in the Olin auditorium with about 150 other frosh, most of whom were also in the 1A Physics 22 class in the same room. (Years later, when I mentioned that class, he smiled wryly and said, "Yeah, we decided not to do THAT again!") I only went to him for tutoring once, became a religion major, and he had no reason to remember me. Our friendship began some fifteen years later, when I was involved in a political advocacy project, and had reached out to him to try to contact Senator Wellstone, whom I had foolishly never met as a student. He balanced gentleness, grace, and moral ferocity; encouraged me through some of my own workplace struggles, and always wanted to know how the political winds were blowing in Ohio. I am so grateful to the other faculty members whom I knew well from my campus years, but there's a special place in my heart for one with whom the relationship was based outside the academy, on the concern for social and economic justice. May his political vision be realized by the generations to come!

  • 2020-11-02 22:15:03
    Joel Weisberg

    Sy was devoted to civil liberties, especially in the context of academia. As Chaplain Fure-Slocum noted, he was also instrumental in succeeding in reversing the denial of tenure for Poly Sci Profesor Paul Wellstone. The Carleton Archives has a long, fascinating, retrospective article that Sy wrote, detailing Paul's appeal case. He was also part of the "brain trust," along with the late physics professor Mike Casper, who helped steer Paul Wellstones' senatorial campaign to its stunning success. This demonstrated to me that brains can help in a wide variety of situations! He also had a great, self-effacing sense of humor, as demonstrated in his 1994 honors convo speech (linked above by Chaplain Fure-Slocum).

  • 2020-11-03 12:35:02
    Nicky Gonzalez Yuen

    Sy was a stand-up progressive unafraid to stand up! He'll be missed. And Covid? Screw Covid. What a tragedy.

  • 2020-11-03 12:37:49
    Laura (Day) Moore

    Sy was such a lovely and decent man. Math used to intimidate me. Because of Sy, I got over that condition. I really appreciated is dedication to teaching but also to his concern and care for the whole person. He was one of the best teachers I had at Carleton.

  • 2020-11-03 12:38:06
    Jeremy Teitelbaum

    Although Sy was an important presence in the department when I was a student, somehow I never took a class from him. But he did two things that had a big impact on me. One time, he invited Paul Erdos to campus -- maybe this was 1979 or 1980? I ended up having a pancake breakfast with Erdos and a few other math majors, along with Sy. That was a memorable experience! And the other thing was kind of indirect -- Sy went on sabbatical, I think, and he invited Joann Hutchinson to cover for him. She introduced me to change ringing and I ended up staying in touch with her even after graduation. I've always been grateful to him for both of these particular things as well as just being a mensch. May his memory be a blessing.

  • 2020-11-03 12:40:01
    Tani Maruyama

    I took Calculus II from Dr, Shuster and his positive feedback and encouragement gave me the confidence to pursue a degree in Chemical Engineering! Thank you Dr, Shuster!

  • 2020-11-03 12:42:39
    Kristen Winemiller

    I hope today brings that warm, wry smile to his face. What a treasure he was, in so many ways. He and I were active in the state DFL at the same time so I was able to enjoy his activism off-campus and on. We should all hope there is so much to appreciate about us when we pass.

  • 2020-11-03 12:43:49
    Bruce Whitehouse '93

    Sy Schuster taught the last math course I ever took. I've forgotten the calculus but I remember his digressions about Ring Lardner. A very fond memory.

  • 2020-11-03 12:44:49
    Linda Clader

    I'm so sorry to hear of Sy's death. I served on some committees with him, and he was always knowledgeable and gracious with people who held varying opinions. I so appreciated the sense of humor that warmed the strength of his commitments.

  • 2020-11-03 12:45:47
    Bob Stilger

    Fond memories of Sy. The last one was in the spring of '70 when Sy was hosting a gathering of faculty to understand what was going on with the anti-war protests and the college closedown. Carl Weiner and I arrived as the spokespeople for the campus movement. It was a lively evening. He was a fine human being.

  • 2020-11-03 12:47:37
    Kyung Sin

    Sy rekindled my love of math and geometry, and I will always fondly remember my afternoons with him in Goodsell learning about the symmetries of regular solids. He was a singularity that has altered the paths of all those who were fortunate to be with him.

    • 2020-11-03 13:30:57
      Sundey Christensen

      Kyung, how could we ever forget out small group geometry course with him and calling him late one evening to ask, "Sy, what´s a pencil?" He is one great memory of Carleton.

  • 2020-11-03 12:50:31
    Glen Carleton

    Ironic that I learn of his passing on election day given that he was part of my formative years as a Democrat--I have a clear recollection of him introducing a then-candidate for U.S. Congress (who went on to win an upset). Sy didn't mince words and he said "I was asked to work with his campaign and I didn't want to do it because I didn't think he had a chance. Then I met him and was very impressed and think he is the right candidate to win this election." More importantly, I was a budding math-major flunk-out when I took Sy's Calc 3 class in which I did not do well. I was hanging in there until the final, which I bombed. Sy was very kind to me, saying "You had a bad day, I could tell from your other work that you understood the material better than that." I was a math major for bad reasons and finally gave up 1.5 years later, but I was always grateful for his kindness (which was not universal, as I experienced later in other math classes in which I struggled). My math background (such as it was) ended up being the springboard for my career as a hydrologist after I switched my major to geology and Sy was a part of my successfully making that transition (as opposed to, say, giving up academic pursuits entirely and becoming a ski instructor, which I briefly considered).

