Fred Sontag - Personal Tributes
This page will include personal tributes that we receive from members of the extended Pomona College community — students, faculty, staff, alumni, parents and friends — who want to add their own brief personal memories of Fred Sontag.
Personal tributes may be submitted for this page by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Message from the Sontags
The family thanks the College, for providing this lovely memorial Website, and each person who has taken the time to write in with personal reflections which are so touching and comforting to us. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made, in honor of Professor Sontag's granddaughter Rachel, to:
Wisconsin Easter Seals
101 Nob Hill Road, Ste. 301
Madison, WI 53713
A memorial service will take place on Saturday, October 10, at 3:00 p.m. in Little Bridges (Mabel Shaw Bridges Hall of Music at 150 E. 4th St., Claremont) with a reception immediately following in Edmunds Ballroom in Smith Campus Center (170 E. Sixth Street, Claremont).
From Grant F. Sontag
Thank you for posting your tribute to my father. Fortunately I was able to visit him several times in the past few months--most recently a few days before his death. Even though he was unresponsive, I had the opportunity to tell him that I loved him and to thank him for being my father. I already miss him greatly.
My wife, Joan, and I benefitted greatly from knowing Fred. He was an integral part of our fondest memories of our tenure in Claremont while we both worked at Pomona. We shall miss him immensely. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family at this time.
Ritch K. Eich, Ph.D.
Dear Mrs. Sontag and Family,
We feel so very blessed to know you and to have known your wonderful husband, our friend, minister, teacher, Dr. Sontag. I miss him very much. I am so grateful to have had the joy of spending time with you after my graduation from Pomona and I thank you for all your love and time. You are a part of our family.
For today, I just want to say we Mooneys are thinking of you and sending our love. Thomas Mooney-Myers, freshman this year at Pomona (Class of 2013), will be with you at the memorial at Little Bridges.
With all our love,
Elizabeth Mooney '77
The loss of Fred Sontag is the loss of a dear member of our family. It is a numbing loss, resulting in a void because we so very much enjoyed and cherished our association with Fred. He was a dear friend. He was also Professor Sontag, Minister Sontag and Bro Sontag. He was a great inspiration and teacher. He provided lessons about life, which were usually framed as questions intended (successfully so) to motivate and inspire people to achieve that which one believed unachievable. He transformed philosophical riddles into real life experiences. He encouraged and supported my application to business school insisting (correctly so) that it was a necessary "next step." Indeed, his mentoring started in the classroom and continued through time.
Fred's philosophical style and character was refreshingly thought provoking and never changed. I recall "good behavior" as a necessary condition for hosting the annual KD formal party at our house. The day following the formal, I reported to Fred that I had found black nylons in the bushes. In typical fashion, Fred replied, "That shouldn't come as a surprise, Chris."
Fred and Carol cut short their trip to South Africa so that Minister Sontag could marry Sheri and me. I could go on and on about the many sacrifices Fred undertook (and Carol, too) to endeavor to help others. Indeed, Fred's influence on or lives was very great. His positive influence on so very many lives is miraculous. His contribution to humanity is immeasurable.
We dearly miss you, Fred.
Chris Dialynas '76
Professor Sontag was my father's advisor at Claremont Graduate School in the late 60s, and I realize now that my father's insistence that I attend Pomona College was guided by his experience and time spent with Professor Sontag.
I am grateful. Fred took the time to mentor a clueless freshman, guided me through his rigorous philosophy courses, watched my tennis matches (I'm sure he was probably just watching Paul, but I like to think that he noticed that I was out there too), and after graduation he always made time for dinner with my father and me when he and Carol were visiting Portland. He lived a full life and he was truly a great man.
Carl Swanson '91
I was a Philosophy major when I graduated from Pomona in 1956. Dr. Sontag not only taught a majority of my classes but was also my faculty advisor. I now specialize in administrative law in the area of immigration law. The concepts of understanding major philosophy writers that Dr. Sontag taught have been of most value in my present practice.
At the same time, he took an interest in my classes in other fields, my potential career in law, and family problems that no other faculty advisor was doing. He made sure that I applied for law school at the two universities he attended – Stanford and Yale. And when there was a question of my financial ability to handle tuition, room and board, he made sure I got scholarships. I did go to Stanford where I got my J.D.
Ronald H. Bonaparte '56
In the fall of 1986, Dr. Fred Sontag took a fall. It was about 11 p.m. in Newport, and our rush party was in full swing aboard a 50-foot yacht cruising at about five knots around the harbor. Dr. Sontag was up top on the bridge, watching the mayhem below and shaking his head. He was probably thinking, “What on earth am I doing here?” I am sure that Carol thought that every time Fred had anything to do with any of us. Of course, I do not blame her. Next to Fred stood a feckless rushee, a little worse for libation, who was swaying from bow to stern. Suddenly, the rushee lurched over the rail and starting falling towards the dark water below. Grabbing him by the leg, Dr. Sontag jerked back on to the bridge.
Keeping all of us from falling into the abyss was pretty much a full time job for Fred. How he found time to teach, lecture, defend, writing, marry and raise a family is beyond me. Unfortunately after saving the rushee from serious injury, Fred himself lost his balance and fell back off the other side of the bridge down more than 10 feet, crashing on the back of the boat. After laying there motionless for a moment, Dr. Sontag gathered himself, stood up, and dusted himself off. That’s how I will always remember him, standing there smiling and shaking his head, blood pouring from the gash on his forehead, urging us to continue with our party and having fun.
Life is for living and just as he lived his to the fullest, he wanted all of us to do the same with ours. More than anything, that is what he gave us all, the inspiration to be all that we could be and the support to pick us up when we stumbled or fell. He will be missed.
David Biase, ‘86
I'll remember Fred as a calm, forgiving, venturesome and generous soul who wore headbands to my tennis matches and a rainbow poncho to my wedding. Thank you, Fred, for your counsel and friendship. I'll miss you and never forget your wonderful laugh. Clois.
Paul Cross '89
I think of Fred and Carol every time I fix strawberries. Though I was a philosophy major and he was my advisor, I remember most an invitation to join them for sherry before I hit the dining hall for dinner. I was new to campus and feeling out of place. They made me feel grown-up and civilized. Fred asked me why I wanted to be a philosophy major and Carol showed me a neat trick for pulling the stems out of fresh strawberries with a carrot peeler. The life of the mind in the warmth of home -- a lovely gift from them.
Colleen Boothby, '77
Fred was already a legend in my family even before I entered Pomona College. He was at Pomona at the time when my parents, aunt and uncle were there, and was still there well after I had graduated, when two of my cousins attended. He touched all of us, across generations, in his own special way. I was touched when Fred took me to lunch as a freshman, even though I had never taken a course from him. He kept in touch with me throughout my time at Pomona, and he and Carol invited me to dinner several times. It was not until my senior year that I took a philosophy course with Fred, and I saw his scholarly side (and realized that Philosophy is not so easy). He had an amazing memory for the names of his students and the details of their lives. He had so much to give us. He later was the minister at my wedding and befriended my wife in the same way he had all of my family, and so many of us whose lives he touched.
