Thelma Greenfield

Obituary of Thelma Caroline Greenfield

Professor Thelma Greenfield, former head of the English Department at the University of Oregon, died July 11, 2023, in Eugene, Oregon, at the age of 100 years. She is survived by her daughter, Tamma; her son, Sayre, and his wife, Linda Troost; a niece, Carolyn Robe; and two nephews, Kenneth and Nils Robe.

Thelma was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1922, but was raised in north-central Oregon’s Morrow County. She grew up on a farm, among junipers and fields of winter wheat, in a family that consisted of her elder sister Elaine and her parents, Lulu and Ivar Nelson. She attended the one-room schoolhouse at Gooseberry and, later, the high school in Ione.

Winning a scholarship to the University of Oregon, she enrolled as an education major. The Great Depression finally caught up to agriculture, causing her parents to lose their farm, but Thelma was able to continue her studies thanks to her scholarship, and she graduated as a member of Phi Beta Kappa, and earned both a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in English. Her heart was already won by the study of literature, so after less than a year of teaching, she applied to PhD programs in English. The University of Iowa rejected her, noting “we are a graduate program for young gentlemen,” but the University of Wisconsin gladly accepted her. There she studied with such scholars as Madeline Doran and Mark Eccles, the latter of whom directed her dissertation, and she undertook the first of many trips abroad during her life, this one to post-war England. Food rationing was in effect, and she remembered her breakfast choice in the boarding house in Stratford-upon-Avon as consisting of either “cold bycon or biled aig.”

In the fall of 1951, a new instructor of medieval studies arrived at the University of Wisconsin, one Stanley Greenfield. He and Thelma were married a few months later, in January 1952. Thelma finished her doctorate later that same year, and in the summer of 1954, the couple moved back east since Stanley had been offered a position at Queens College. Their two children were born in New York, and summers were spent in their small house in the village of Wheelock in northern Vermont.

In 1959, Stanley was hired, coincidentally, at the University of Oregon, and the family moved to Eugene. Thelma started at the U of O by teaching night school, but in 1963, she moved to a tenure-track appointment in the English department. Having already written significant articles, including “The Clothing Motif in King Lear” in Shakespeare Quarterly (1954), she co-edited Pacific Coast Studies in Shakespeare with U of O professor Waldo McNeir (1966), and published a monograph, The Induction in Elizabethan Drama (1969). A second monograph, The Eye of Judgement, a study of Elizabethan courtier and writer Sir Philip Sidney’s long prose romance Arcadia, followed in 1982.

Thelma also gave many lectures, most often on Shakespeare. Almost every summer, she and her family would go to Ashland for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, and she lectured at such venues as Southwestern Oregon Community College and at a Methodist camp run by one of her former students. At the week-long seminar at the camp, she prepped the participants in the afternoon for each evening’s performance of Shakespearean drama and, the next morning, responded to the production of the night before. After Thelma retired in 1986, she continued this work of preparing playgoers for performances at Ashland as a member of the OSHER Life-Long Learning Institute in Eugene.

As a much-appreciated member and moderating force in the English Department at the U of O, she took over as head of the department in the mid-1980s. She also served for many years as a board member of the Shakespeare Association of America and as a judge for Phi Beta Kappa’s annual Christian Gauss Award. Thelma was a member of the Modern Language Association, the Renaissance Society of America, the Shakespeare Association of America, and, locally, the Shakespeare Club.

She and Stanley spent year-long sabbaticals in London, England, in 1965-66 and 1970-71 to pursue research but these also included family vacations in exotic locations: cruising the Greek islands and going on safari in East Africa. She and Stanley taught, on another sabbatical in 1974-75, at the University of Regensburg in southern Germany. They lived in Cambridge, England, while Stanley was on appointment there in 1979, and Thelma served as distinguished visiting professor at the University of Arizona in the spring of 1987. In 1987, Stanley died and Thelma retired from the University of Oregon.

During subsequent years, she continued to advise dissertations and travel widely—to Korea, to visit a former graduate student whose dissertation she had directed; to China; to Mexico; to Turkey, where she took her first and only hot-air balloon ride at age 88; and to Ethiopia. She had an interest in Ethiopian culture and, with her friend Norma (“Bean”) Comrada, prepared a documentary catalogue in 2000 for an exhibit at the U of O Museum of Natural History of their collection of Ethiopian art and artifacts. She was a member of the Fortnightly Club of Eugene, joining in 1989, and, for many years, a member of City Club. She served on the boards of the Friends of the University Library and the Friends of the University of Oregon Museum of Natural History.

After forty years of living in a house near Hendricks Park, she decided at age 90 to move into Cascade Manor, where she happily resided for ten years, continuing to lecture when requested, and attend opera and symphony performances, as well as events at the Oregon Bach Festival.

A commemoration of Thelma’s life will take place at 2 pm on Tuesday, July 18, 2023, at Cascade Manor. Those wishing to make memorial donations might consider the University of Oregon’s Library Fund or the Cascade Manor Foundation.

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