  • 2020-11-03 12:53:57
    Daniel Kim-Shapiro

    I was a Physics major at Carleton and had Professor Schuster for Linear Algebra winter term my freshmen year on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays at 8 AM in 1981. You have to have a good teacher to go to class Saturdays at 8 AM. I crossed paths with him again as a senior when I was a delegate at the local Democratic Farm Labor convention. In a subcommitee where we were deciding between Mondale and Freeze Voter 84, Dr. Schuster was reading a list of names and got stuck on one. After trying to make out one of the names, he exclaimed - how can I forget the horrible handwriting of one of my former students.
    I will always remember him.

  • 2020-11-03 13:07:03
    Scott Weiner

    Oh Sy...what a wonderful man. And Marilyn, I hope you're well and I remember you so fondly. After 2 years of avoiding homework and being WAS 1969...I realized I wasn't college-ready, let alone Carleton ready, and dropped out. Moved into the Schusters' house, having shown Marilyn that I could clean pots and pans with a vengeance and fearlessly iron her draperies. My Carleton cohort and I are 70 now, and it's too much like yesterday, politically, well, you know. Sy was into politics. Radicalism didn't back him off one wit, but it had to be real and practical. What a deep, balanced, incisive mind, that man. And what a teacher. I remember his description of the wave form of some equation, likening it to the shadows cast on Plato's cave, and then, thinking of it, to the form of that mathematician's legendary beloved. I loved , love, that teacher. Like so many Carleton profs. Peace, Sy, and all close to him.

  • 2020-11-03 13:10:53
    David Schmidt

    I was a math major at Carleton, and Sy was one of my all-time favorite professors. His ability to explain and illustrate, coupled with a great sense of humor and an obvious and contagious joy of math are a rare and beautiful combination. I took several courses from Sy, including Calc 3 (my first math class at Carleton!), Combinatorics and an independent study. My senior year, he asked me to produce some computer-drawn illustrations for a paper he was working on. It was a simple request, really, even for 1984, but in thanks for my "work" he gave me a book that a friend of his had written and inscribed it to me. It's still on my bookshelf, cherished to this day.

  • 2020-11-03 13:11:49
    Bill Chapin '83

    Sy was an outstanding mentor all four years at Carleton. He was always proactively interested in how I was doing. The math faculty of those days were all outstanding and each compassionate. Jack Goldfeather, John Dyer-Bennet, David Appleyard, Rich Nau, Roger Kirchner were all engaging personally to me. For a collective of math-geeks they really understood humans as much as the numbers we use to model the world around us. And yet Sy stood out, and especially always outside of the classroom.

  • 2020-11-03 13:16:14
    Stephanie Cain

    Sy took me under his wing in back in 1987. He would not let me drop calculus and instead made me come to him for tutoring every week. We became friends—I arranged for him to go fly fishing with my dad in Montana, Sy and his wife Marilyn also visited me in San Francisco in the early 2000’s. Sy checked in with me every few months for many years, and sent a wonderful gift when my daughter was born. In 2016, my 11 year-old daughter and I visited Northfield and stayed with Sy. He was a very gracious host. I will always miss him and remember what an amazing teacher and friend he was to me and to so many.

  • 2020-11-03 13:17:22
    Charlie Cogan '82

    I got to know Sy at the Rec Center, where he came to work out regularly in the years after I came back to Carleton in 2000. He saw our soccer group playing and told me some stories from his own years of intercollegiate soccer. Since then, we've seen each other from time to time and it was always good to catch up with Sy. I am saddened to know that this pandemic has claimed his life as he looked quite fit and strong the last time we met. Sy was a mover and shaker and someone who had a positive influence on many lives. I have learned a lot from reading the tributes above. Thanks to everyone who has shared.

  • 2020-11-03 13:24:36
    Clark Arnold. ‘62

    Sy was, by far, the best math teacher I ever had . He had a knack for making even tough concepts crystal clear!

  • 2020-11-03 13:42:53
    Mary Ann Jordan

    Dr. Schuster was the most influential professor I had during my 2 years (1958-60) at Carleton, and he arranged for me to spend the summer there living with a local widowed woman and her young family and participating in summer research with Schuster's group. Although I ultimately did a PhD in Biology at the U of Rochester NY, he had enormous effects on my self-esteem and love of math.

  • 2020-11-03 13:47:49
    Jerri Hurlbutt

    I knew Sy mainly as a community educator and activist (Amnesty International) and through his association with Paul Wellstone. I sat next to him during the 2016 DFL primary at Northfield High School, where he told me this story about running one of Paul's first campaigns, for State Auditor: Paul was speaking before a group of maybe 20 people in a small room in Faribault, giving an IMPASSIONED speech about economic justice. Afterward, Sy went up to him and said, "Paul, it's just the State Auditor." And Sy smiled and shook his head. I did not know him well but loved him anyway. A true Mensch. I hope he and RBG are doing mischief together right now.

  • 2020-11-03 14:13:30
    Jennifer Jones

    I have very fond memories of Prof. Schuster. In 1979, I took his math class. It was my very first term as a freshman at Carleton. The class was at a crazy time, like 7am in the morning. Somehow he managed to teach with enthusiasm and energy, despite the fact that students kept nodding off... He was such a caring, thoughtful man. He will be missed.

  • 2020-11-03 14:17:10
    Dr. Betty Patterson

    Rest In Peace Professor Schuster. Condolences to family and friends.

  • 2020-11-03 14:33:11
    Laura Beard

    Like so many who have already written here, I also have fond memories of Sy Schuster. I took calculus with him and enjoyed the class, but also appreciated his warmth and the sense that he recognized us as individuals in that classroom and cared about us.