Scott Pauley '87
To the Sontag family: My condolences to you for your loss. Professor Sontag touched so many of us not just with his excellent teaching and clear mind, but with his compassion and deep respect for everyone.
John Sullivan MD '70
The passing of our friend and brother, Fred Sontag, marks the end of an era. Not only was he a distinguished teacher and scholar, he was a mentor, a life coach, a motivator, a guide, a minister, a lawyer and just a powerful force of nature. He believed in the potential in all of his students and he saw the best in all of us. Carol, thank you and your family for sharing this good man with all of us undeserving souls. He will be greatly missed and impossible to replace. The best way of honoring Fred for his devotion to thousands of students is for all of us to do what we can to try to help other people in their journey as he helped us in ours....
Ranney Draper '60
Fred Sontag was my all-time, favorite professor. I only took two courses from Fred, but his explanations and illustrations of Plato, Kant, Hume and others still remain vivid and alive. Like most Pomona professors, Fred always had time for students. But unlike any professor I have ever known, Fred took the initiative to seek you out, especially if he sensed that you needed help like I did. During a time of great doubt and depression, Fred called me more than once, invited me to have lunch at Frary, and then walked with me to class.
Fred's counsel and encouragement literally saved my life. He suggested that I follow my call to ministry by applying to Yale, but supported me in my decision to go to Princeton Seminary. Thanks to Fred's letter of recommendation and his persuasive manipulations behind the scenes, I managed to pass my comps in biology and chemistry and was able to train for ministry. If that wasn't enough, Fred visited me at Princeton, and he and Carol kept in touch through all my pastorates.
I still remember Fred helping me to break in to a deserted Christian education building near the Ontario Airport (we didn't have a key) to explore that building's potential in a new church development site in La Verne in 1970. Later, Fred and Carol bought candles from my son, Johnny, to help him pay his way to a La Verne Church-sponsored camp. Finally, when I had a pastor-seeking committee from San Luis Obispo coming to hear me preach at La Verne, Fred agreed to attend to help swell the ranks.
When Fred wrote some of his early books that related to theology, he would send me copies. They always had catchy titles, though his content was usually too complicated for me to grasp. But his advice was very down to earth when I continued with graduate work at San Francisco Seminary. Fred's counsel helped me to find focus in my dissertation projects and to make them more manageable. Carol even loaned me her tape recorder to use for structured, field interviews.
Like so many, I was shocked and saddened to learn of Fred's death. I wish I could have been there at the end to lend support and comfort to Fred and Carol. Perhaps my own volunteer efforts in ministry will continue to express my thanks to Fred for his endless encouragement and faith in me. He truly was an outstanding teacher, and even more for me a dearly loved mentor, older brother, and friend.
John R. Springer (Jack) '57
I never took a course with Professor Sontag; I knew him as a name associated in the campus newspapers with the defense of fraternities and of free speech--viewpoints for which, I remember, he was sometimes labeled a reactionary. But I can see from what people have said here that his success as a professor came from always seeing human beings before ideology, and teaching students that ideas should be tools of enlightenment and growth, not labels and certainly not cages. It's harder to be a success with human beings than it is with theories. Pomona's students needed him--Pomona needed him--and our school's need for people like him does not lessen with his his passing.
Carl Horn '91
The last I saw of Fred not more than a few months ago, my brother Joe (’77) and I asked him if there was anything we could do for him. He gave us that evil smile and said, “Don’t let any Budenholzers flunk out.”
I let my brother Michael (’85, post-grad with San Antonio Spurs, three-time NBA Champions) know not to flunk out and let my son Jeremiah Rockefeller Buden '09 (econ major, phil minor who has stigma of being last person on earth to sign up for one of Fred’s tutorials) know not to flunk out, and I let my niece, Lauren Budenholzer ’12, know also. They informed me there was no danger.
I didn’t really know if he’d pass on, but later during the course of the year, I kind of felt his spirit going when I heard that the frat he loved so much had been closed up, except for a museum display; and that the Pomona rugby team would, in fact, never get to play on the Pomona field or even again under the name “Pomona” in spite of his 57 year advocacy for them; and that the Pomona alma mater would never be sung again at Commencement (honestly I’d not known the verses until Carol told me it was important this year to not let the song perish).
Although he seemed pretty comfortable at Pilgrim Place, he had to be taken out of a hymn singing session to see me, looked a little like a latter-day KD ritual, and wouldn’t you know it he complained bitterly that he couldn’t get to the rugby games because they had taken his car keys away! That he still wanted to teach a freshman course with Heidegger, Kierkegaard and about 10 other philosophers, but that the President of the College had come by with a concern that it was too advanced and to stick with the tutorials!
Anyway, I could see Fred was in good shape and fighting on.
At the ’09 graduation, one more Budenholzer made it without flunking out, and a trustee gave eloquent voice to the entire college’s love and admiration for Dr. Sontag. I was proud to be there and to think of it all, made me cry…
James Buden '75
God has been waiting a long time to meet Fred Sontag. Fred even arranged to have this meeting on a Sunday, befitting his name.
Dr. Sontag will continue to be my mentor throughout my life, as he has been from September of my freshman year when I met him on the front steps of Pearson's, in my cut-offs and flip-flops, trying to talk him into giving me a place in his existentialism class. Little did I know what that "yes" would entail.
Fred and Carol have graced my life and that of my family--there are so many stories, places (Harwood, Frary, Paris, Cambridge, New York, Los Angeles, Boston, San Francisco, Oakland), reunions brought about by the love, humor and strength of Fred's commitment--once given, always there. Including the occasional unexpected early morning phone call to chuckle over some of my grades when he unearthed an old transcript of mine.
Fred married my husband Vince and me in 1985, christened our son, Alexander, in 1996, and helped me mourn my husband when he died in April 2007. Fred and Carol were by my side for each of these life events and for so many more.
I last saw Fred last Fall when my BFF Susie Fried '75 and I sprung Fred and Carol from Pilgrim Place and went off (in a convertible, of course) to Walter's for martinis and lunch--how good is that??
Fred was reading St. Augustine at the time and spoke about the strength of St.Augustine's forgiveness; he also spoke about the strength of the KD 's ongoing party spirit. Here we have the Fred we know and love.
Fred taught me so much, and he never ever stopped challenging me and asking me questions, even in the most seemingly casual conversation. That mind was always there. We are not seeking the answers, we are always seeking the questions.
I hope God is well rested because Fred has questions.
My other BFF, Jim Budenholzer '75, called me when I was in Hawaii to tell me of Fred's death.
These lines come to mind:
Each night with darkness falling,
Like a star returns to the sky,
Your Aloha means farewell and not good bye.
With my love,
Anne Jacobson Nunno '75
I owe a debt of gratitude to this wonderful and compassionate man. His wisdom and compassionate loyalty to the young men at Pomona was second to none. He spoke the truth in love, not bringing confounding judgment to the situation. He always provided a reality check in the most subtle, caring and convincing way. In the years following my departure from Pomona, he was a trusted friend and mentor that helped me navigate life with sound wisdom. I thank God for putting such a wonderful man in my life.
Thank you, Fred.
