Monmouth College emeritus professor of history David Suda dies at age 77
Monmouth, Ill. (03/02/2021) — David Suda, a Monmouth College professor widely acclaimed by his colleagues and former students as a "Renaissance man," died Feb. 27 at the age of 77 at his Sarasota, Florida, home.
Suda officially taught in the College's department of history, but he was listed in the course catalog as a professor of humanities, also teaching courses in philosophy, religious studies, art and music. A skilled musician, Suda was the violinist in the Knox-Galesburg Symphony Trio, playing alongside his wife, Monmouth music instructor Carolyn Suda, and the symphony's conductor, Bruce Polay.
In thanking Suda for his 23 years as concertmaster of the Knox-Galesburg Symphony, Polay wrote, "From my view, David Suda has always been an exceptionally intelligent, well-schooled advocate for bringing great music to life."
Suda joined Monmouth's faculty in 1984 and taught for 27 years. One of his initial tasks was to help redesign Monmouth's liberal arts curriculum, and one of the lasting elements of that effort was the College's honors program, which he coordinated for several years.
"To me, he was the brightest, best-educated and most well-read person I ever knew, and I've been around higher education all my life," said Monmouth emeritus professor of English Jeremy McNamara, who for several years walked five days a week with Suda. "And then my other interest is music, and David was spectacular at that, too. He was a great person to be around in all ways."
Another of his former colleagues at Monmouth, music professor Ian Moschenross, shared a similar sentiment about Suda.
"I have never known anyone like David - professional violinist, imposing intellectual, beautiful writer, military veteran, dear friend. David and Carolyn introduced me to a world of great literature which we never tired of discussing, often very late into the night. David believed in the indispensability of culture, of art, and of empathy. His students loved him and remember his courses."
One of his former students, Melissa Scholes Young '97, took her first class with Suda by mistake thanks to an error with the room number.
"Dr. Suda strode in and read Anna Akhmatova," she recalled. "It was 'He Loved Three Things Alone …' which he read first in Russian. It was a performance - as good teaching often is. The class was 'Russian Cultural History,' and I wasn't supposed to be in it. But I was smitten with the words and Dr. Suda's passion for them. I declared history my major because I wanted to keep coming to any class with him."
Young went on to be a professor and author, and Suda has been there with her every step of the way, from the lessons he taught her at Monmouth - including learning how to think - to the help he's provided with her manuscripts.
"Dr. Suda believed that history, language, music and love would teach us how to live," she said. "He challenged us to consider how to live our lives backward with intention rather than blindly moving through the decades."
When Young began writing her own stories, a decade after graduating from Monmouth, she sent them first to Suda.
"He wrote me long letters back and gave me reading lists," she said. "He was always present and generous with his time. We were pen pals for years and my mentor became a friend. He asked me to call him David. I still can't. We compared stories of raising daughters. He sent me updates of his beloved (daughter) Anne and shared pictures of the cats adoring Carolyn."
In short, said Young, Suda provided her a great gift: "He saw value in my mind, so I learned to do the same."
"For me, Dr. Suda was the epitome of what it meant to be a professor," said the Rev. John Huxtable '04, pastor of First Christian Church in Virden, Illinois. "Throughout the many courses that I took with Dr. Suda, I was taught much more than simple academics; he taught us how to be better people in the world. He opened our eyes to see with new lenses that included compassion and grace in all our decisions, and sought to help us see everything that our decisions would impact."
Suda coupled his almost incomparable intelligence with a humanity that made him approachable for the students he was trying to marshal through their time at Monmouth, and beyond.
"There was a wonderfully noble nature that he carried himself with that resonated from him as he taught or was simply in conversation with you," said Huxtable. "He was filled with this amazing grace for his students and was always willing to listen to you when you needed to be heard. He cared deeply for each of his students, and he shepherded us through his courses with a wonderful grace that is very rare. He was also tough, which made you appreciate the finality and the accomplishment of completing the course."
Although he retired from the full faculty in 2011, Suda was still a presence on campus, teaching violin to talented musicians such as Syrian refugee Mariela Shaker '15 and current student Holly Reyner '21.
"David always had amazing stories and he had a special way of making people want to give absolutely everything they had," said Reyner. "For music to truly be an art, you have to put yourself into it, and he knew exactly how to get people to do just that. David was one of the most intelligent people I have ever met. Every lesson with him was not only a music lesson, but also a life lesson. He was always inspiring and spirited. He was truly an incredible person."
To Shaker, Suda was more than just a teacher.
"I am blessed to have had the opportunity to be a student of a profound, humble and intelligent man," she said. "I still remember the first violin lesson with David in 2013 as if it were yesterday. He worked with me so much to become a better violinist and human. David was not just my beloved violin teacher, but also my American father. I came to the U.S. as a stranger and vulnerable, with no family or friends. Soon afterward, David became my new family. How many Thanksgiving dinners, Easter breaks and holidays we celebrated together."
Suda earned his bachelor's and master's degrees in his native state at the University of South Florida and his Ph.D. from Emory University in Atlanta, where he was concertmaster of the Opera Orchestra of Atlanta and the Atlanta Ballet Orchestra and was a member of the Georgia State University Faculty String Quartet and the Emory Piano Trio.
Suda's book, The Moving Image, published in 1989, is a study of the idea of time as symbolized in clocks. Books on his reading table at the time of his death included Richard Holloway's Stories We Tell Ourselves, Celtic Daily Prayer and Anton Chekhov's Sakhalin Island.
"Dr. Suda was a treasure to Monmouth College, as well as the world, and he will be dearly missed," said Huxtable. "It is not hyperbole to state that without Dr. Suda and his influence I would not be the man I am today."
Said Moschenross: "More than anything else, David helped me better to understand the connections among art, music, theatre, history, politics, theology, philosophy, and on. I think this is what he shared with his students as well. He was deeply committed to the study of the human condition and his contribution to the intellectual life of Monmouth College will leave a lasting imprint."
Shaker said her "American father" will live on.
"In my violin case, I keep my photo with David from my Monmouth College graduation, so every time I play, I feel that Professor David is there with me listening. David is not dead. He will always be alive in my heart and memory. I shall never forget you, my American father, and I love you so much."