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Department of Psychological Sciences

Leon Rappoport Memorial Lobby

Leon H. Rappoport, Ph.D.
March 11, 1932 - September 10, 2009

lobbyLeon Rappoport received his B.A. degree from New York University in 1953 and his M.S. in 1962. In 1963 he received his Ph.D. from the University of Colorado in social psychology. He did an NSF Post-doctoral Fellowship at the Psychologisk Institutt, Oslo University from 1963-64. He joined the faculty of Kansas State University in 1964 as an assistant professor. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1968 and Professor in 1974. He was a Visiting Professor at Manhattanville College, Purchase, New York in 1972-73; and a Visiting Scholar at Centre Nationale De La Reserches Sociale in Paris, France in 1982. His original field was conflict resolution, decision making and human judgment but he expanded into many other social psychology areas.

He was a student of Kenneth R. Hammond at the University of Colorado. Throughout his career he presented his research and thoughts to both national and international conferences. He published many research articles and book chapters throughout his career in the fields of social psychology, personality, health psychology, and psychohistory. His books include: Personality Development: The Chronology of Experience (1972), Human Judgment and Social Interaction (co-edited, 1973), Varieties of Psychohistory (1976), Psychology and the Problems of Today (co-edited, 1978), The Holocaust and The Crisis of Human Behavior (co-authored, 1980, 1994), How We Eat: Appetite, Culture and the Psychology of Food (2003); and Punchlines: The Case for Racial, Ethnic, and Gender Humor (2005).

leonHe was equally prolific in his teaching and mentoring efforts. His courses were enormously popular with both undergraduate and graduate students and Ethnic Humor was an annual success with students during the summer. In many cases, his courses were fully enrolled semester after semester. He was major advisor to 24 Ph.D. students and many more master's students. He saw the mentoring of graduate students as a critical part of his career.

Rappoport Scholarship Fund

Rap's Memorial Service Statements

Ron Downey -- Colleague

Staying true to Rap's extreme dislike for these types of events; I will make my statement short. Rap and I were colleague and friends for over 30 years. We were so different externally and in development, but so much alike in the ways that count. We worked together on many a project and with many a student. One constant was that we trusted each other to do the "right" thing.

Many of you have or will stress Rap's intellectual and academic accomplishments and they were huge. The other side of Rap was his deep commitment to his physical side. This is the one I so often saw with our camping and fishing trips. Rap truly loved the outdoors, especially when away from other people. We camped, hiked, and fished in Kansas, Missouri, Wyoming, Colorado and New Mexico. In each place, Rap was happiest when the campground, trails, and lakes were empty. He recently wrote that one of his greatest accomplishments as he aged was backpacking in the Teton Mountains.

I have noted Rap's commitment to the mind, body and spirit. He so often pooh-poohed the social and emotional side of his life. However, each of us is a testament to how much our relationship with him affected our lives and demonstrates his commitment to helping us to be better people.

James Lamiell, Ph.D. (class of 1976)

To all in attendance,

I very much regret being unable to be here today for this event, but an important family event is taking place at the same time and I was unable to resolve the conflict so as to be able to attend both. So I'm especially appreciative of this opportunity to contribute a few words in absentia.

I continue to look back with fondness and gratitude upon my four years as a graduate student in the Kansas State Psychology Department. Leon Rappoport was not the only reason for these feelings of mine, but he was certainly one of the primary ones, because he played such a large role in teaching me the importance of thinking critically about psychology. I distinctly recall asking him once about the point of social psychology, and he answered in his typically pithy way: "Critical self awareness."

That was not then, and is not now, an answer that would surface often or prominently among mainstream thinkers, and I can't claim that I fully appreciated it at the time. But it stuck with me, and over the 36 years that have now passed since I finished my dissertation under Leon's direction, I have had numerous occasions to pass his insight along to my own students. More than a few have told me how valuable they have found that idea to be.

