John Ervin Jr. led U of M Press for 30 years

  • Article by: LAURIE BLAKE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 9, 2011 - 9:13 PM

He had a notable career in scholarly publishing and was committed to works about Minnesota.

John Ervin Jr., the former director of the University of Minnesota Press who oversaw the publication of the popular series "Pamphlets on American Writers," died July 24 in Minneapolis at age 84.

Hired as director in 1957 at age 30, Ervin led the university's publishing program for the next 30 years.

"He was distinguished by a career-long commitment to scholarly publishing," said associate director Beverly Kaemmer. "He had a very solid commitment to regional publishing," accepting for publication many books about the social, political and natural history of Minnesota.

The most popular series published during his tenure was "Pamphlets on American Writers," which presented "concise, authoritative introductions to more than one hundred of America's most important writers," says a Press history website. He retired in 1988.

Those who knew Ervin describe his devotion to his family and his work. They said he made a point of treating others -- even those with whom he disagreed -- with respect.

"He was a very thoughtful person, in every respect," said his wife, Jean Ervin. "He thought things through before he did something because he respected other people's opinions."

A daily reader of the New York Times, he was exceptionally well-read and well-informed. Travel, theater and art were also important to Ervin. He and his wife traveled to every country in Europe.

"Jack was an extraordinary resource for everything from what was going on in the Financial Times to what was happening in the literary world," said Esther Wattenberg, a professor of social work at the University of Minnesota and Ervin's neighbor. "He was wonderful to talk to, a witty commentator on the passing scene."

Born in 1927 in a suburb of New York City, Ervin was the only son of John and Edith Ervin. After graduating from Scarsdale High School, Ervin studied economics at Yale University, where he graduated with honors. While in college, he served an 18-month stint in the Navy.

After college he worked briefly in advertising in New York. He met his future wife when he was 23 and she was 25. He was returning a book to a friend in Greenwich Village and she happened to be in the apartment. "Books brought us together," Jean Ervin said.

His professional break came when he was offered a job as an editor at the Princeton University Press and the couple moved to New Jersey. He was well regarded there and stood out in a national search for the director of University of Minnesota Press.

The couple moved to Minneapolis and raised five sons -- Keith, Andrew, John, Alec and Bruce -- all of whom survive him.

"He was very gentle and very encouraging to our sons," their mother said.

Andrew Ervin remembers his father having a "tremendous interest and loyalty to his family."

No services are planned.

Laurie Blake • 612-673-1711

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