Robert S. Rosengard
Robert Simon Rosengard, a beloved English teacher and musical radio host from Monticello, known mostly as Gandalf, died of corona virus in Huntington, NY, on April 8, 2020. Gandalf was born in 1939, in Boston, to David Eli and Bruna Hazan Rosengard. He graduated from Boston Latin School; he received his BA with honors from Amherst College in 1961 and his MA from Cornell in 1962, both in English.
Gandalf started his 25-year teaching career at Monticello High School in 1970, and from that time forward it has been estimated that “thousands of students were affected by his encouragement and persuasive insights.” He was Coordinator of English for the Monticello Schools for decades. He participated in countless Drama productions, which were an annual event in the District, usually as a producer or director but also in such occasional star stints as Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof. He taught English Honors Classes, tutored all his students in writing their college application essays, served as a chaperon for High School seniors on their Senior Trips for many years, and served as High School Summer Principal for several years. For years he funded a yearly scholarship, in honor of his parents, for a graduating senior. He was an elected member of the Monticello Board of Education and served as Vice-President for a term.
In addition, Gandalf taught college English for many years in the SUNY Sullivan Community College, both at the on-campus Liberal Arts Dept. and for the off-campus External Programs Dept. (Correction Facilities and Daytop Rehab Facilities); and he taught college English classes for Bard College as part of their prison program. The success of his prison teaching is especially notable. He and his late wife Carol took foreign-exchange students into their home. He also taught adult education classes for the Sullivan County Community College on various topics, including one of his great loves, opera; and adult classes for Temple Sholom, which he joined many years ago. He organized lectures at the Andes Roundtable at the Hunting Tavern Museum in Andes, NY.
In the late 1990s, Gandalf extended his educational reach to the ever-growing regional community of the public radio station WJFF. Over time, Gandalf served as a board member and as President of WJFF. But it was as volunteer host for almost 20 years, until 2017, of the 2-hour weekly program he created, Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, that he exerted his most far-reaching impact. A music connoisseur all his life, Gandalf regretted the lack of attention given by American society to 20th- and later 21st-century “classical” music (a term he interpreted very broadly). Setting out to remedy this flaw, Gandalf educated himself so fully on this repertory that he eventually lectured about it a number of times at Brown University. To put his programs together, Gandalf acquired (at his own expense) thousands of CDs of this music, which he then studied, wrote about, and played over the air. Some of the CDs were non-commercial recordings that he obtained at a very early stage of their existence from composers he had not yet met. On the air he interviewed hundreds of composers, many of them famous (Elliott Carter) or well known (Frank Retzel), and many not yet known, whom he delighted in discovering and championing (Evan Mack speaks movingly of how Gandalf mentored his composing skills). Gandalf’s CDs and many of his interview recordings and transcripts will form the hub of a music library at WJFF, which will be a rich resource for future scholars.
Gandalf was a voracious reader of fiction and non-fiction of every sort. He had an incisive mind and boundless curiosity, about people and ideas. He was open-minded and non-judgmental. He was deeply interested in politics and a participant in numerous activities to reduce social and economic inequality. He took part in the 1963 March on Washington; he gave money to countless charities—and poor people. He wrote beautifully and was a gifted speaker, the constant choice of relatives and friends to write and deliver eulogies. He was a man of joy and enthusiasm—everyone remembers his contagious laughter. He was also a man of unlimited kindness, imagination, idealism, compassion, and generosity. In his years of retirement in Monticello, he ran almost daily into an endless stream of former students, who greeted him as they might a celebrity. He loved dogs and cats and was a pet-owner his entire adult life. Gandalf was much loved by the family who survive him: his sister and hrother-in-law, Rose and Dan Subotnik; his niece and nephew, Eva Subotnik and Joseph Subotnik, and their spouses; their children, Eli and Emma Pelz and Lila and Yael Subotnik; his stepchildren, Jeth Hawkins, Timothy Hawkins, and Lee-Ann Geyer Higgins, their spouses and their children; and many many dear cousins of the Rosengard and Hazan families. Contributions in his memory can be made to WJFF Radio Catskill, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or the charity of your choice.