Reflections by Janet Hegman Shier
Dear RC Family,
I am profoundly sad to share with you that long-time RC German Lecturer, Erica Paslick, passed away on January 4, 2019. Erica was a dedicated and beloved RC faculty member from the mid- eighties till 2009, during which time she also received her PhD (in 1996) from the UM Department of Comparative Literature. She was an enthusiastic German teacher and especially loved teaching grammar and German Romanticism. She also taught many RC first year seminars, translation and literature courses in the RC Comparative Literature Program, and Great Books (for the Honors Program). Erica was a proud and active member of LEO.
Erica always had a kind word to say to others; she was bright, witty, attentive and had the patience of an angel. She valued talking to colleagues and students and one never felt rushed with her, whether talking about philosophical ideas, education, politics, daily life, or personal matters. It is no surprise that when I talk to RC German alumni, they often ask about Erica. Likewise, Erica was always eager to hear updates on former students. In recent years, Erica sometimes asked me how she might contact individual students. One such student from the mid-1990s received a letter in German in Erica’s beautiful handwriting. This resulted in the student making a visit from Korea in 2016 to reconnect in person with Erica and the program.
Erica was caring, she made a strong impression, and she cultivated a strong relationship with students and faculty, alike. She took the time to get to know others and her personal touch was evident in everything she said or did. She had a way of taking people under her wing. I’m sure everyone who knew Erica has fond memories of her. I would like to share a few of my own memories of Erica here. I hope that they will bring a smile to your face.
In her first years teaching in the RC, Erica would invite the whole German program (students and faculty) to her home, where we quickly devoured the intricate German cookies she had spent days or even weeks making from scratch. We also watched with a sense of awe and magic (and a certain degree of trepidation) as she lit the many tiny candles (real candles!) on the Christmas tree in the corner of her living room.
Erica’s cooking and baking were special. I remember that Erica volunteered to bake several Linzertorten, which we sold at an early Deutsches Theater performance in the “Halfway Inn.”
For that same production she also sewed (in my office, on very short notice) two giant white angel costumes, after only being given the critical instruction to make sure that giant flapping metal angel wings would fit over them. No measurements. No questions asked. We had our angel gowns in short order. Erica was always helpful, even in a pinch.
Erica was full of life and she loved telling stories as much as everybody liked hearing them. I recall once dodging a giant white carving knife Erica swung as she animatedly told me a story, while we walked together to the German Kaffeestunde. From that experience, I quickly learned that Erica’s flair for storytelling made her better suited to carry the cake, not the knife!
Erica had a healthy phobia of germs; if she sensed that a student sitting near her at the lunch table was sick, she would simply stand up and move to the other end of the table! At the same time, if she sensed that a student who had missed class was not sick, she’d call that student from her office and invite the student to come talk with her immediately. She was practical and had a direct way about her.
Erica gladly shared with students that she had made many mistakes in English as a child growing up in America in a home where German was spoken. For example, she always loved riding the “alligator” (escalator) in big department stores. One of my fondest memories of Erica is that despite the fact that she had no perceptible German accent when she spoke English, she rolled her “r” when speaking the word “three.” I never noticed her rolling her “r” in other words and will never know if her “thr-r-r-r-r-ee” was simply for dramatic affect!
Erica was a talented scholar, poet, and translator. She was a real renaissance woman, who had a deep interest in physiology, philosophy, literature, and art. She was a talented artist, who drew and painted beautiful watercolors of landscapes and flowers. Indeed, she approached everything she did with careful thought and artistic flair.
Most of all, Erica loved teaching and it was a joy to have her as a colleague. I am sure that all who remember her will miss her perfect blend of seriousness, charm, and light-heartedness and will miss those beautiful, smiling eyes and that cute little chuckle she often emitted. Erica was a listener and a true friend. Those who knew her well personally know that Erica could move easily between roles of cheerleader, confidante, sympathetic listener, and mentor. Her honesty, loyalty, resourcefulness, and grace made her a friend and colleague like no other.
She loved and appreciated her Residential College teaching experience and I know she felt that she had found her niche in the RC community. In typical Erica fashion, Erica protested when she learned that Karein Goertz and I wanted to throw a retirement party for her in the RC, yet after team-teaching with Erica for 24 years, I knew her well enough to know that if we provided her options for dates for the party, she would pick one. Erica never wanted to be the center of attention or “fussed over” as she would have said. Nevertheless, she did love the big 2009 retirement party in her honor, at which she received numerous personal gifts, and heard tributes. She also received a reading list for retirement with recommendations from the whole
faculty, and she received several testimonials from former students, one of which I am sharing here with permission of its author, Luke Randall (RC 2006):
Frau Paslick. What isn’t there to say about this extraordinary woman? An older professor but only in form. Her spirit will never lose the embrace of Neverneverland. She is the rare kind of professor who truly cares about each student. When I struggled with the German language, she made no hesitation to give me assistance and one of her own German review books. I consistently forgot to return that book for the next three years of school and was subsequently racked with guilt that I didn’t cure until graduation day.
I think the strongest memory I have of her was just outside the quad when I was nearing my graduation. It had been a couple of years since I had a class with her so it was nice to run into her outside EQ. She asked me what was next in my life and I gave my usual programmed answer about finding film work on one of the coasts that actually only served to cover up the terror I had about my uncertain future. At the time I had so little concept of what to do with my life that graduation seemed less like a celebration than it did the end of my exciting life, a movement into a bleak nine to five existence. I quickly changed the subject to her life. I was curious as to how much longer she planned to continue to teach for U of M. So I ignorantly asked “How much longer are you going to be here? I imagine you’re ready to settle down from this?” I will never forget her response. She replied without hesitation, “Oh Luke, I don’t ever plan on settling down. I have many dreams left to finish.” This has stuck with me more than anything. She may be an older woman but hell if she’ll ever let that or anything else stop her. I hope to live my life like that. At graduation all RC students are allowed a minute before their peers and professors to do whatever they wish. There are speeches, songs, performances, or even the simple, “thank you.” At a loss as to what to do I used my time to finally return the German Review book to Erica but when I reached out to hand it to her she stopped me and with that radiant smile said, “I want you to keep it as a souvenir.” It stands on my desk reminding me never to merely settle. She may be retiring from the university, but she’s really headed to finish her dreams. Vielen Dank, Frau Paslick. Ich werde Sie nie vergessen. (translation: Many thanks, Mrs. Paslick. I will never forget you.)
My last visit with Erica is one I will treasure. Despite having some trouble hearing she enjoyed the chance to reminisce and, as always, we talked about anything and everything. She was as sharp, clear-headed, and thoughtful as ever. She was also the same feisty Erica we all loved.
Erica’s son told me that she died peacefully at home one month shy of her 90th birthday with family members at her side. Erica was preceded in death in Feb. 2018 by her husband and loving companion, Robert “Bob” Paslick, who taught for many years in the LSA German Department. She left behind four children, four grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
With fond memories of Erica,
Janet Hegman Shier