  • 2020-11-03 14:39:36
    Harry Delugach

    Here's my best Sy story. I had him for a math course in Fall Term (circa 1972). We had a take home exam, and I waited until the last minute to complete it. I believe I had about three hours before catching the bus up to the airport when I wrote up my answers, on several pages of legal pad paper. I finished in time, but in my glee I tore the pages in half when I pulled them off the pad! There was no time to rewrite them, so I taped them together, turned them into his office and rushed to catch the bus. About a week later, back home in Memphis during the break, I got a letter from Sy, asking if I was all right. He thought I'd torn the pages in anger or frustration and was worried about me. What a wonderful man!

  • 2020-11-03 14:47:00
    Bruce Grussing ’61

    Sy was a wonderful person and a great teacher who was dedicated to his students. I met him shortly in a math class after switching from a chemistry major to math in 1959. I remember his discussing his efforts to prove the 4 color map theory which proof he unsuccessfully had worked on for many years, but was happy for the person who finally proved it. I also remember how much support and encouragement he gave to my wife Jean (who excelled in humanities) when she took a math class from him.

    Jean and I will always remember him fondly

  • 2020-11-03 15:18:35
    mike goldstein

    i was a student of prof. schuster at polytechnic institute of brooklyn in the 1950's. i have no connection with carleton but the notice of his death has come to my attention. This is to join with all of his former students in mourning his passing. He was a great teacher and a great mathematician and a great man. Honor to his memory!

  • 2020-11-03 15:19:03
    Gregory Ogawa '85

    Sy was one of the top professors I ever learned from at Carleton. It was a joy to be in his class.

  • 2020-11-03 15:57:52
    Martha Knutson '81

    I took only one course from Sy Schuster, Combinatorics. It was a good course, but what I remember best was his example during the labor strike by the campus support staff - I think it was in 1980 or 81. Out of principle he refused to cross the picket line and come on campus during the strike, which lasted several weeks. But he also had concern for his students who needed his course, so we met in a room in the basement of Watson dorm, which was just outside the picket line. I admired and appreciated that his choices were made on principle and that personal inconvenience didn't matter.

  • 2020-11-03 16:00:22
    Peter Sauer '88

    I remember Prof Schuster from the calculus class my freshman year, and then again seeing him around campus. He made the class enjoyable, and showed that it's possible to make jokes about a subject I had previously thought dry. As with so many Carleton professors, I am amazed to read from all the people he affected so positively. An inspiration.

  • 2020-11-03 16:16:51
    Patricia MacCorquodale

    Sy Schuster taught me about so much more than mathematics. I nearly failed calculus before he taught me how to study. I learned about compassion and activism walking beside him at many anti-war protests. He and Marilyn taught me about empathy and love in supporting me when I adopted my daughter. Sy was witty, caring, intelligent, committed, and warm. He will be missed by all whose lives he touched.

  • 2020-11-03 16:18:48
    Winnie Kinkead Eichner

    Schuster’s class turned out to be the most impactful this freshman history major took at Carleton. It was supposed to be College Algebra for non- math or science majors, but a handful of us passed his final as a pre-test, so he set us up with a weekly seminar focused on interesting ideas in mathematics: non-Euclidean geometry, an aleph null problem, the five color map theorem, etc. I guess it was to get us to see math from other directions, bigger pictures. Several years later when I became a middle and the high school social studies teacher some students asked me to be their sponsor for Academic Games, a national competition league which included the cube games On-Sets & Equations. Winning solutions might require using repeating decimals played in a variety of bases, odd roots and other concepts. Because of Shuster’s way of teaching math as concepts rather than arithmetic number crunching, my students learned to see bigger views. I ended up coaching & taking students to and winning the nationals often for 30 years. All with deep thanks to Shuster for teaching me that math is a great way to see the world but a door opener to lots of fun!

  • 2020-11-03 16:37:06
    Chuck Palme

    I decided to try to satisfy my science requirement by taking two calculus classes from Sy. (I later took a stats class to complete the requirement.) I was not a good math student, but Sy was a good teacher and a kind person, so I managed somehow to pass (barely) both classes. I was very involved with Paul Wellstone and the anti-war movement at the time (71-72) and I remember he and Barry Casper and Carl Weiner were very involved in the campus anti-war activities. What a wondeful person and a great teacher.

  • 2020-11-03 16:53:59
    Jamie Milavetz

    Sy Schuster was such a terrific teacher and human being. A real Mensch! He taught me for two classes in Algebra and precalculus. I went on to do well enough to take on Calculus with Jack Goldfeather. I really admired Prof Schuster's humanity and kindness and activism in the Mn DFL. Such a great teacher. I am glad he had such a wonderful long and giving life. He helped me do well enough to continue my pursuit of Medical school despite feeling "bad in math" out of high school. He was a great addition to Carleton.

  • 2020-11-03 16:55:49
    Peter D. Rizik, ‘80

    I kept my distance from Sy Schuster while at Carleton because he would often confront me and challenge me to do the right thing in some situation. As a college student away from home, I rarely did the right thing. He was supportive of my studies in mathematics, and he supported the athletic teams that we math majors attempted to play. As a principled, smart man, he did not allow himself to attend EVERY protest rally. Only the ones he felt passionate about. What a loss. I wish our country had more men of his character and commitment. God speed.

