Michael Flachmann, a longtime professor of English and founder and director of The University Honors Program at California State University Bakersfield, died late Thursday in Cedar City, Utah, of complications from a blood clot. He was 70.
His professional titles hardly scraped the surface of his remarkable impact on not only education but, more importantly, on two generations of students and participants in the respected Utah Shakespeare Festival.
A Shakespeare scholar, his CSUB classes were legendary among graduates for their vibrancy and depth. His proteges now dominate the Bakersfield theater scene. He advised productions at local high schools and Bakersfield College. And he spent countless hours advising students about their fears and futures.
"He was somebody I thought would live forever," said Andy Troup, chairman of the CSUB English department. "He was just very, very passionate about teaching. He never got tired of teaching."
With his mop of blond hair, ever-present grin, deep tan and gregarious way, Flachmann was recognized all across campus. For years he helped coach the women's tennis team and he taught judo, in which he held a fifth-degree black belt.
He was a born teacher, and was recognized for it. In 1992 he was named CSUB's outstanding professor. The next year he was selected the Outstanding Professor for the then-20-campus California State University system. Two years later he was named U.S. Professor of the Year by the Carnegie Foundation. In 1999 he was given a $20,000 Wang Family Excellence Award for outstanding undergraduate teaching in the California State University system.
Flachmann initially planned a career teaching English literature. But while earning his master's degree at the University of Virginia, he was enthralled by a professor of Shakespeare who made the Bard come alive for Flachmann, not just in class but by having students to his home for dinner, discussions and impromptu performances.
"He believed literature civilizes us as a world," said his wife, Kim, CSUB's writing program coordinator since 1986. "And he believed Shakespeare's plays were universal."
Flachmann's Shakespeare classes were underpinned by his belief that every event in life could be traced to one of the writer's more than three dozen plays.
His classes were punctuated by performances. Examples of his skill as a dramaturg, who researches and explains to the cast and crew the historical, political and social contexts of not only the play itself but sometimes individual words and their inflections, are still discussed decades later.
Each summer for the past quarter century, he traveled to Cedar City for the Utah Shakespeare Festival, where he served as dramaturg. The festival attracts upwards of 140,000 people annually. Flachmann also created three separate Camp Shakespeares as part of the festival so students, families and seniors could immerse themselves in the theater world. Some have attended his camps for as long as 18 years.
"Michael had the ability to make every person feel that their thought, comment or contribution was as important as anyone else's," said R. Scott Phillips, executive director of USF. "He was responding to what they were feeling."
On Wednesday afternoon, Flachmann had completed moderating the festival's national symposium known as "The Wooden O" and was scheduled to drive home to Bakersfield. But he called his wife and said his legs hurt, and he was having trouble breathing.
He was admitted to a Cedar City hospital where his condition stabilized for blood clots in both legs. But Thursday a clot caused a heart attack, and he slipped into a coma before dying late Thursday surrounded by his family.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Christopher and daughter-in-law, Abby; a daughter, Laura; and two grandsons, Carter and Bennett.
Services will be Saturday at Hillcrest Memorial Park and Mortuary. Details are pending.