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Deceased Name: DR. NORMAN KANER
Dr. Norman J. Kaner, a Temple University associate professor of history whose irreverent wit and iconoclastic view of government and politics made him one of the most popular faculty members for a generation of students, died Tuesday after a long battle with heart disease. He was 52 and lived in Northeast Philadelphia.
Kaner, whose specialty was contemporary American history and whose personal heroes included the gadfly journalist I.F. Stone and basketball star Julius ("Dr. J") Erving, began teaching at Temple in 1968, at a time of rising student protests against the Vietnam War and racism.
"Norman was a full-time practicing skeptic who could be as devastatingly critical of sitting U.S. presidents as he was of sitting protesters," said Dr. James W. Holty, chairman of Temple's Department of History.
"He was a dedicated teacher who challenged students to question all official explanations. Some students learned there was a genuine tenderness shrouding a paper-thin veneer of gruff cynicism. Like most of us, they learned that, deep down, Norman was a pussycat."
A lifelong sports enthusiast, Kaner introduced a new course at Temple in the late 70's called "Sports in American Society - A Critical Perspective." One of the issues he stressed in class was the responsibility of athletes to the communities that supported them. He especially admired Dr. J, and he was wary of professional athletes who, he said, "were caught up in themselves."
"He was my greatest ally, I'll miss him deeply," said Carol Mazor, a stepdaughter. "He was a humanitarian and a mentor to many."
In 1981, Kaner was promoted to associate professor, and for the past seven years he taught at Temple's Ambler Campus.
Lee Schreiber, who taught history at Ambler with Kaner, called him "probably Temple's best-loved teacher . . . He touched everybody, and he kept in touch with his students over the years - students who went on to become doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other professionals."
Steven Gross, who sat in Kaner's class 23 years ago and who now teaches in the College of Education at the University of Vermont, said: "There have been two guiding lights in my life. One was my father, the other was Norman.
"He was not only my teacher, but he became one of the best friends I ever had. He was there at my graduation from Temple, at my wedding, and at my father's funeral. He even waited three hours for me while I defended my doctoral dissertation."
A native of Jersey City, Kaner received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Rutgers University.
In addition to his stepdaughter, he is survived by a brother, Richard Kaner; another stepdaughter, Paula Lewkowski, and a stepson, Michael Lewkowski.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday at Goldsteins' Risenberg's Raphael-Sacks Funeral Home, 6410 N. Broad St.
Contributions may be made to the Dr. Norman J. Kaner Scholarship Fund, c/o Dr. Lee Schreiber, 8470 Limekiln Pike, B-1020, Wyncote, Pa. 19095.
Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
Date: March 19, 1993
Deceased Name: NORMAN J. KANER , 52, PROFESSOR KNOWN FOR IRREVERENT WIT IN CLASS
Norman J. Kaner, 52, of North Philadelphia, a popular history professor at Temple University who used an irreverent wit to shock his students into thinking for themselves, died Tuesday at Temple University Hospital, three weeks after receiving a heart transplant.
"He was a big fan of (journalist and iconoclast) I.F. Stone, and carried the irreverence of Stone into his work," said James W. Hilty, chairman of Temple's history department. "His basic approach was to question anything official and then to question the officials."
Yet Dr. Kaner also had a rare talent for reaching his students, Hilty said.
"They became his personal friends and confided to him things they've never confided to me," Hilty said. "He had a way of reaching his students down deep, and all of us were very envious of that."
His stepdaughter, Carol Mazor, said Dr. Kaner had the ability to "enjoy all the little things in life," like eating a hot bagel - with nothing - from Brooklyn Bagels, browsing in malls and bookstores, and talking endlessly on the phone from the end of the couch, where he also spent hours reading piles of books and newspapers and watching sports on television.
One of his chief pleasures was his cat, an eight-year-old, 30-pound red tabby called Ebenezer. Perhaps because of Ebenezer's influence, he enjoyed making donations to charities that fostered animal rights.
A native of Jersey City, N.J., Dr. Kaner earned his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Rutgers University.
He arrived at Temple in 1968 as an assistant professor of history. In 1981, he was promoted to associate professor. He taught for the last seven years at the Ambler Campus.
Lee Schreiber, who taught history at Ambler with Dr. Kaner, called him ''probably Temple's best-loved teacher."
According to Hilty, Dr. Kaner had a relaxed style that sat well with his students. He was able to converse easily with almost anyone, and was charming ''in a gruff kind of way."
Though he never hesitated to let people know his views, he was not intimidating. "He often got students to respond because they felt there was no penalty to expressing their own views," Hilty said.
He was "sometimes profane and always irreverent," Hilty said. Once he began a discussion on the good and bad sides of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's presidency by saying "Roosevelt sucks," Hilty recalled. It got the class talking.
For Dr. Kaner, teaching came first.
Students, he once wrote in setting out his educational goals, "should think for themselves, should be willing and able to express their opinions forcibly, but to do so with a substantial background of knowledge and an ability to distinguish between opinions and facts."
He was constantly meeting with his students, said Professor Schreiber - in his office, outside at lunch on nice days, at dinner. Many kept in touch with him years after they took their degrees.
Though he did not publish much, he was highly respected as a scholar and he knew his specialty - contemporary American history - exceptionally well, fellow professors said.
"I never saw anyone more up to date," said Schreiber. "He had subscriptions to just about everything."
On his own, Dr. Kaner sometimes taught extra classes without pay, and he developed his own courses in subjects that interested him - journalism of dissent, for instance.
Dr. Kaner, who was 6-foot-5 and weighed about 250 pounds, played high school football and college basketball before injuries ended his career. He was fascinated by sports and peppered his lectures with sports metaphors.
Though he was critical of the role many sports figures play in society, he was a fan of Dr. J's. Once, in a Jack McKinney column in the Daily News, he praised Julius Erving for attending the funeral of a 14-year-old boy who died while playing basketball.
That, to Dr. Kaner, was a gesture that showed concern for real life - the kind of concern friends say he was filled with.
Surviving besides Carol Mazor are another stepdaughter, Paula Lewkowski; a stepson, Michael Lewkowski; a brother, and six step-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held at 4 p.m. tomorrow at Goldsteins'
Rosenberg's Raphael Sacks, 6410 N. Broad St.
Philadelphia Inquirer, The (PA)
Date: March 20, 1993