Though I finished my undergraduate studies elsewhere, I did have the distinct privilege of taking my first philosophy course with Professor Sontag. Professor Sontag was an intellectual giant but was always down-to-earth and approachable: a great teacher in the truest sense.
I lament his passing for his family and for Pomona College. However, I celebrate the great enrichment he gave to all who knew him.
Mark A. Ortega (student 85-86)
Fred arrived at Pomona when I was a sophomore philosophy major. Our common religious heritage and interest in existential philosophy made for an easy and longstanding bond. We maintained contact over the 50+ years since my graduation in 1954. Little did I realize then that our discussions of existentialism would later lead to my joining psychiatrist and existential philosopher Avery D. Weisman at Harvard for many years of fruitful research on cancer, suicide and terminal illness care.
My son Michael attended Pomona and also came under Fred's influence. He showed me the syllabus from one of Fred's classes. It looked the same as the one I had used 25 years earlier. I told him to tell Sontag that he needed to revise his syllabus. Fred's quick and curt reply: "When it is perfect, why change it?"
That was Fred and why we all loved him.
Rest in peace, dear friend.
J. William Worden, Ph.D. '54
I had the privilege of working with Fred for 16 years. He was an amazing character in the life of the College and one who reminded me of why I love my chosen profession. While I have many “Fred” memories, perhaps my favorite had to do with a student who had been in trouble with growing frequency. While we, the Student Deans, were at our wits-end with this young man and were deciding to throw him out of Pomona for his latest transgression, Fred was on the phone arranging for a residential alcohol-treatment facility, near the student’s home on the east coast. It was the philosopher Fred, and not the trained Student Affairs professionals, who saw the student’s need and moved to meet it. It was a lesson that has stayed with me ever since.
To Carol and the rest of the Sontag family, “zichrono lebracha,” may his memory be a blessing.
Dr. Sontag was a wonderful influence on me during my time at Pomona College, and afterward. He always had time for one of his “brothers” and never blinked in his support for them. When I decided to apply to medical school, some 17 years after I graduated from Pomona, Dr. Sontag was at the forefront in promoting my application. Oh, he will be missed!
Brian Miller, M.D. '80
Goodbye, Fred. It was my great wish to see you in my recent visit to Claremont, and to thank you in person for the great wisdom that you shared with me and others over an abundant lifetime. After speaking with Carol on the phone, I worried that you did not have much time left, but hoped that we could meet for even a moment since I had not been to the campus for many years. I have thought about your words of encouragement often in the decades since 1964, and your aspirations for all of us, now silenced. But I will always remember the iconic smile and the gift of knowing what rare talent lies in the restless minds and hearts of your students. Your inspiration lives on.
Jon Crawford, ‘64
My Uncle Fred had just as much influence on my career as he did on most of his students. At his suggestion I applied to Harvey Mudd in 1959 when it was just a few bricks and a lot of dust. And when I discovered that I wasn't cut out to be scientist, he advised me to apply to Harvard Business School when I didn't know a stock from a slide rule.
Regardless where I was or what I was doing he always called to see how things were going. Fred helped conduct the weddings of two of my children as well as the funerals of my mother and father (his brother). He was a caring guy and great example whose presence will be sorely missed at future family gatherings.
Rick Sontag HMC '64 and Susan Thomas Sontag '64
I have always appreciated Fred's ability to be connected with people. He seemed to recall even the smallest details about one's life and interests. During my sophomore year, after going thru the KD fraternity initiation week, the culmination of the event was a ceremony that conflicted with the Pomona College Choir's performance of Beethoven's 9th. The fraternity was not too keen on my missing the initiation. Somehow, Fred heard about my predicament and reached a compromise with the Brothers that allowed for my initiation and participation in the choir concert.
Fred also indirectly supported my pursuing a career in medicine, which I think had to do with my taking his introductory philosophy course. I poured my heart and soul into writing the first paper for his class. My first paper came back with Fred's only comment: "This is pure Hopper!" I took this as a sign that perhaps a more objective field would be a better career match for me.
Throughout the years, my wife (Jackie Hood '73) and I have enjoyed connecting with Fred and Carol. We have appreciated Fred's kindness and his ability to appreciate his many students. He will be remembered always and will be missed! My love to Carol and the family.
Andrew Hopper '72
Dr. Frederick Sontag, the highly respected, fierce-eyed philosophy professor with the curious commitment to the Kappa Delta fraternity (a local fraternity with a deservedly proud reputation for being the bad guys), had a profound effect upon my life at a critical moment in my life.
I had decided, after some soul-searching, not to compete for the Rhodes Scholarship that he and Dr. Edward Weismiller had been guiding me towards since I had been in their classes in college. I already had an Army commitment and I figured I might as well get on with my life. He wouldn't accept that. He took the time to convince me that in 30 years nobody would be saying, "He could have been a Rhodes Scholar, but he didn't try." But if I got a Rhodes Scholarship that it would change my life forever. I did, and it did.
I am one of the many who benefited from his guidance. He believed you could be anything you imagined. God bless his heart and his soul.
Kris Kristofferson '58
I will never forget Dr. Sontag's surprise visit while I was living at International House in Manhattan and attending Columbia. We had breakfast at I House, and I remember feeling so happy that he had taken the time to seek me out. From Claremont to Manhattan was a big leap.
Although I took only one year of philosophy, I enjoyed his lectures very much. He stands out in my memories of Pomona!
Cornelia Saldania Fernandez '57
I first met him about two months before he passed on peacefully. Joan, his weekday caregiver, introduced me to him and told him that I would be his weeknight caregiver. He immediately welcomed me with a big smile and shook my hand. We talked about many things after that, but never about his accomplishments. That is how humble he was. Later on, I learned more about him from the people around us, his teaching career, many philosophical books, his academic accomplishments, etc.
On the night when he passed on, I learned from his niece that he was also an ordained pastor. I spent a few years of my life in the seminary studying philosophy and theology. One night, days before he left us, Joan and I talked about my years in the seminary and we tried to include Fred in our conversation even if he was not very responsive anymore; I saw his eyes lit up and saw that smile again.
His weekend caregiver, Victoria, and I talked about how kind and patient Fred was. He never showed any irritability even at the state he was in; on the other hand, he smiled and without even talking he radiated love and kindness. I just miss him a lot, even if I knew him for only a couple of months. I also want to thank Mrs. Carol Sontag for being so nice and kind to us caregivers. Taking care of Fred became easier because of the kindness and appreciation given by his family.
Our friendship with the Sontags started in 1958 when Jacque and I became neighbors of Carol and Fred on Cedarview Dr. in Claremont. What memorable times they were as we shared the joys and trials of young parenthood. Although his talents and accomplishments are legion, Fred and I shared one small failing...each of us was a klutz when it came to odd jobs around the house! We agreed that the job of assembling children's toys was not meant for philosophers or bankers. One time when our dishwasher broke down, Fred came over to commiserate, leaned on it, and, lo and behold, it started running. It was then I realized he possessed a power greater than Maytag!
While most of Fred's books were too deep for me, the inscriptions were not. One of his earlier books, Divine Perfection, was inscribed "to Jacque, who is divine, and to Roger, who is perfection." Although he was only half right, I'm still working on my end.
