When Fred Sontag first journeyed to Pomona College, on a warm summer
day in 1952, he came as an instructor in philosophy and knew he wouldnt
stay long. In a small college, he remembers thinking, students
would bother me. Laughing, he explains that they did in fact bother
him. I had an office in Holmes Hall, and students did wander in
and out of my office all the time. What I discovered though, was that
I enjoyed the contact. This is the key to Fred Sontag. Along with
his scholarship, what brings him the most fulfillment is his strong and
continuing involvement in the lives of Pomona students and alumni.
Connected by a vast written correspondence, which he prefers to e-mail,
Sontag maintains ties with hundreds of Pomona alumni. (With younger alumni
though, he admits that e-mail helps.) When travelling, he and his wife
Carol always visit alumni, whether they are in Seattle or
South Africa. An ordained minister since 1974, he estimates he has performed
about 150 marriages for alumni and baptized many of their babies, as well
as blessing at least one alumni vineyard. Im in my second
and third generation of students now, he boasts, and I enjoy
that. He is still in contact with students from his earliest classes
through the Class of 2002.
As a mentor, he helped those of us who were challenging the edges
of the system to know where the lines were and helped us become better
citizens, explains Nick Winslow 64.
In a 1997 speech for the dedication of the newly renovated Greek Theatre
to both Fred and Carol Sontag, Steve Pauley 64 noted that Perhaps
Freds most-used phrase, describing a young student who just crossed
over a line, or one who is on academic probation is
know, hes (or shes) really a good kid.
sees the good and the potential in all of us even after a brief fall from
grace. What greater mentor in life can there be, he asked, than
the one who simply believes in you as a person, who believes in your potential
Among students today, he is known for his open door and lunches with students
in the dining halls. Hes also known as an advocate always willing
to help, as well as a faithful fan of the rugby team and the Kappa Delta
fraternity. The day of this interview Sontag had just mailed letters to
four alumni and finished lunch with another alumnus and his son, a high
school senior. During the school year, he estimates that he lunches with
students two to three times per week. If students see you outside
the classroom, he says, they feel closer to you.
This does not mean that Sontag has neglected any aspect of his scholarship.
According to Professor Paul Hurley, chair of the Philosophy Department,
He has been a major force in philosophy for 50 years. What is frightening
to the rest of us about Fred is that I dont think he has eased up
Sontag is currently awaiting the release of his 27th book, Mysterious
Presence, due out this summer from University Press of America. Recent
books include 2001: A Spiritual Odyssey (2001), Truth and Imagination
(1998) and The Descent of Women (1997).
For the 200203 academic year, Sontag will teach Philosophy of Religion,
Philosophical Psychology, Existentialism and Aspects of Russian Philosophy.
This guy, emphasizes Winslow, is an intellectual giant,
a prolific writer, a leader in the philosophy of religion. He is an absolute
first-rate academic who is also a great teacher and a mentor.
Thomas Lee 04, who took Existentialism with Sontag,
echoes alumni opinions. In class, he really pushes you to analyze
things and come to your own conclusions, and he always challenges you
on your views. A class with Professor Sontag leaves you with the skills
necessary to analyze important questions in life, politics and society.
When Sontag interviewed for the faculty position at Pomona, he had just
completed his Ph.D. at Yale. The interview with President Lyon took place
in New York, during the waning days of President Trumans administration.
Accepting the position despite his misgivings about a small college, Sontag
returned to his home state by train. In the summer of 52, he and
his wife, another California native, found a campus that looked, he says,
much as it does today. Marston Quad was beautifully landscaped. The Carnegie
Building was being remodeled. Crookshank, Mason and Pearsons were all
here, and eucalyptus lined College Avenue. The campus, he
explains, still has the same feeling to it. There are lots of new
buildings, but all of the signature buildings, Big and Little Bridges,
Sumner Hall and Walker are all the same. Its one of the reasons
alumni feel so at home on campus. He does point out however that
the city of Claremont was surrounded by orange groves, and there
was only one house north of Foothill. What he doesnt mention
is that in 1952, men and women lived in separate residence halls, and
tuition, room and board totaled approximately $750 per semester.
What hasnt changed from those early years is Sontags devotion
to his students.
People say sometimes that if we didnt have Fred, we would
have to invent him, says Ann Quinley, dean of students. He
is somebody that students can absolutely count on and is really a loved
individual. Students who interact with him hold him in the highest esteem.
For the record, Sontag has no plans to retire.
Cynthia Peters is Associate
Director of Public Affairs for Media Relations.