For many of his former students and colleagues, David Bartelt’s knowledge of cities and urban development served as invaluable inspiration in their own careers.
But those people, among many others who knew him well, understood that Bartelt’s career accomplishments didn’t tell the whole story.
Bartelt, 70, a professor emeritus in Temple’s Department of Geography and Urban Studies, passed away May 15. Family members, friends and colleagues told stories of the longtime professor at a memorial service in Bryn Mawr College’s Thomas Great Hall on Friday afternoon.
Each person who spoke shared his or her personal connection to Bartelt, but many traits were prevalent during the entire service: he was a respectable, loving, humble family man, who had a perverse but hilarious sense of humor. Those in attendance said he was a remarkable scholar and an even better person.
One of Bartelt’s closest colleagues, Carolyn Adams, has served in Temple’s Department of Geography and Urban Studies for more than 30 years. In 1990, her and Bartelt were chosen to travel to Paris to present urban housing papers at an international conference. Adams’ mother had passed away due to cancer soon before the trip, so she asked her father to attend the conference with her and Bartelt. The decision turned out to be more of a burden than she had expected, but to Bartelt, it didn’t matter.
“David treated my dad with unfailing sympathy and kindness,” Adams said during the service. “Basically, he was doing therapy with both of us simultaneously.”
Another longtime colleague, Jay Chaskes, earned his doctorate degree at Temple in sociology in 1980. He said he understood Bartelt’s twisted sense of humor.
“If I fall, David would be the first to laugh at me,” Chaskes said as he made his way up to the podium on crutches, due to a long fight against paralysis.
More than that, Chaskes said he respected Bartelt for his personality.
“At the center of my love for David was his character,” Chaskes said. He added that Bartelt taught with great passion, especially with concern to inequality and injustice in major cities.
Andrew Guillen, Bartelt’s son-in-law, said he will miss David because he taught him how to be a good husband and father. Both argued consistently about parenting choices, but Guillen said he’ll always remember one particular message.
“David said to me, ‘Look, there’s only so much I’m going to be responsible for. The rest is up to you.’”
Regarding his students, David set up many of them for future success. One such student is Harley Etienne, now an assistant professor of Urban and Regional Planning at the University of Michigan’s Taubman College.
“I worked for a series of really great people in Philadelphia,” Etienne said in an interview after the service. “I think that happened because of their respect and regard for him. I worked for Graham Finney, Sam Katz, David Thornburgh … he had this very deep appreciation for cities, for Philadelphia, for racial and socioeconomic justice that is evident in his work.”
Another former student, Ken Steif, said he’s finishing his dissertation in the University of Pennsylvania’s City and Regional Planning department. Before he met Bartelt, he said he was unsure of what he wanted to do career-wise – but after talking with Bartelt, he realized that urban planning and similar studies were an option.
“It’s remarkable to think he was responsible for so much positivity in the world,” Steif said. “It’s a humbling thought, and I’m honored to be one of the many he inspired … he showed me the way, and we remained close from when I initially met him.”
Kristen Crossney is currently an Associate Professor at West Chester University in the department of Geography and Urban Planning. She said Bartelt’s help as a student and colleague was crucial to her success.
“He was always generous with his time and guidance and never overbearing,” Crossney said. “He was a rock which I leaned on as I finished my master’s degree at Temple, and became a doctoral student. … I hope that as I teach and guide graduate and undergraduate students myself, that I can be half of the mentor and friend that Dave was to me.”
Bartelt is survived by his wife Pearl, his children Susan and Deborah and grandchildren Joshua and Ethan, along with his extended family. Pearl said she was grateful to everyone who showed up in remembrance of David.
“I’m so thankful that people came out to speak about David,” she said. “Not only about his accomplishments, but who he was as a person.”
Steve Bohnel can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @Steve_Bohnel.