Fred's religious outlook was ecumenical. He encouraged my involvement as a trustee with the School of Theology and as a founding member of the Methodist Church on Foothill. He allowed as how Heaven was a big place with room even for Methodists...maybe not right at the top, but close.
All I know is that Fred at the top in that life as he was in this. So say a good word for me, my friend...I'm not that far behind.
Fred and Carol Sontag were friends of my parents. My father worked for Carol’s brother, Gordon Furth, at Marcona Corporation in San Francisco. After stumbling through four years at St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, my parents thought I should to take a “get more focused” year, studying softball subjects at the University of Grenoble in France. I really didn’t have much of a life plan – until I met Fred. I flew down to Claremont and got the full “Sontag” treatment. I have never met any couple more interested in (and certainly more patient with) students (the good, the bad and everything in between). I have also never met anyone so sure that absolutely every student had exceptional potential if it could be nurtured, cajoled and developed. You just knew they sincerely cared about you which, of course, made you want to live up to their expectations.
By the time I left campus that first visit, I was convinced that Pomona College was the ONLY school for me. I applied, was accepted, and then Fred made sure I would be able to take the year in France and enter the freshman class a year later. I remember hearing from Fred a couple of times during my year in France, checking in to see how things were going. Thanks to Fred, I was already connected to Pomona long before I actually stepped onto campus the following fall.
Over my four years on campus, I got to know them both even better and after graduation made a point of staying in touch. What I realized on one of my visits was that the Sontag’s kept track of thousands of graduates and were always willing to provide a word of encouragement or advice. I guess you could say that Fred always walked the talk and it came from his heart. I will miss him.
Ty Pettit '73
For more than half of my life you have been (and will always be) Bro God, Life-Coach, Oracle.
Ward Hobbs ‘86
When reading the tributes to Dr. Sontag, I wept openly at the passing of such a great man. Every comment about him was true. In his descriptions by others, I could recall my own relationship with him. I knew Fred as advisor to the KD fraternity. His calmness in the face of four years of almost constant rowdiness was an example I will never forget. No matter how “bad” we were, Fred really cared about us as individuals and wanted us to succeed in life. Dr. Sontag and Carol were examples of maturity in the midst juvenile behavior =- a beacon of academic light in the darkness of the fraternity room, the cabin, the panty raids, van parties, beach excursions, et al. He viewed it all as a painful part of maturing.
Of the seven members of the class of 1958, four became teachers, one an engineer, one a heart surgeon, and, of course, Kris, a song writer and poet for the ages. I know that somewhere, Fred Sontag is smiling, maybe shaking his head a bit, as we honor him in his passing as we never took the time to do during his life.
Tony Lynds '58
You made college more rewarding, provided a framework for exploring and seeing the world, established a foundation for faith, and made my life richer. Thank you.
Eric Relyea ‘78
The depth of feeling in these tributes makes it clear that I am not the only alum who cannot recall being a Pomona student without thinking of Fred Sontag. Because he devoted so much intelligence and energy to his relationships with students, he formed deeply personal bonds with so many. He died rightly covered with honors for his scholarship and his invaluable service to Pomona, and he will live in the thoughts of hundreds, if not thousands, or people for the support, advice, and wise counsel he provided. His was a life very well lived.
When I left the practice of law for law-school teaching some 13 years after graduation from Pomona, Fred began sending me copies of the letter of recommendation he wrote for Pomona students applying to Hastings (College of Law). I was frankly amazed at the knowledge of the student’s life and capacity for a professional career those long and beautifully written letters reflected. I had never before seen recommendation letters – more like detailed character sketches written by a good novelist – and I have never seen such letters since. Where did he find the time to get to know so many students so well and to express his valuable observations so clearly? There are mysteries in the operation of genius, and Fred Sontag had a gift of that magnitude in his relationships with individual Pomona students.
Life with a super energetic genius has, I am sure, its ups and downs. Carol, with supreme grace, shared him with many, many others. She is in the thoughts of all who know her.
Jim McCall ‘58
We were very sorry to hear of Professor Sontag's passing. He was both a great professor and a wonderful individual. As I recall, I was in Dr. Sontag's first philosophy class at Pomona college. My husband was not so lucky and had a difficult time with philosophy. Although I was a pre-med and my husband was an economics major, Dr. Sontag took a personal interest in us, as he did with many of his students. Looking back, Dr. Sontag had the greatest influence on our lives of any person in the academic field. Toward the end of our senior year, Dr. Sontag called us into his office to discuss the possibility of Bob's continuing his education at Stanford or Harvard to obtain an MBA. Based on his advice, Bob completed the MBA program at Stanford, as well as an MS degree in political science at Auburn University. I received an MS degree in Education at Troy University. This contributed greatly to our quality of life.
We have corresponded with Fred and Carol for many years and met with them on one of their trips to Germany, as well as attending a reunion get-together at their house. Fred Sontag will be truly missed.
Robert '53 and Harriette '53 Mayo
I remember Dr. Sontag's kindness to me when, as an overmatched freshman, I complained that I was having an especially hard time understanding Kant, since my book was written in German. Dr. Sontag explained that actually the book was written in English, but even he sometimes had a hard time with it.
Fred gave me a gentlemanly C- for the semester, a grade entirely undeserved. I like to think that even then he discerned in me those special attributes befitting a KD man.
Jim McEntee '69
The secret to a happy and fulfilled life is simply giving your gift, whatever it may be. By this definition, Fred's life was the happiest and most fullfilled life that any can imagine. To have touched so many over so many years in such a personal way is life changing and gift giving at its very best.
If you were one to receive Fred's gifts of kindness, forgiveness and friendship, consider yours a blessed life. I know I am better for his passing across my path as I traveled through. Thank you Fred, and God be with you.
My love and prayers go to Carol and family.
Steve Pauley '62
I did not take philosophy from Fred Sontag, but my roommate did back in the early late-'50s and early '60s and she thought he was a WONDERFUL professor.
Ginger Skelton Plasch '62
I am devastated beyond words. All I can do is to second what everyone else has said. At the 40th anniversary of our graduation in 2004, Steve Hammer '64, Pete Neurath '64 and I went to Fred Sontag's office in the Philosophy Department and, sure enough, he was there working at his computer. He, of course, took time out from his busy schedule to visit with us for a while. I had no idea that he was nearly 80 years old. He looked so young, as he always did. Saying that I was looking forward to seeing him at the 50th anniversary of my graduation would be an understatement.
Richard Harrington '64
Fred was an amazing and compassionate man . He cared about all of us and when we were in trouble, was the one man that took the extra time and effort to try and put the pieces together. I am sorry that I did not see Fred over the many years that has passed since I graduated, but I never have nor ever will forget this wonderful man. I have many times over the years found myself thinking of him and how he stored my motorcycle in his garage for the summer while I was a student. It is these little yet very generous offers of friendship which have stuck with me about how much he cared for all of us. I only hope that I have become and will become a man as gracious and generous as Fred Sontag.
