At the age of 73 and diagnosed with advanced stage cancer, English Department Lecturer Merla Wolk refused to slow down.
“In her last term of teaching, she never stopped working to improve,” said Theresa Tinkle, an associate professor in the English Department, who worked closely with Wolk. “She used to stop by my office regularly and talk about new ideas for assignments, or about how to enhance students’ learning in lectures and discussions.”
Wolk, a senior lecturer in the English Department, lost her battle with cancer on Feb. 10.
In her honor, a memorial event will be held March 25 in Auditorium B of Angell Hall from 4 p.m. to 5:30 p.m.
Wolk graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in 1957. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. from Wayne State University in 1973 and 1981, respectively.
She began working for the University of Michigan in 1986 as a lecturer. In 2002, she became one of the first five recipients of a senior lectureship award.
Wolk not only excelled on paper, but also in the classroom.
“What was remarkable about Prof. Wolk was how she managed a perfect mixture of encouragement and guidance in her discussions,” according LSA sophomore Michael Vickers, who previously had Wolk as an instructor.
Vickers said that Wolk didn’t simply listen to a discussion and bend it back to her original outline. Instead, he said Wolk would explore the comment and expand on its strengths or point out its flaws.
LSA sophomore Barrie Schwartz, who also took one of Wolk’s courses, added, “she brought unique ideas and perspectives to every book we read, but encouraged and welcomed all of our own thoughts on the novels.”
According to her colleagues, Wolk’s enthusiasm was rooted in her true passion for literature.
“To say that Merla loved literature understates the case,” said English Prof. George Bornstein. “She lived and breathed literature as a natural part of her life.”
Bornstein, who became very close with Wolk during her more than 20 years at the University, said that he felt that Wolk “brought out the best in her colleagues, and they knew it.”
Adela Pinch, an associate professor in the English Department, was one of those colleagues who felt impacted by Wolk’s generosity and advice.
“I will always remember an important moment,” said Pinch, “when I consulted her about my struggles with an essay about George Eliot I was trying to write. She patiently listened to all my ideas, and then said, with just a touch of impatience, ‘just start writing!’ I know that decades of students had similar experiences with her, learning from her to have faith in their ideas about literature.”
As a student who had the pleasure of being in Wolk’s classroom twice, LSA sophomore Laura Winnick said Wolk asked a lot of her students. But as a result, students not only grew as writers, but as people, she said.
“It was her constant push, her perpetual challenge to her students to understand and appreciate the books we read that made her an incredible teacher and inspiring person,” said Winnick.