  • 2020-11-03 17:39:49
    Fred Hagstrom

    Sy was one of those people who seemed crucial to the personality and meaning of Carleton. He mixed kindness with being a feisty contributor. He was a leader in so many ways, including many that did not attract a lot of attention. I think we need a better way to remember the ways that Sy, and others, helped to keep Carleton getting better. As a young faculty member, I looked up to him and appreciated the help that he offered me. And I was not even in his department. Among the many ways that he set an example, it was his broad interests in so many things, including being a steward for Carleton, that made him so important to us.

  • 2020-11-03 18:00:03
    Michael Wenderoth

    I remember having Sy for Graph Theory, first-year seminar the very first trimester at Carleton. Small class, bottom of the observatory, early AM - but useful.

  • 2020-11-03 18:08:00
    Matthew Liebman

    I took an advanced calculus class my freshman year with Sy Shuster in the fall of 1975. My first test I basically got a c which was terrible for me, but talking to Sy and learning more from him, I in the end aced the class. I learned so much, I loved his attitude and always searched him out to say hi throughout the rest of my Carleton career. His intro Math classes I understand were called the Sy Shuster comedy hour. What a mensh he was.

  • 2020-11-03 18:17:22
    Kevin Cunningham ‘80

    I had the privilege of taking Non-Euclidean Geometry from Professor Schuster. He was a stimulating teacher and it was one of my favorite Math classes at Carleton. A kind soul and principled man. Rest In Peace

  • 2020-11-03 19:00:50
    Ariel Tesher, '01

    By the time I arrived at Carleton, Sy had already become an emeritus professor, although that didn’t mean he was absent from campus. I met him when he approached me and asked that I arrange a minyan so that he could say kaddish for his father. When he arrived for the minyan at Reynolds House, he saw an obituary posted to the bulletin board in a place of honor. The obituary was from the New York Times, which had devoted two columns and a photo to honor the chief lox slicer at Zabar’s delicatessen. Sy saw the obituary and, with some irony, asked us (Jewish students at a Jewish interest house) if we liked lox. After the service, he offered to teach us all how to cure our own lox. In the following weeks, Sy returned to the house and ran a lox-curing seminar for a large group of students.
    Now it is our turn to say kaddish for you, Sy, and for me to tell my daughters the story of the man who taught me to make the lox they so love to eat. May your memory be for a blessing, and may our country turn in the direction you led it.

  • 2020-11-03 20:58:44
    Frank Corley ‘81

    I had Sy Schuster for three classes as a math major, including my first term at Carleton. He also taught me Geometry, and now I am a high school geometry teacher. His teaching was formative for me, and I’ve always been grateful. I often hear his words in my own teaching. Greatness is measured by the lasting effects of one’s life; Sy Schuster was a great man.

  • 2020-11-03 21:56:04
    Elise Eslinger

    Sy taught my first class at Carleton, a 1A math class. Math was far from my strong suit, and Sy taught the entry-level class with such patience and care, despite the fact that few, if any, of the students would be going on to major in math. And even though this was my only class with Sy, he remembered my name and always greeted me warmly after that. It was this kind of personal connection with professors that made Carleton such a special place, and Sy nurtured these connections for generations of Carls.

    One of my favorite Sy stories is actually from my honeymoon. My husband and I were headed to dinner in downtown Vancouver when we heard "HEY! HEY! HEY!" from a sidewalk cafe. We spun around at the realization that the shouting was directed at us, and there sat Sy and Marilyn waving frantically from their outdoor table. We had a lovely conversation there on the streets of Vancouver, with Sy and Marilyn warmly wishing us well. We returned home to find a wedding gift from them. This was the kindness and generosity so characteristic of Sy.

    I'm grateful to have known him over these many years; he will be missed!

  • 2020-11-04 00:52:35
    Paul Smith '69

    In the fall of 1968, Harold Henderson, David Loy, and I were coming to the decision to turn in our draft cards, both to protest the Vietnam War and the Selective Service System and to encourage others to join us in opposing the whole sorry mess.
    I was anticipating that most faculty would avoid taking a public position for or against our action, so it was a pleasant surprise to find three faculty members, Sy Schuster, Bob Bonner, and Maury Landsman, stepping up immediately to offer support and advice.
    Sy was the most senior of the three and had the clearest grasp of the issues involved. He never sought to foist his opinions on us, but instead helped us to understand the issues we would be facing, so that we could make the best possible decisions on our own terms.
    The decision to return my draft card was based on a fair amount of rational analysis and a whole lot of moral outrage. Sy’s clear-minded approach helped me to sort through that mix and get to where I knew what I believed and why, and where I felt ready to face the consequences (which, mercifully, I never had to).

    • 2020-11-15 21:51:32
      Meg Cope Wang ‘82

      I am so sad to hear of Sy’s passing. I remember how kind and helpful he was to me in the Calculus class I took from him. Math did not come easily to me, but between his clear explanations and his kind support, I was able to excel. I remember his willingness to answer my many questions. He gave me such confidence that I went on to work as a math tutor at the Math Skills Center and later went on to medical school. I appreciated how much he cared about every one of his students, even us non- math majors. My deepest condolences to his family.

  • 2020-11-04 07:28:35
    Louise Latterell

    “Don’t let classes get in the way of your education.” He was a relentless cheerleader for the liberal arts - being in his class wasn’t just learning to do math problems about Jewish rye bread, it was him asking if we’d gone to convo. He was so kind and supportive. I have such dear memories of him.

  • 2020-11-04 08:42:56
    Jonathan Ice

    In fall of my freshman year I signed up for Math 11, "Introduction to Calculus." I had no intention of being a math major, but I saw this as a way at chipping away at the math/science distribution requirement. I had been a good math student in high school, but had had no calculus -- just trigonometry and an introduction to the theory of limits.