So Leon lives on in those students, whom of course he never met, and it pleases me greatly to think about that as I ponder this dedication ceremony today. I think it altogether fitting that Leon is being honored in this way, and I very much look forward to visiting this space on my next trip to Manhattan.

My sincere thanks to Ron Downey, and to you all, for the opportunity to share these words.

Steve Baumgardner – (class of 1973)

How many times have Ron and I said: "Leon is Leon?" A phrase that sums up our respect and admiration for a good friend who was true to himself, rough edges and all. Whether you agreed with him or not, you learned to listen because he was a wise man.

A true intellectual in the best sense, Leon went wherever his intellectual passion and curiosity took him…the Holocaust, Psychohistory, Zen Buddhism, food and humor, to name a few. Reflecting his own diverse scholarship, Leon encouraged his students to explore their own passions rather than simply plugging into their major professor's "program of research." And, his own career provided an example of how to survive academia while at the same time "following your bliss," (to use Joseph Campbell's phrase).

For 36 years Leon was a source of support in my travels through academic life. His support was in the form of insights, not TLC or empty encouragement. Leon had the uncanny ability to separate the wheat from the chafe – what mattered from what did not. This is important for students because there is lots of chafe in academia and the social sciences. Like a good Zen master, Leon provided both practical and big-picture wisdom that got at the essence of an issue without solving it for you. I survived more than one career dilemma because of his wise counsel.

On our fishing trips to northern Wisconsin, I came to appreciate even more Leon's good humor, positive take on life and continued intellectual passion. Ron and I will always have fond memories of conversations on our cabin deck overlooking the river. A stiff drink, a good cigar, hearty laughs and heady discussions. A true delight.

In many ways I never stopped being Leon's student. I think Ron would agree that in one respect (although he would never admit it) Leon became one of our students when it came to fishing. Leon did not do particularly well on the first few trips. However, last year Leon out fished Ron and I two to one. Hauling in one nice bass after another, we asked him about his technique. Leon just laughed and said "you think I'd tell you even if I knew?" I'll miss Leon, but I'm happy to have such recent fond memories of a good friend and mentor.

Jim Killacky, Ph.D. (Class 1973)

I was in my last term as a KSU undergraduate, spring 1971, taking Leon's course in social personality (I hope I am recalling the title correctly). It was a large class and he divided us into small groups with the assignment of reading a chapter in the text and having a group presentation on the topic. Due to the size of the class, there was not time in the term for our group presentation so we each were asked to write a paper on the topic. The topic had to do with issues an American encountered having moved to Europe. As I had recently moved to America from Ireland, I focused on applying the chapter's concepts to my own experience having moved into a rooming house in the southeast Bronx in New York City. After the final exam, I went by Leon's office and in response to my timid knock on the door, he said, "yeah, come on in." When I asked about my paper, he said, "what's your name"; I said, "Killacky". "Oh" he said, "so you are Killacky. I loved your paper; you would not have known that you were writing about a place a few blocks from where I grew up in the Bronx." That encounter started a lifelong friendship and, for me, a mentoring experience that stands the test of forty years (how can it be that long) brilliantly. We have walked, talked, cooked meals (especially with our other great and dear friend Bob Sinnett) and his insights have been a major part of my moral, ethical, and life compass since those days in 1971. A few years later he came up with the best course title I have ever encountered - when we co-led a University for Man session. How "Leon" is this title: Insensitivity training: Beyond mushroom love and self-actualization. My last meeting with Leon was a few years ago at the home of another dear KSU friend, Ralph Titus. On that occasion he urged me to continue work on a book about my life called The life and times of an ordinary Irish immigrant. His lifelong generosity to me was captured that day when he offered to provide social-psychological commentary and analysis on the contents of the book. Alas, his departure now makes that an unrealized dream of mine rather than a concrete reality. What is a concrete reality for me are the gifts of his friendship, support, love, mentorship. When I think of who I have the honor of calling a dear and cherished friend, Leon comes immediately to mind - always.