Chris Kingsley '83
I transferred into Pomona as a sophomore. I had already declared my major in philosophy, and Fred was assigned as my advisor. Perhaps that enabled me to have more contact with Fred than would otherwise have been the case had I only been a student in his classes. He became as much a friend as a mentor. I often chided him when I saw him working in Honald on a new book for working harder than his students.
I was fortunate to have taken classes in existentialism and religion taught by Fred, but my favorite class in my years at Pomona was Fred’s ancient philosophy class. He made that subject come alive and be relevant in a way that few others, if any, could. I was also fortunate to have enjoyed Fred’s and Carol’s hospitality on occasion.
My heart goes out to Fred’s family. He will be greatly missed by all who had the pleasure and opportunity to know him. My two favorite professors at Pomona – Fred and Bill Whedbee – are no longer with us. Very sad, but I am grateful for all of the wonderful memories.
Jeff Charlston ‘71
To Carol and his family: Fred mentored our son Roger and made a huge impression on his life and decision to believe in himself. We visited the campus and expected the usual take-the-gang-out-to-dinner night but Roger surprised us and said we were going to Professor Sontag's office. He took the time out of his huge schedule to devote an evening to Roger and his parents. He followed Roger's basketball career, graduate school, his marriage and his induction to the Hall of Fame at Pomona as a loving friend. His follow-up and support has been with our son all these years and his example will help Roger to pass on encouragement, faith and love to all.
Thank you from very grateful parents. It is so special to know our youth can be trusted in the hands of professors like Fred.
Helen and Dick MacDonell
When I was a student in the early sixties, Fred contributed significantly to my education. He taught me not to read every sentence for meaning by telling us we’d only understand Heidegger if we read a page or two and then thought about what the passage meant. He suggested a couple glasses of beer might help if drunk directly before writing a paper. My paper on Heidegger, which I got a good grade on, took advantage of both pieces of advice. As one may guess, those lessons stuck. He also introduced me to Camus, whose “The Rebel” has been a guide for my life – I’ve read it three times. And he supported the rugby club when I was learning to play and starting 20 years of playing on both coasts and three other continents. Most important though, he was an important teacher for Cheryl Overin ’65, who I’ve been with since we left Pomona. Even then, his dichotomies of being able to write about religion and sponsor the rugby club, of loving everyone equally and treating women students as girls, and of being with you in spirit without feeling you were being intruded on were strong.
Since Cheryl’s and my graduations, our friendship with Fred and Carol has grown. We always saw them when we visited Claremont. He and Carol visited at our homes, the last time being 10 years ago when we were living in New Delhi, India. Twenty years ago, he helped convince my son Travis that Pomona would be all right for someone who enjoyed learning and a good time. Once I was on the phone with him and he said he had to go because he’d heard the first keg party was about to start in the Wash and he didn’t want to miss seeing what happened (and now the place is named for him and home to the Alumni Day keg party). Around 2000, I ran into him in Columbus, Ohio, when I went to see my nephew from Colby College play in the national rugby finals. The Claremont Colleges team was there, and there was Fred striding down the sideline a long way from Claremont and certainly not at a very philosophical event.
I had my last view of him this year at Alumni Weekend when I drove Carol home from lunch with the class of ‘64. I said I’d like to see Fred, and she said he probably wouldn’t be able to respond. I left it at that as she directed me where to go, and we stopped at his nursing home. He seemed nearly in a coma, but I was able to say “hello” and a final “goodbye” to a man I have respected and loved for most of my life. I'll miss knowing he's there to talk to.
Ward Heneveld '64
I am saddened by the loss of Professor Fred Sontag. Professor Sontag had a very significant and positive impact on my life. I took an Existentialism course with Professor Sontag in the fall of 1996, in which the class pondered philosophical topics such as “the meaning of life,” a topic that some people contemplate their entire lives. It was such an honor to take this course with one of the great minds on the subject. I also benefited greatly from Fred’s wise counsel outside the classroom. He leaves an enormous and beautiful mark on the tapestry of Pomona College history and on the lives of thousands of people who were fortunate enough to have met him. I feel very fortunate to have known Fred Sontag, and know that he will be deeply missed.
Ian Jinkerson ‘99
Fred Sontag came into my life during extraordinary times of transition, first in the 1970s and later when my wife and kids moved to Claremont in the mid-1990s. I never knew him as a student. Fred always listened with respect and attentiveness. Fred had views, but he was so grounded in compassion and the rigor of the discipline of philosophy, along with a sly sense of humor, that he never tried to convince about his idea of the meaning of life or the big questions. Instead, he would ask questions to provoke thought and deeper reflection. As you spent time with Fred, you learned of the thousands of people he and Carol helped over the years.
One Christmas, my daughter and I house-sat for them. I would guess about 500 Christmas cards arrived as he and Carol were off somewhere, while Fred delivered some lectures on some continent or other. He helped a parade of fraternity members and students with the local judges, all of whom knew him well, and those were invariably the students who grew to be persons of success, who always remembered to give back. He helped our kids, too.
I began to look on him as the American “Mr. Chips,” especially as I learned how he taught and touched so many families through generations. In the midst of the teaching, the travel, the rescuing of students, he kept publishing all of those books. Our love to Carol and the family. Pomona College has lost a man of rare quality.
Fred was the brother of every KD and the friend of all. He brought compassion and balance to Pomona the way others could not. Fred was always helping those who needed help and reminding those who didn't how lucky they were and that they should be thankful. He single handedly got many of us to the next level through insight, inspiration, guidance and unbelievable recommendations. While no one will ever replace Fred, I hope Pomona can find great mentors to emulate him. Thanks for everything, brother Fred.
Jay Willoughby '81
When I enrolled for my first philosophy class my sophomore year in the fall of 1996, Professor Sontag’s “Existentialism,” I had heard of the legend of Professor Sontag: friend, advisor and advocate. After one of his classes, I met with him and told him how much I had enjoyed being introduced to the world of philosophy in his class. He saw the lost look in my misguidedly aspiring pre-med eyes and, to my surprise, immediately said: “Well, you should register as a philosophy major and as my advisee.” I did and it was the right decision. At the senior year student-faculty event, I again sought Professor Sontag’s advice for my uncertain future and he immediately responded: “You need to go to graduate school.” I did (first for philosophy and then for law, my present career) and he was right once again. Professor Sontag’s wisdom and guidance will be missed at Pomona.
Oren L. Sibony '99
I came to Pomona College aspiring to be an economics major. Then I took a philosophy class from Professor Fred Sontag. So began a wonderful and enduring relationship as a true advisor and friend. As I reflect back, I am awestruck by his ability to positively influence so many lives.
For those who were fortunate enough to know him, there was no better. He was there for us, through it all.
His inspiration, anecdotes and wisdom are still with me today. Life leads us on an interesting journey and I thank Fred for his profoundly positive influence then and still now. And it is by no small coincidence that Carol was there every step of the way. And now as I reflect 25+ years later, if the emotions he has provoked upon his passing are any signal, he was a man way beyond compare.
Fred, thanks for the wonderful journey and memories. You will stay in our hearts and minds forever.