    When I got to class I found myself way over my head in subject matter that was totally foreign to me. While other students seemed to be doing just fine, I found the textbook incomprehensible. I was floundering and (if memory serves me right) I flunked the mid-term. Fortunately, Sy Schuster, my professor, came to the rescue.

    Sy held very generous office hours, and I availed myself of these liberally. He helped tutor me through the blockages I was experiencing with concepts of calculus, and it started to make sense to me. The one-on-one instruction I got with Sy and some Saturday group sessions helped me recover from my late start and I finished very well, earning a B+ on the course. Sy gave me (and probably others) a break by grading me on how I did at the end of the course, rather than at the beginning.

    Sy Schuster certainly helped this scared, young freshman in his adjustment to academic life, but he also helped others. Fellow freshman Jean Chu had been experiencing the same kind of disorientation, and Sy gave her the same kind of generous assistance.

    I appreciated Sy Schuster for what he did for me, but I also found him to be admirable in so many other ways. He stuck up for little people of all sorts, whether it were victims of civil rights abuses, a fellow faculty member wrongly denied tenure, or the immorality of the Vietnam war. He also was a loving father to 5-year-old daughter Eve, who sometimes quietly played in a corner during the Saturday help sessions her father gave to needy students. There seemed to be a comfortable ease between them that was comforting and very admirable.

    I ran into Sy at a Carleton reunion about a decade ago and had the chance to thank him for what he did for me. I had a great time at Carleton and had many fine professors, but Sy Schuster was at or near the top. May he rest in peace.

  • 2020-11-04 09:19:24
    Tony Smith `62

    I took only one course from who we knew as, Dr. Schuster. It was a course on modern concepts in math. He designed the course for students who were thinking about teaching high school math. In addition to the 4 color math theory question, I remember a section on the limits of what could be done with a straight edge and compass.
    I remember Sy meeting several of us 62ers during at least one of our reunions. He was always interested in what we were doing.
    He was my favorite math teacher.

  • 2020-11-04 09:42:47
    Diane Christianson '77

    Sy Schuster was the professor for one of the "Arts & Sciences" classes I took to fulfill a graduation requirement. I don't remember the specifics of the class, but I do remember Sy, who taught so engagingly that I was really glad to be in his classroom!

  • 2020-11-04 09:55:49
    Anne Ulmer

    It’s hard to find words for what I owe to Sy. When Julie Klassen and I were denied tenure in the mid-eighties, Sy volunteered to be my advocate during the tenure appeal. He spent much of one sabbatical term working on the case. As in Paul Wellstone’s case, the appeal succeeded. Sy hated injustice, and did enjoy the battle. As others have said, he was a true Mensch.

  • 2020-11-04 10:08:13
    Tom Craighead '73

    It is really touching to read comments and memories from across so many years of Carl's. I am especially heart warmed and inspired the day after the presidential election in remembering Sy Schuster from the student strike of the spring of '70. There is still good in the world. Let us continue his memory in actions in our current world.

  • 2020-11-04 11:16:21
    Dave Appleyard '61

    Sy was the best teacher I had as a student at Carleton. I was planning to major in history until I had Sy for Calculus during his first semester at Carleton, in the Fall of 1958. Then I decided to become a math major and go into high school teaching.

    At a faculty tea in Severance Great Hall during early 1960-61, my senior year, Sy advised me that I should go to grad school in math. I had never thought of such a thing until then, since I was fulfilling the requirements to get a secondary school teaching certificate. I did finish those requirements , but the following Fall I started grad school in math at the University of Wisconsin - Madison. Doing that set the path for my life, which I have always been glad I followed.

    Sy changed and enlightened my life, as he did the lives of so many other students.

    • 2020-11-04 22:27:39
      Louise Latterell ‘91

      Prof Appleyard, this is such a lovely story. It reminds me of the great gentleness with which you responded to my negative score of the math placement test during freshman week. Somehow I had wandered into one of the high level (test out of calc III?) exams. Whoops - I remember thinking this math is so interesting..maybe they use their own nomenclature here? You put a lovely note in my mailbox, and we chatted in your office. And instead of being crushed by that experience, I ended up in Sy Schuster’s class (and so many hours in his office practicing math). The conversation was always bigger than math - who you were, how you were connecting with the community

    • 2021-10-29 22:24:34
      Barbara Block '77

      My strongest connection with Sy was through his support of Jewish Students at Carleton. I lived in Jewish Studies House my sophomore year, and Sy drove me to the Twin Cities so that I could pick up our kosher meat for the term. I enjoyed my time with him and his wife, Marilyn, at their house. And I must add that thanks to Sy the local Dairy Queen added mocha to their milkshake menu; I have a fond memory of his taking me there for that treat.

    • 2021-10-29 22:26:24
      Barbara Block '77

      David, I am so glad that you followed Sy's advice; I greatly enjoyed your Computer Oriented Calculus I class in the fall of '73.

  • 2020-11-04 13:13:55
    Jon Shreve '82

    My favorite memory of Sy was a declaration in class that "mathematics is a science of convenience." (At the time I think he was explaining why any number (except 0) to the zeroth power is 1.) Later, my English major roommate was taking the "math for liberal arts majors" from Sy. One day he came back from class quoting Sy's line to me as an indictment of math (I think he thought I would be shocked by the declaration instead of supportive...) Sad to see you go, Sy.

  • 2020-11-04 15:51:41
    Clifford Beshers

    He was a really good professor and such a nice man. I've been fiddling with some combinatorics recently and memories of him from nearly forty years ago floated up right away. I still have the textbook. Thanks, Sy.

