Serendipity was on my side. As a freshman at Bowling Green State University I took classes with two professors with whom I became a serial student. The first was in English, my ostensible major. She was an eighteenth-century specialist who passed on that enthusiasm to me. The other taught history and was one of the few functional eccentrics I have known. He looked like Robert Benchley. You could count the hairs in his mustache. He wore the same brown, three-piece tweed suit the entire time I was enrolled in his classes. The heels of his shoes were scuffed flat. He was given to reveries. He spoke plummy Italian and loved to say Cimabue, stretching every vowel. He was, naturally, absent-minded. In his Renaissance class he assigned only one text: Swiss historian Jacob Burkhart’s The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1867). In a subsequent class (one of three I took with him) he had me write a paper on the fate of the Jews under Napoleon. He said it was a subject he wanted to know more about. This was Prof. John F. Oglevee, a memorable if unorthodox teacher.
I dropped out after three years without a degree. A few years later I heard Dr. Oglevee had committed suicide. It didn’t make sense. I had no details about what had happened. For decades I was left with fond memories of a man who was just that -- a memory. Periodically, I looked for information about him online without realizing I was misspelling his surname. Finally, after many alternate spellings and combinations of search terms, I found a brief article on Page 5 of The BG News dated May 24, 1977: “History Professor Oglevee dies.” His wife, Imogen, whom I met several times at various campus events, had died on May 19. The following day he took his life by carbon monoxide poisoning. I’m surprised to learn he was only fifty-eight years old at the time of his death. I had assumed six or seven years earlier that he was close to seventy. As Dickinson puts it, Dr. Oglevee “wandered out of Life.”