Roger MacDonell '84
Professor Sontag made the transition from home to school seamless. As a result of being encouraged to follow my interests and passions in choosing courses my freshman year, I somehow stumbled my way into the Philosophy Department. I never left.
Professor Sontag's passing hits me especially hard, because it reminds me of my own father's passing nine years ago. Professor Sontag was not only an advisor, he was a father figure at a time when I was making those initial steps to separate myself from home. I am a better person and certainly a better thinker as a result of knowing him. He will be missed but never forgotten.
Jennifer Combs '92 (philosophy major)
I love writing because of Sontag because he made me explain everything possible, to make sure those who read my work, understood it. I put up the article from the Los Angeles Times in my classroom for my students to read, exemplifying the kind of virtues all people should have and how forgiveness can indeed be limitless. I will remember him always.
JuanPablo Flores '03
I will always remember this comment by one of the professors in my Philosophy 50 course, taught by Jay Atlas and Fred Sontag: "Struggle--It is Good For You!" It has helped me to come to terms with many rites of passage in my life. Thank you, Professor Sontag!
Martha G. Moore '79
My Pomona College alumni family members sent me the news about the passing of Fred Sontag. As a philosophy major at Scripps, I had heard about his phenomenal classes and decided to give it a try. I spent most of the first month completely at sea; I was reading intensely, scribbling notes (yes, I was there before laptops!) and panicked over writing my first paper. I got it back with the ominous "come see me" notation and, with my heart in my throat I showed up, expecting to be told that I had no business being in his class.
Instead, I was greeted warmly and encouraged to give it another try. I rewrote that paper three times, and finally achieved the A he told me he knew I could earn. I took two more classes from him and went through many a rewrite. I found the courage to join a group of students who had lunch with him periodically, and ultimately asked him to write a letter of recommendation for law school. He was a great teacher and a fine man, and he will be missed.
Sue (Potter) Shanley, Scripps '74
I remember when I worked in the philosophy office, seeing Professor Sontag walking down the hall each morning, making his familiar rounds. I remember how highly his students spoke of him, and the stories, legends almost, that circulated among the philosophy majors of his past at Pomona College.
He will be missed.
G Jake Nagel '09 (philosophy major)
In my 25-plus years at Pomona College, as a Head Football Coach and as Dean of Campus Life, my association and friendship with Fred were a joy.
He was a source of inspiration and help as we attempted to continually motivate "our" guys to strive for excellence. He was a friend and will be deeply missed.
My condolences go out to his loved ones.
I am saddened to hear this news. It is certain that Fred lived a long, meaningful life in constant service to others. Although a CMC alumnus, I remember him well and fondly as our rugby squad's faculty mentor. Not only did he support our endeavors administratively and in spirit, but he lent his mentorship and friendship to all who sought it. He will be missed by generations for his stalwart, principled, kind and loving spirit. Rest in peace, Fred.
Albert Knowles CMC '90
While much of what I remember about my four years at PC has gotten a bit blurry over the decades, sitting in Professor Sontag’s philosophy class my sophomore year remains surprisingly in sharp focus. I say “surprisingly” because I’ve never been drawn to philosophy as a discipline, but Professor Sontag’s erudition and ability to bring clarity to complex subjects has been a yardstick against which I can measure my own over the years.
Thank you, Professor Sontag – you will be remembered.
Bruce A. Gordon ‘72
He was my favorite professor. He showed me that there were limits to verbal reasoning that could be transcended by faith, resulting in unconditional love for the Lord and other people. He was my living example of Paul: how to be a saint while maintaining total intellectual integrity.
Louis Dvorak '66
I never took a class from Fred Sontag and, being keenly aware of my intellectual limitations, I certainly never talked philosophy with him.
But, for my whole life, he was my "uncle Fred." Not related by blood, but by the fierce admiration my father, John Roth, held for Fred and Carol. I grew up knowing a man with a great laugh, a man who always made room for those around him, and who you could just tell was good. My condolences to Carol, Grant and Anne. May you take comfort in the number of lives Fred touched.
Sarah Roth Brooks
Growing up in Claremont, my first encounter with Mr. Fred Sontag was as Grant and Anne’s father. I remember seeing him and his wife, Carol, at school events as supportive parents. While I knew he was a professor at Pomona College, many other Claremont parents were also college professors so it didn’t seem special at the time. It wasn’t until I became a student at Pomona that I realized that he was more than just a good father; he was a truly extraordinary man. He was as hands-on as a professor as he was as a parent, and hi s students thrived under this guidance. His life was a wonderful example of what to do and how to live life fully. I believe that the inspiration he provided will continue in the many, many lives he touched. My condolences to his family and to the Pomona College community.
Ronda Ross Taylor ‘77
Dr. Sontag’s unlikely appearance in my life as a visiting professor at UCR in 1964 changed my life. Never a dutiful student, I approached his paper assignment without having read the required material.
Suddenly I had a great idea. As part of responding to the assigned topic, I would make up a character and quote him. It would have to be pretty good, but why not give it a try? (I’d already absorbed a little of Kierkegaard’s use of fanciful pseudonyms in his writing.) Maybe this would pass as outside research and help deflect my lack of diligence otherwise. So I did, giving my monk a nicely obscure, medieval name.
When the papers were handed back, Fred asked if I’d stay behind for a few minutes after class. “Tell me more about this monk,” he said, with a twinkle in his eye. There was no point in equivocating.
I confessed that I’d made it all up. It startled me when the next thing he said was, “Why aren’t you at Pomona College?”
“I’d have never been able to get in with my grades,” I replied.
(It turns out my younger brother, a much better student, was at Pomona and Dr. Sontag was his advisor.) “Well, would you like to go to Pomona?” he asked.
Dr. Sontag got me in somehow. And I don’t think it’s too much to say that, in doing so, he saved my life.
I think Fred must have liked my chutzpah. He ended up using that quote in one of his own books, too, only this time he attributed it to me, another powerful gift to a young man who didn’t have the greatest amount of self-confidence in a lot of ways.
Years later, I interview Dr. Sontag on a visit to Claremont where my mother lived in a retirement community. For those with philosophical/theological leanings, they might enjoy it.
It is with great sadness I learn of his death. He had a remarkable spirit in which the love of truth was mixed equally somehow with the truth of love.
Richard Whittaker '66
An intro philosophy course with Fred made me ditch economics immediately. As others have noted, he loved to see his students unsettled/mystified -- doubting -- themselves and their inherited "wisdom." I learned to think, finally, thanks to a lanky, wiry eye-browed guy that loved to tell stories while shaking the loose watch on his wrist. I do not know anyone who has bridged the gap between the conceptual and actual worlds as well as Fred. His friendship and guidance are legendary among former students. Doubt -- his greatest gift -- and the basis of a true liberal education.
Kent Callaghan '87
Fred gave so much, to so many, including us difficult KDs. He and Carol were always exceedingly generous, patient, understanding and caring.
He is, among many other good things, a model for caring for others. He will be missed, but lives in the hearts of hundreds, at least.
John A. Hinds ‘58
I had the pleasure of taking an introductory philosophy class from Professor Sontag during my first year at Pomona. Twenty years later, I still remember one of the examples he used to make an important point about the role of God and free will in our lives. Remembering his words after all this time is a testament not only to his skill as a teacher, but also to the timelessness of his wisdom.