Christina L. Scott, Ph.D. (Class of 2000)

To Sir, With Love

He told me not to call him "sir." Nearly every single day when I was a graduate student at Kansas State, I would slip and call him, "sir." He would hang his head in mock frustration when I would call him Professor Rappoport, "Sir," or my personal favorite (and his least) "Great One." Shaking his head with a slight smile, he'd slowly, deliberately respond in a gravelly voice, "Just call me Rap."

Maybe it was because of his humbleness and his loathing of any special attention, that I wanted to honor him all the more. When his analogies for graduate school started taking on a decidedly military tone, I began referring to him as General Rappoport. Some of his greatest wisdom was handed down as a battle strategy: "If you keep your head down, Scott, they can't shoot at you. Learn to fly under the radar."

He guided me through the minefields of graduate school and, although he hated graduation ceremonies, Rap begrudgingly presented me with my doctoral hood in May of 2000. He dismissively denied that I would have never survived (or been admitted) to graduate school without him. As we waited onstage for the recessional to begin, I pulled a baseball cap from my robe that said "GENERAL" in bright yellow letters followed by five gold stars. Rap gave me a sideways grin, handed me his mortarboard, put the cap on (along with his sunglasses), and proudly marched out of the auditorium.

Even after graduation, Rap continued to be my commanding officer, my advisor, and my surrogate father. As a professor with her own "troops," I hope to lead them with the same humbleness, strength, and compassion that the General showed me. Thank you, Rap. I miss you.... "sir."

Jeffrey Reed, Ph.D. (class 1979)

I still have a copy of Leon Rappoport's book (with Michael Wertheimer) on Social Problems. He introduced me to the psychological study of social issues and also to dialectical psychology. He lived what he studied – lived it with passion to the fullest. When I visited several summers ago, we discussed his passion for eating and the psychology of food as well as his latest book on punch lines. His sense of humor was marvelous. Leon was a wonderful contributor to the K-State Community. I am glad to have known him.

D. John Lee (Ph.D., KSU, 1987)

It was like having lunch with Rap again. This past weekend, I sat in a restaurant and re-read Rap's autobiographical essay, "Playing in the rough" (Rappoport, 1994). It was both surprising and predictable how Rap bumped into other academics during his life and incorporated their disciplines into his theories and research. He embraced her/history, literature, anthropology, political philosophy, etc. in a way that moved me closer to a more holistic psychology. I am thankful for the important conversations I had with Leon. Rap was "a scholar who understood."

Alex Rappoport – Son, Plaquemine, Louisiana

The workplace makes the Worker to some extent, I assumed. Dad's office - the mystical, smoky place on the second floor of Anderson Hall circa 1971 – still triggers a vivid sense memory; two wooden desks, piles of papers and books, a chalkboard perhaps… but mostly walking up the ridiculously creaky wooden staircase! It ascended in an overly tall set of landings from a cavernous, dark hallway up to a slightly less cavernous, dark hallway. Indeed, as a child, I may only have visited Leon on weekends when the place was unlit and empty - a circumstance which elevated the vagueness of whatever it was that my father did for a living. What is a psychology professor anyway?

I never gave it much thought before, but the uncertainty I felt as a five-year old regarding Dad's occupation must have been comforted by the fact that he, well, occupied such an amazing place. What better image of ivy-walled academe could one conjure than Anderson Hall? It just loomed with import! Whatever happened there was surely sacred and serious stuff, along with the core campus; ancient citadel of knowledge. And so I gained from the architecture a great comfort. Daddy is a badass of some sort, I just know it.

From the time I was a toddler, I attended many psych department picnics at Tuttle Creek or elsewhere. I loved playing volleyball with the Hippie-looking grad students back in the day! But I was never fully cognizant of the psychology "department" at K-State until Bluemont Hall was built in the mid- or late ‘70's. Yes, architecturally it pales to Anderson, yet it did solidify the concept that Leon was not working alone in his limestone tower; he was among a group of peers and support staff who together made… well, I still haven't figured that out exactly, but they were together at any rate! And the gateway to it all was is the lobby where we now gather.