  • 2020-11-04 20:26:34
    Bob Tisdale

    Sy was a dear friend and colleague through it all--from 60's dissent and protest of the Vietnam War to the dismal, shameful days following 2016. He never lost his cool ability to appraise an unhealthy situation, putting it in perspective and suggesting remedy. He knew how to meditate best while on the water, creating the Walton Society, a group that fished together for forty years. He taught me to cast flies, make a passable salad, and tell a good story. He always knew what cause needed action and tirelessly carried it out. Marilyn and Sy became friends we could rely on for good food, good taste in music, and endless debate--the kind that keeps us alive and kicking. His advocacy of Paul Wellstone became crucial in Paul's staying at Carleton long enough to build a base and run for office. Sy also indulged my ignorant interest in Mathematics, telling me what to read to see how individuals make a difference in how we see the world. Sy's death signals the innumerable losses that the denial of history and science and indifference to human life of all colors, creeds, and ages the Covid pandemic has exposed. Sy will be deeply missed by all who knew him.

  • 2020-11-04 21:48:40
    Wendy Lang

    I was a math major at Carleton and will always remember one day during class Sy wrote Euler's identity e^iπ + 1 = 0 on the board and said that it proved the existence of God because how else could e, i, π, 1, and 0 wind up in a single equation. Thanks Sy for going the extra mile to make math memorable for your students...even decades later.

  • 2020-11-04 22:29:27
    J.F. Hall

    I don't recall for sure having a class from him in math. But I remember a fellow who looked like him. I read your reminiscences of him, and I wish I knew him better from my time at Carleton, especially the fly fishing part. I'm from class of 1972, but I only went to Carleton the first two years.

  • 2020-11-05 05:39:51
    Dick Shumway ‘63

    As a “towny” Carleton had been a part of my life from my first real memories to today and until our deaths as we now have a charitable gift annuity with Carleton. My crowning memory of Sy was a long conversation I had with him in an empty classroom in The lab school at U of M where I was teaching and working on my PhD with Donovan Johnson in mathematics education. I never had a class with him, and I don’t remember exactly how we came together that day, but it changed my whole life. Probably Donovan had invited him to our weekly seminar on the problems in mathematics education. I had always wanted to be a mathematics educator, but one with a very strong background in mathematics, inspired by Ken May’s freshman mathematics class in the chapel from his brand new book, written as much to open your eyes about real mathematics as it was to teach you how to study and learn mathematics. I was hooked and believed that, for a career in mathematics education, you had better have a super strong background in mathematics. Sy had probably gotten a mortgage from my father, a banker in Northfield with the reputation that would automatically approve the loan to any mathematician. I knew Sy from his reputation of interest in mathematics teaching and his geometry project. So, I asked him what he thought constituted “mathematical maturity” as I was looking for a good project for my dissertation. I felt as though we talked for hours, but the key for me was his comment that one characteristic of a mathematically mature person was that they could reason from counterexamples. That observation became the primary focus of my whole career and research in mathematics education. What a gift he had given me from that observation. I explored that idea with students of mathematics at all levels, elementary school, middle school, secondary school, undergraduate mathematics majors, and doctoral students in mathematics, all in my career in mathematics education at Ohio State University. What a gift he gave me in our conversation. He also must have helped inspire Lynn Steen’s book on counterexamples in topology built up from summer work with undergraduate students from both Carleton and St Olaf. Clearly Sy was a very special fellow, many of us have been profoundly touched by his influence, and we are all most thankful. Sy, you are the greatest, and we all are better for your influence on our lives. We will never forget you. RIP.

  • 2020-11-05 11:45:32
    Lorie Tuma

    I’m so sad to see this news. My condolences to Sy's family. I have been fortunate to know Sy at Carleton and always enjoyed his gift of history, advocy and perspective. Now, in the past five years, I was fortunate to get to talk with Sy, eat with Sy and reminisce about Carleton memories, as he was a friendly face my father enjoyed at Millstream Commons. I enjoyed talking with Sy about our memories of Mary Wiese, Paul Wellstone, Casey Jarchow and so many others who made impressions on our lives. I pray Sy is at peace and knows how much he affected my life. RIP.

  • 2020-11-05 15:10:36
    Michael Kowalewski

    I was very saddened to hear that we've lost Sy. When I arrived at Carleton in 1991 he immediately asked me if I was related to the famous Russian mathematician Sonya Kowalevski. I told him I didn't know but that I sure hoped I was! It was always such a pleasure to see Sy on campus. I'll miss his kindness, warm heart and wry sense of humor. I last saw him several months ago in the men's locker room at FiftyNorth and he was as spirited as ever. I feel honored to have known Sy and Carleton was clearly lucky to have been graced by his presence for so many years. My sincere condolences to his family.

  • 2020-11-05 17:09:56
    Barbara Jenkins

    I knew Sy in a possibly unique way as I had the pleasure of working for him as an Administrative Assistant for several years. He was the most considerate dictater (yes, "er," not "or") I ever worked with. Proper names were always slowly and carefully spelled out, and all punctuation was supplied, not assumed.

    I hope heaven has trout streams ...

  • 2020-11-07 11:00:15
    Jimmy Kolker '70

    It is a rush of joy and nostalgia to read these warm and eloquent tributes to Sy. He was a stalwart supporter of our anti-war causes 1968-70 and loaned his car to student Democrats so we could become McGovern's Senate GOTV team in Sioux Falls in '68. How dystopian that Sy should be a victim of a pathogen Covid 19 that should not have taken so many lives but for D Trump and that he did not live to see the American people reject Trump at the polls. But his vision still guides us. A mensch and a Carleton icon. Farewell, Sy.