Dr. Sontag's ability to understand and connect with his students was truly unique. He interacted with students at their level, and he had an innate ability to illustrate his points and beliefs in ways that were relevant and memorable. More than anything else, Dr. Sontag cared deeply about each of his students and he showed it in both his words and his actions.
The number of lives he impacted is truly innumerable, and the impact he had -- and will continue to have -- on their lives is immeasurable. His passing is a great loss to the Pomona College community and he will be missed by all who knew him.
Chris Nelson '90
I never took a class from Professor Sontag, but my mother (Anne Gerstley Pieper '62) knew him from her own Pomona days and had continued in contact with him for many years after graduation. I was, therefore, fortunate enough to be invited to dinner at the Sontag's house during my own freshman year. Even though that was essentially the extent of my direct contact with Prof. Sontag, I still thought fondly of him whenever his name came up, and I gasped aloud in shock and sadness when I read of his death. My condolences to the family, as well as to his extended family of Pomona faculty and alumni.
Debbie (Pieper) Fulmer '93
Fred was my mentor at Pomona. I was a philosophy major and did my honors project under Fred. He even got it published in the Yale Journal of Philosophy. Fred pushed me to apply for a Rhodes Scholarship. Fred was floored when he heard that I had lost the scholarship because I was dating (Susan Hoffman Hirsch '61). They have since changed the rules. I have tried to keep in touch with Fred for the last 50 years. Over the years, he was my most important mentor. I tried to see Fred at my reunion last April, but was unsuccessful. I will greatly miss Fred.
Dave Hirsch '59
Fred Sontag gave me the power of the pen, the discipline to persuade, and the courage to express myself in ways beneficial to my profession. He will always be my teacher and I his student. I will miss him greatly.
Clarence T. Sasaki '62, M.D.
It might be truthfully said that I owe my very life to Prof. Sontag. In 1968, a few months before I graduated, he asked me to go to lunch with him in Frary. As we sat there under Prometheus, he let me have it: "You're not good enough in philosophy to go to graduate school and make a career out of it," he said, riveting me with his penetrating eyes under that dark brow. (He could get away with being so direct because you always knew he did it out of the utmost caring for your soul.) "You should think about going to theological school. You would be a better minister, and you would get a draft deferment that way." He knew I was looking for a legitimate way not to end up in Vietnam.
Theological school was something I hadn't considered, but I followed his advice, went there and learned things that helped me even if that wasn't to be my eventual career, and it did indeed save me from Vietnam. I am so grateful to him for that piece of confrontive advice and for the many other times at Pomona that, as my advisor, he took me aside and counseled me about life. Perhaps the most important thing he gave me was the knowledge that as a mentor/advisor/counselor I could positively affect the lives of others just as he had helped me. The main reason I came to Pomona was to have my mind opened, influenced and educated by great people. Dr. Sontag became for me the most important of these people and he never disappointed me. I will miss him. I will miss his wise counsel, his quick sense of humor, his razor intellect, his love of people and his ability to find the meaning of life in service to others.
Farewell Professor Sontag. Our lives are better for having known you.
George Lough '68
Fred Sontag is the only professor I never took for a class who influenced me significantly. As a Sagehen football player, I spent many a night with the KDs, sipping beer, and Fred was often there. I still recall with fondness a quick trip down to the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano to see some former student named Kris K. play a show, only because Fred had gotten the call and rounded us up for the night.
His was a profound love for the students of Pomona and the KDs, made real through his actions. I try to act with my own kids the way he acted with us... Encouraging them to stretch, try new things, and live life with a sense of adventure. Thanks for leading by example, Professor!
Gary Lancina '89
As a chemistry major, I did not have the privilege of taking a course from Dr. Sontag. I was very aware of his thoughts and his lectures, however, and like to think he helped form my thought processes. Bertholt Brecht wrote "No man is truly dead 'til he is spoken of no more." From one Fred to another - live on!
Fred Wolf '58
A great teacher, a prolific writer, and especially a wonderful friend. I believe he is up there now, happily dialoguing with Plato and Augustine, Aquinas and Kierkegaard, and so many others. And keeping a benevolent eye on us all, and on his beloved Pomona. Thanks so much, Fred.
Bob Hale, '59
(a.k.a. Rev. Robert Hale)
Dear Dr. Sontag,
Your quality as a professor was admirable. But most meaningful was your (and your lovely wife's) willingness to create a personal relationship with a mere freshman that had the capacity to last not just the four years I lived in in Claremont, but 30 years to this day and to stretch not just the 3,000 miles to Florida, but to reach far more deeply into my heart and soul.
I thank you for this forever.
Geoffrey Kanter '79
There are exceedingly few individuals who have had more of a positive influence on more lives during their time on this earth—who have really made a difference—than Fred Sontag.
Fred was our champion and our rock. He was never judgmental. He was like a father who was also our friend who we treated with respect. He gently but consistently pointed us toward the right path. That was not an easy task. But he did it in his soft spoken voice and a smile on his face.
Fraternities may now be unfashionable or politically incorrect. Kappa Delta was not a national fraternity and for good reason. But we were admittedly a closely knit band of brothers who, perhaps more than most, needed his guidance. Fred was always there to provide it; always the voice of reason, always someone whom you could trust; always there to offer sound advice when you could not confide in others. And someone with whom you could have a beer or ask what Kierkegaard was really all about.
Fred’s loyalty and dedication to the College was unsurpassed. He also was and will always remain a KD to the bone. It was Fred’s time to leave us without further suffering for which we are grateful. But we have lost a giant of a man. Those of us who had the privilege of having Fred as friend will never, ever forget him. I can see and hear him laughing now. Goodbye, dear friend.
Tom Crowe '65
I did not know Professor Sontag well outside of the classroom, nor was I a philosophy major. That said, it is even more impressive that he was the only person who ever made philosophy courses desirable to this science major. Perhaps his greatest academic feat was simply making philosophy accessible and interesting to everyone, not just those in his department. He was clearly a unique, gifted and caring individual, and his involvement with and dedication to the student body outside the classroom was unequaled. That was obvious to everyone, even if you did not interact with him directly. He was an irreplaceable asset to Pomona and remains THE example of the very high bar that Pomona professors strive to meet.
Sherwood Johnson '89
Leave it to Uncle Fred to set the bar so high for the rest of us "Fred Sontags." I think anyone that knew him would agree, he's a pretty tough act to follow.
A little Fred trivia for you: Around the Sontag family he referred to himself as "Fred1", my father as "Fred2", me as "Fred3" and my son as "Fred4". He always reminded me he was #1, and I have to admit, I agree.
They really did break the mold when they made Uncle Fred. He had it all, brains, compassion, family and a sincere love of God. I will miss you Uncle Fred.