To be honest, I don't know how I feel about the Leon Rappoport Memorial Kansas State University Psychology Department Lobby. I'm sure that all of us who knew him would agree that Dad would reject the whole concept as sentimentality misguided. It is, of course, but that's what makes it such a great and uniquely human gesture. And in the end I find it fitting somehow that a man who devoted his adult life to the study of the human psyche – a subject for which there are certainly no temporal limits – should be lionized in what is essentially a waiting room for others of like minds! For here, now and in the future, his spirit shall hover periodically over students and faculty. And they may gain inspiration of some sort as they sit upon the beautiful new furniture and chance to look upon Leon's image and body of work. And they shall intone, internally, "Who was that guy? He looks like a badass of some sort."

I want to thank Ron and everyone who contributed to the creation of this very lovely and, yes, meaningful recognition of Leon's many years of something akin to service to Kansas State University. Here he inspired (or at least entertained) hundreds upon hundreds of students; wrote numerous books (some of which I have even read); and found a home within our perpetually nonsensical civilization. He loved Manhattan so much; I never once heard him speak of living – or working - anywhere else. In fact, he would only leave town to visit his children out of state or go fishing with Ron (I mean "me" cause this is Ron reading this, right?). Yet as Leon and his contemporaries have retired, the daisy chain of Teaching and Learning and Unique Thought that is the University Tradition is carried on by many of his and their former students – and their students by now… Maybe their student's students. Dig that.

I'm very sorry that I could not be with you on this occasion, but I will come visit the LRMKSUPDL whenever I come home next. I will bring my children and show this unto them. "Well, there's Grandpa kids. This is where he worked." And they will look around at all the rooms and desks and papers and books and they will feel something like I felt as a child in Anderson Hall... Minus the smoke, stairs, and darkness. Thank you for honoring his career. I wish he were still with us to torture with our celebration.

Letter to Stan Sloan


Dear Stan:

Always a great pleasure to hear from you; it is about 20 years now since you were “my” first grad student… seems extraordinary! I still have a vivid image of how you used to race around Anderson Hall full of energy and enthusiasm. And I think of you occasionally too, when news of El Salvador flashes on TV: perhaps we were, thanks to your visit down there, among the first to suspect that a revolution might be inevitable.

My #1 son, the little guy you gave the whistle from El Salvador, is now 23 and working in KC; graduated from KU last year. My second son is a junior now at KU. Both are OK, but costing a fortune, of course. Health seems pretty good; haven’t been to a physician in about 12 years so I can’t be sure, but thanks to a mix of yoga, running, and zen meditation, I don’t often notice my nearly 54 years, although, since I began shaving my head about five years ago, I don’t see any grey hair so maybe that accounts for it.

Research these days is mostly writing on theoretical topics; I’ll enclose a few recent things so you can see for yourself. Actually, I find this work pretty satisfying. After a certain time, empirical studies seem to become rather like toys for kids, so one moves on…

Delighted to see pictures of your wonderful-looking family; makes me feel a little like a grandfather! … You really are putting down roots! I’m afraid I continue in the role of “rootless intellectual”, or, as I prefer to think of it, just another K-State lifer, but given the sorts of things available here, this suits me pretty well. But I forget! I am a functionary of sorts: I am in charge of some of the activities of the local amnesty international group! I guess these things are harmless as long as one doesn’t take them too seriously.

Anyway, I’m really happy to know that my “first” is doing well; it was good of you to write. No, I don’t have any fotos handy…once the kids grow up one just gets out of the habit. And yes, of course, if I should get anywhere near Atlanta I’d love to get in touch, but it’s not likely; I don’t travel much except when it’s unavoidable. After all these years, anyplace bedsides Kansas seems schizophrenic to me. Maybe you can swing through here one of these days.

Best regards to the family….

                                                As always…