  • 2020-11-08 00:30:17
    Larry Fish, '75, math major

    I extend my condolences to the family and close friends of Professor Schuster. I would like them to know how much he influenced me in my progress as a math major and future math teacher (for several years). I could easily place Sy among the best of my professors, though Carleton being what it is, I had many fine professors whom am reluctant to rank -- but it is thanks in large measure to Sy that I can honestly regard Carleton as one of the finest institutions I have ever been associated with -- no wonder Sy was there! As a teacher, as an enthusiastic advocate of all things mathematical, as mentor for my senior thesis -- and, I hope you don't mind my mentioning, as a real character -- Sy will always be someone for whom I will have the profoundest respect and gratitude.

  • 2020-11-08 12:21:46
    Dorothea Hrossowyc

    Sy was an amazing world change artist and so committed to making a difference. He always had my deep respect and appreciation for who he was. My husband Craig's first memories of Sy was in high school and Sy was teaching students activism against the Vietnam War, and supporting walkouts, and anti draft movements. I remember meeting him through Mike and Nancy Casper and Paul Wellstone, and supporting Welfare Rights. And so many things after that. I loved that when we would see each other at something, we'd be sure to go over and say hello, and either he would ask me what I was doing lately to change the world, or I would ask him the same! He was an incredible gift and a model for us all. And I remember his newspaper column! He will always have a warm place in my heart as a great human being to have the privilege of knowing.

  • 2020-11-09 07:35:06
    Dana Capell (Class of 95)

    I entered Sy Schuster's Calculous class as a nervous freshman who felt "naturally bad" at math. Sy's kindness, humor, and humanity helped me to relax; his excellence as a teacher helped me learn. I have always been grateful for having been in his class.

  • 2020-11-11 10:59:11
    Craig Scott ‘83 Religion

    Reading the heartfelt, respectful and loving comments makes me realize I missed the opportunity to get to know Sy Schuster. What an admirable man in so many ways. I had the good fortune to take one, possibly two Calculus classes from him. His passion, superb teaching skills and wry sense of humor helped me — with limited confidence and abilities in math — to excel. His teaching was so engaging and effective that I did not need to attend his office hours. Looking back, I wish I had gone to talk about calculus and how to change the world, a subject of great concern and consternation throughout my life. With a deep bow of gassho (Japanese for respect) and admiration to you, Sy, and to your loved ones ....

  • 2020-11-11 14:03:27
    Henry Sidel '90

    I was very sad to hear of Sy's passing. I remember him vividly and the many warm tributes only bring him to mind even more. To think that I graduated Carleton 30 years ago and took a class from him as a freshman, non-Euclidian Geometry, and I can still see him and have a deep impression of him. That is a tribute to him as a person. In our memories, with peace and gratitude, to Sy.

  • 2020-11-12 09:15:26
    Beatriz Algeo Gronert (Class of '81)

    I feel very privileged to have gotten to know Sy while at Carleton. I was a Soc/Anthro major and wanted to improve my math skills. With no real space in my academic schedule, I audited Sy's Algebra II class. Not doing very well after the final, I broke into tears in the hallway. Sy knew that I had been moved back and forth in regular and advanced math classed in junior high and high school. He took me aside and explained to me that he would probably need to work with me for a year to help clear up the confusion I had with basic math principles. Sy also knew that I sang in Chamber Singers and had sung in Carleton's Gilbert and Sullivan productions. He very kindly told me that although I couldn't do math, I could sing. He also reminded me that he could do math but could not sing. He and his wife even came back early from a vacation in order to make it to one of my G & S performances. Sy's kindness and willingness to get to know me beyond my limitations in math, helped me to feel better about myself. As I have moved through my adulthood, I have often thought of Sy and his true interest and care for others. Sy's genuine care for others is a great tribute to the life he lived and as evidenced in these comments, he will continue to live on in our memories.

  • 2020-11-16 21:56:31
    Gary Wagenbach

    Always interested in how others were doing – he and Paul Wellstone exemplified a wide and inclusive view of caring for others and the public good, inspiring community involvement for many. Asking about trout fishing or the most recent effort to wet a line was a common greeting. Tying flies for trout was another. I remember coaching acquisition of an initial kit to set Sy up to tie flies, a hobby he took to with gusto.

  • 2020-11-19 13:05:09
    Bob Dobrow

    I am so sad. Sy was a beautiful human being. We met ( at the gym?) when I first started teaching, and always stayed interested and engaged with what was happening with my family — how was Danny’s cooking and Joey’s cello and Angel’s gardening. Such a tender soul. He was much loved and will be sorely missed.

  • 2020-11-20 12:34:22
    Carl and Ruth Weiner

    In loving memory of Sy Schuster

    Carl and I came to Carleton in 1964. Sy was away on leave but everybody we met talked about him. Long before we met we knew he was an intellectual force on campus.

    When Sy & Marilyn returned we became good friends. We loved Sy’s political thoughtfulness and activism. As opposition to the War in Viêt Nam grew so did Sy’s active opposition. That and his support for tenure for our colleague Paul Wellstone were powerfully influential and not only at Carleton. We remember with great fondness and respect. Carl & Ruth Weiner

  • 2020-11-21 16:59:35
    Bill Loos '76, Math major

    I was sorry to hear about Sy's passing. Many have spoken of what a wonderful teacher he was. Actually, there were a great many first-rate teachers at Carleton, but Sy was surely up near the top. As a Math major, I took Calculus IV and Geometry from him. What I remember most is what others have already noted, which was his ability to mix humor and mathematics. Of course the humor had a strong mathematical bent to it.

