Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

Frederick S. Beckman, Notre Dame class of 1942, a professor emeritus of art, art history and design who founded the department’s path-breaking programs in industrial and graphic design, died at his South Bend home on October 31, 2010. He was 93.

Beckman graduated from a Notre Dame transformed during his undergraduate years by wartime mobilization, served three years in the Army Air Corps and returned to campus in 1946 to join the art faculty. He completed his graduate work at Columbia University in 1949 and soon emerged into the department’s leadership.

One of his students, Virgil Exner Jr. ’56, introduced Beckman to his father, a class of 1930 alumnus and vice president of styling at Chrysler Corporation. The two men shared a vision for educating automotive designers who were well-grounded in the arts and sciences so they could provide a voice in corporate leadership that would balance out the traditional influences of marketing and engineering.

Under Beckman’s direction, Chrysler funded the creation of ND’s industrial design program. Beckman interned in several Chrysler production studios, while the carmaker sent professional designers to South Bend to work with him on his developing program. Many Beckman students graduated into Chrysler jobs, while Ford and General Motors added their support.

Beckman later diversified the ID program, steering generations of students toward work in a wide range of consumer industries. In the 1980s, Beckman, now the department chair, shepherded his faculty and students from their aging studios in the old Fieldhouse to the department’s current home in Riley Hall. He soon launched a new program in graphic design that swiftly rose in stature. Beckman continued to teach in his retirement and to pursue projects that illuminated the relationship between sculpture and corporate design.

Joseph X. Brennan, a soft-spoken but erudite professor of American literature, died at his home in October at age 86.

Brennan joined the Notre Dame faculty in 1955 and for the next 38 years taught hundreds of students, directed 20 doctoral dissertations and wrote about the existential novel; realistic and naturalistic literature; science, technology and values in American literature; and Renaissance rhetoric, in which he had earned his doctorate from the University of Illinois. Father Monk Malloy, CSC, Notre Dame’s president emeritus, described Brennan as “one of the most articulate people I have ever met.”

Brennan had been known to hold small classes in his home just north of campus, sitting in his study, sipping sherry and leading discussions about Willa Cather and Henry James. He loved classical music and owned an extensive album collection. He and his wife, Sheilah O’Flynn Brennan, an associate professor emerita in philosophy, tended extensive gardens surrounding their home.

Brennan had earned a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and a master’s from Brown University before receiving a doctorate at Illinois. He then did postdoctoral research for two years under a Fulbright Scholarship at the University of Florence in Italy and the University of Göttingen in Germany. In 1985, he was again awarded a grant from the Fulbright Commission, this time serving as a senior lecturer at the University of Coimbra in Portugal.

Professorial in manner and intellect, Brennan is remembered by students for his sophisticated, learned and illuminating lectures.

Tom Fallon, Notre Dame class of 1942, whose name was synonymous with Notre Dame tennis for decades, died in October at age 93.

The winningest coach in Notre Dame history when he retired in 1987, Fallon will be remembered by most Notre Dame students for his involvement with the physical education classes required of all freshman.

A member of the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Hall of Fame, Fallon coached his squads to a 514-194 record over 31 seasons. His 1959 team shared the national championship with Tulane, whose doubles team defeated the Irish to tie for the NCAA title. Notre Dame had gone 14-0 that year, with 10 of the Irish victories by 9-0 scores and three others, 8-1. Fallon also coached the 1966 team to an undefeated season.

Fallon started Notre Dame’s wrestling program in 1952, and coached the squad to a 65-74-4 record before stepping down. His 579 combined wins in tennis and wrestling were the most by any Irish coach at the time of his retirement.

A prominent figure in college tennis, Fallon brought the NCAA Championships to campus in 1971. UCLA’s Jimmy Connors defeated Stanford’s Roscoe Tanner in the finals that year.

Fallon graduated from Notre Dame in 1942 and served as a Naval officer during World War II. After earning a master’s and a doctorate in physical education from Columbia, he returned to Notre Dame. In addition to coaching, he was named chairman of the physical education department and later director of activities at the Rock.

Julian R. Pleasants ’39, ’50M.A., ’66Ph.D., an associate professor emeritus of biology whose enthusiasm for science and religion sustained an association with Notre Dame that lasted nearly three quarters of a century, died September 17. He was 92.

Pleasants first brought his relentlessly hopeful and mirthful spirit to Notre Dame in 1937 as a transfer student, sending home what money he could to his widowed mother while completing a degree in chemistry and advocating for a racially integrated campus. In the early years of the war, he helped run a Catholic Worker hospitality house in South Bend where unemployed men received meals often built around leftovers from the Notre Dame cafeteria.

Pleasants began graduate studies in theology and in 1944 took a job at the Lobund laboratory, the University’s center for germ-free research. He soon met his wife-to-be, Mary Jane Brady, through their shared interest in the Catholic Rural Life Movement. Together with some friends from the theology program and other connections they bought 80 acres in Granger, where they built homes, grew their own food and fashioned a religious community around their families. Friends remembered his penchant for painful puns, his frequent, joyful singing and songwriting, and the bonfires, picnics and parades they shared at the farmstead.

Pleasants’ third ND degree was in microbiology. He joined the biology faculty in the late 1960s and added teaching to his duties at Lobund, where he helped cultivate the lab’s famous germ-free rats and mice. During the Vietnam War, Pleasants’ thirst for peace and justice found expression in campus peace activities. For many years he also advocated for the welfare of the developmentally disabled in South Bend.