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Founding professor didn’t follow the status quo

A maverick. A civil rights activist. A mad hatter.

These are some words friends and colleagues used to describe former USF professor of government Charles Arnade, who died Sunday of heart failure in northern Virginia.  A native of Germany, Arnade was one of the first professors at USF, starting his career at the University in 1961. Arnade remained at USF until his retirement in 2004.

A maverick
Mohsen Milani, chair of the Department of Government and International Affairs and former colleague of Arnade, said he was very different than the image that people have of a professor.

“(He was different) in the way he presented himself, the way he challenged authority, the way he dealt with his students (and) the way he dealt with faculty,” Milani said.

Arnade, friends said, was known for challenging authority and was not afraid to stand up for what he believed in.

He challenged every University president, administrator, department head and faculty member he encountered, said colleague and USF professor emeritus Harvey Nelsen. Nelsen knew Arnade for about 40 years.

“He was combative in that sense, but once you fought the issue out, then it was all over,” Nelsen said. “He wasn’t a person that held grudges.”

A civil rights activist
The historian was also a proponent of civil rights during the early 1960s, “when (it) wasn’t very popular,” Nelsen said.

During that time, when St. Augustine was celebrating its 400th anniversary, Arnade and others demanded that the town become racially inclusive and boycotted against its segregation, said colleague and USF St. Petersburg professor Gary Mormino.

“The man had death threats,” Mormino said.

Nelsen said some of Arnade’s memorabilia was destroyed by the Ku Klux Klan during this time as well.

Arnade stood out against the Florida Legislative Investigation Committee, popularly known as the Johns Committee, because of its discrimination against homosexuals, Nelsen said. Created in 1956, the Committee was designed to investigate all organizations whose principles or activities were a violation of the law or violent in nature. They investigated the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, the NAACP and the KKK, according to Florida  archives. In 1961, they added the investigation of homosexuals to their mandate.

Arnade’s passion for civil rights can be attributed to his experiences.

He was born in Germany where his father was an army officer and lived there until his family escaped to China during the Nazi era.

In a 1992 column in the St. Petersburg Times, Arnade wrote that as he was swimming one day, he met Adolf Hilter, who was rowing in the lake on a raft. Hitler dragged him onto the raft and explained to him that he was a good swimmer and that Germany needed sports champions. He then let him swim back home.

“I doubt that I would have become a ‘sports champion,'” Arnade wrote. “More likely, I would have been a concentration camp victim. The world would soon learn that Hitler, among others, killed millions of children.”

His family moved from China to Switzerland, where they lived there as refugees until moving to Bolivia, where his father got a job teaching, said wife Majorie Arnade.

Unable to speak English, Arnade immigrated to the United States at age 19 and took a job in the Deep South. Initially, he was confused by the racial discrimination, Mormino said.

Internationally oriented
For the rest of his life, Arnade traveled extensively. His colleagues said he claimed to have visited more than 140 countries. He taught and researched in many of them, including Bolivia, Nigeria, West Africa and Spain.

Majorie Arnade said her husband of 59 years was famous among students because of his international experience. He also had a massive collection of traditional dress from around the world, partly because he hated the suit and tie, she said.

When he and his wife lived in Nigeria, they went to an upper-class restaurant. The restaurant had signs up that said patrons must either wear a coat and tie or traditional dress.

“That was his loophole,” she said. “He wore traditional dress whenever he could.”

Nelsen attributes Arnade’s interest in the world and experience traveling in it to his “burning intellectual curiosity.”

“He was always looking for new challenges,” he said.

Arnade used this experience as a tool in the classroom and created one of the first classes in the state about the Holocaust. He also shared his experiences traveling abroad with his students regularly, Milani said.

A mad hatter
Nelsen said he will always remember Arnade as a brilliant — but very disorganized — man.

“His office, his personal life and his home was (a big) pile of papers,” he said. “It looked like an absolute fire trap.”

Arnade’s wife said he saved many reports and papers from his students.

“He was very pleased with a lot of the work that he received,” she said.

Milani said he will never forget how Arnade challenged authority and never stopped contributing to the University.

“He was a good man,” he said. “We all remember him for his dedication, kindness and solid contribution to academia.”

Arnade was an “old-fashioned, liberal, tolerant man in a very intolerable world,” and will be remembered for his bravery, Mormino said.

His family is planning to hold a memorial service in San Antonio in November.