Fred Sontag (a.k.a. Fred3)
When I first told Uncle Fred that I hoped to become a philosophy professor, he smiled and looked at me for what seemed a very long time, and said, "Well, I guess there's room for two philosophers in the family. But that should be just about enough." When I told Uncle Fred that I was writing a book on pain, he looked at me and said "That's an excellent topic. I wrote a book about that." And, when I sent him a draft of a paper on the problem of evil, his comments began: "This is a very important issue. I wrote a book about that." Clearly, he had been gracious--there was very little room for another philosopher in the family.
Thank you Uncle Fred for being a continued source of inspiration and encouragement, for showing what's possible as a teacher and scholar, and for nurturing in thousands of us the futures that you saw.
Adam Swenson, Ph.D.
California State University, Northridge
In the middle of my sophomore year of college, I transferred from Georgetown to Pomona, not knowing a soul, except that my Great Uncle Fred still taught there. He taught there when my mother, Susan Thomas Sontag, attended Pomona and my father, Frederick B. Sontag, was attending Harvey Mudd. I'll never forget my first night at Pomona. I spent a good part of the day moving in and then went to bed early. About 2 a.m., there was a knock on my door. I jumped out of bed wondering who it could be since I knew no one. There were several good-looking guys at my door.
"Are you Fred Sontag's niece?" they asked. When I responded yes, they informed me that they would be taking me to a party the next evening and to be ready at 7 p.m.
That was my first clue that my great uncle was really a "great" person. After learning more and more about him from faculty and students, as well as getting to know him better myself, I realized I had a lot to live up to. While I'm not sure if I ever lived up to the "Sontag" standards set by Uncle Fred, he certainly gave me a lot to look up to. I know he will be dearly missed by all the students he mentored, taught and even wed. And, he will certainly be missed by me!!!
Cindy Sontag-Hudgins '95
I can hardly fathom the contribution Fred Sontag has made to the Pomona College community...from his tireless commitment to the often tiring brothers of KD to his tireless defense of any and every student, to his tireless efforts teaching class after class and, of course, his tireless scholarly contributions. He was a man that would never quit on anything and further encompassed everything great about Pomona College. As a loyal son of Kappa Delta, I feel indebted to the man who upheld, defended, guided and advanced KD and EVERY member to ever recite our oath.
I can remember Fred coming to our weekly meetings and parties. Taking the time to enjoy a beer with 18-22 year olds who he saw the best in...even when they didn't deserve it, even when no one else would. The man who would sit by students during Judicial Board hearings and support them when they had academic troubles.
Fred made us believe in ourselves, thereby giving us the greatest gift we could have ever hoped for. As is such, I hope all of us who have been touched by Fred can give back just the smallest fraction of what he gave. If so, we will have a positive impact wherever we are. Here's to bro Sontag whose contributions, encouragement, gifts and. most of all. his person will never be forgotten.
My thoughts and condolences to Fred's family, including his wife Carol. Thank you for sharing this special man with us. All who knew him are deeply indebted.
Kyle Ridgeway '07
Two of Professor Sontag's quotes still pop into my head any time I'm faced with a difficult or risky decision, or just wondering what it all means:
- His advice to me was to try the things of which I was most afraid, to go to the places I was most reluctant to go, and to explore ideas that seemed the most ridiculous. In class, he would always ask us if we had gone somewhere interesting or done something different, and then say "You should."
- After reading 200 pages of Kierkegaard and understanding very little of them, I went to his office to explain how confused and aimless I felt in his Existentialism class. He paused, laughed heartily, and said "That's exactly where I wanted you to be!" I'm still there, Fred!
We'll miss you, Fred.
Michael Caldarone '00
This is a very sad day for all of us who had the privilege of knowing the greatest professor of the 20th century.
Dr. Sontag was always there for his students; what other faculty viewed as far beyond the boundaries of the job he referred to as “night duty.” During our college years, he came to our games, brought us to and from the hospital on far too many occasions, and stood before the judge on our behalf when no one else would. Afterwards, he married many of us, and made sure we hired those students still looking for that elusive summer internship.
I doubt he can ever be replaced.
Rod Parsley ‘90
We will cherish the memory of Fred Sontag who did so much to help guide me as a student of philosophy at Claremont Graduate University. Fred and Carol were like a second set of parents while I was in Claremont, inviting Mary Jane and I to church, for Thanksgiving Dinner, helping with a car, and keeping in touch regularly through the years. He helped shape the Paragon Issues in Philosophy Series which John Roth and I have inherited. Thank you, Fred and Carol, for your love and for being such fine examples for us.
Gordon L. Anderson, Ph.D. (CGU '86) and Mary Jane Anderson
“What we do for ourselves dies with us. What we do for others and the world remains and is immortal.” - Albert Pine
Fred is truly one of the immortals. The fingerprint he left on each and every life he touched is a remarkable feat for one lifetime. As a mentor, confidant, friend and minister for my wedding, Fred made an impact on my life that few ever have or ever will. Our love and condolences to Carol, and a tremendous thank you for all you have done.
David Pfaff ‘92
Fred Sontag is the only instructor in all my years of schooling and seven years of college who influenced me drastically. The course he taught my first semester at Pomona made me into something I'd no intention of becoming: a philosophy major. I fell simultaneously in love with philosophy and Sontag. Thank you, Fred.
Jerelle Kraus '65
His introductory philosophy course was my first...and the subject became my unofficial minor. He was frighteningly smart and suavely urbane, and had a wry sense of humor. I majored in biology and followed that field for my career, but he put the liberal arts in my liberal arts education, for which I am profoundly grateful. I can't say I understood it all (especially Kant), but some stuck, and I'll hold fast to it. Thank you and goodbye, Professor Sontag.
Juliette Winterer '87
Although I never took classes with Professor Sontag, I can safely speak on behalf of many brothers in Kappa Delta when I say that, without him, our experiences at Pomona would have been markedly different. His tireless work to uphold the various traditions of KD and the College in general added an incredible aspect to college life that otherwise would not have been.
Eric Thompson '08
No words can adequately express the sense of loss that Fred’s death brings me. Nor can words express my gratitude for his caring and loyal friendship, which I enjoyed since I first met him in the autumn of 1960. He taught me, nurtured me, mentored me, cared about me. Thousands of his Pomona students will rightly say the same. I give thanks for his life, for his spouse, Carol, and their children Grant and Anne. A great and good man has left us, but he remains with us, too. I can hear his voice even now, as I write these words in grief and with love.
John K. Roth '62
Edward J. Sexton Professor Emeritus of Philosophy
Founding Director, The Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights at Claremont McKenna College
The loyal sons Kappa Delta could not claim Fred Sontag exclusively, but he was one of us and we benefited disproportionately from his grace, wisdom, charity, and friendship. For this, we owe thanks and a debt to Carol that can never be repaid. For over 50 years, Fred was our leader and our brother. It is a rare thing for a man to capture the hearts and loyalty of generation after generation of young men. But Fred possessed rare qualities. He was honest in his assessment, compassionate in his critique, unwavering in his loyalty, and selfless in his friendship. We will miss him dearly, and honor him always.
David Dardis '95
Fred. . .thanks for believing in me and lending a hand when few did. Without your good kicks in the ass, I am not sure I would have finished at Pomona. You have been a great role model, advisor, and friend. You will be missed.
Damon Tomeo ‘99