    Once in Geometry he spoke of a theorem (I don't remember what) that was true in three dimensions but not in two. Somehow, that fact had been overlooked for a very long time -- people sort of bleeping over a proof by saying something like "imagine the three dimensions being compressed to two -- at the end of that process, the theorem is true for two". Sy's reaction was "So what was that -- taking the limit of a theorem??".

    He told us he had disconcerted a philosophy professor by explaining that he did indeed think in the projective plane, not the standard three dimensions. It seems that Kant or some such person thought that was impossible.

    My favorite was from Calculus IV. He was illustrating a mathematical point, of course, when he told us that what he had told his wife was that if she was ever at a faculty party where mathematicians were talking shop, she could always shut them up by asking "What happens at the boundary?"

    The last time I saw Sy was at our 30th reunion in 2006. We mostly talked about the Paul Wellstone documentary which had just come out and which he had helped with. However, I had found a copy of his 1962 book "Elementary Vector Geometry" in a Cambridge used bookstore, which I showed him -- I think he was tickled that I had it. I gather it was part of the effort to improve Math education in a post-Sputnik world -- it was based on a course he taught for high school math teachers at Carleton in the summer of 1959. (In fact, I think David Appleyard told me that as an undergraduate he had helped some with it.)

    I've just been looking at it again. Those who had him for any course will recognize how characteristic it is. The blurb says it's designed to go much slower than such courses usually did, so as to give the students time to absorb the basics. In the preface he says "I have tried to develop very little machinery but to go a long way with this small amount", which is *very* characteristic. Plus the humor: "Sincere thanks and appreciation are due to the teachers who came to Carleton in the summer of 1959 in the hope of comfortably learning mathematics in cool Minnesota but who, instead, labored and perspired under the strains of vector geometry and the 96% humidity."

    He had a great mind and a great heart, which we could sure use more of in these dark days. He will be missed.

  • 2020-11-25 10:36:53
    Chuck Carlin

    Among our unruly gaggle of fishermen - PhDs struggling to outwit a fish - Sy was the undisputed champion of innovation. Sy tied flies - gossamer, colorful, wisps with which Sy would lash the lakes with his 8 ft. fly rod. He would select a fly from among the dozens he tied for each trip. fling it out to settle gently on the quiet surface, twitch it seductively, and erupt with delight as a meaty smallmouth chewed on this lethal morsel. All of us other more pedestrian Waltons would have fished with this lure until the bass were bored and turned away.
    Not Sy. He would immediately stow this demonstrably successful creation and replace it with another colorful creation. Innovation was the absolute key ingredient in Sy's tackle box.
    Goodbye Sy - you taught me so much - on and off the water. I ache for the loss of a wonderful friend.

  • 2020-11-27 08:15:49
    Richard Allen Greene '91

    I didn't realize when I was at Carleton that I liked math so I never took a class from Sy and in fact only spoke to him once in my entire Carleton career, but that one conversation really stuck with me. It was at graduation, where he spotted me and told me he'd enjoyed reading my op-ed pieces in the Carletonian. And, he said, he did NOT enjoy reading most student op-ed pieces in the Carletonian, so even as a callow youth I realized he was paying me a great compliment. May his memory be for a blessing.

  • 2020-11-28 21:18:28
    Richard Nau

    Sy and I had adjacent offices in Goodsell for many years, both of which opened into the department meeting room. To the non-mathematician, Sy’s office appeared cluttered with piles of books and papers on every horizontal surface. But we knew that his multi-stack system was provably as powerful as a Turing machine.

    Sy would usually meet guests who sought his counsel in the meeting room for lack of sitting space inside his office. Thus I was often privy to at least the beginnings of his discussions before I was able to close my door. The visitors included planners of fishing trips as well as faculty meetings. For many good outcomes for the faculty Sy was involved, at least behind the scene. In addition to tenure denial cases he was proactively involved in many more cases for the welfare of junior faculty by assuring that procedures were upheld and that voices that tried to subvert fair processes were muffled. He was the departmental steward, the advocate for the faculty and the enlightener of the administration.

    He was always encouraging with students be they political activists, first year students in introductory courses, or majors seeking advise on graduate schools or positions in industry. In seemed that he was especially helpful to women and under-represented minorities and most of all those planning on teaching math at the secondary level.

    He was so personable that his influence and stature as a mathematician might be overlooked. He helped develop my own interests in geometry, graph theory and combinatorics often posing problems with computational solutions that led to more general algorithms. Mathematicians at national meetings, even for many years after his retirement, would ask about him and remark on his contributions.

    I especially recall his slight smile when he had a pleasurable memory. So may I have them too as I remember him.

  • 2020-11-29 12:09:44
    Mary Lewis Grow

    I have suffered for most of my life from math anxiety. How I wish I could have studied math with Sy! The comments of so many others who found math difficult but had a math break-through in one of his classes make me believe that Sy could have broken through my fear and enlarged my mental horizons./ Because I didn't have the pleasure of being his student, my contacts and friendship with Sy were political rather than
    mathematical. During crucial political races, particularly when there were a number of Democrats competing for nomination, we would confer on the phone or in person. I always knew that Sy was someone who had walked the walk, not just talked the talk. "Mensch" is a word that has been used by so many. It is a description of Sy to which I can only say "Amen!"

  • 2021-08-09 01:55:04
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