NARRAGANSETT—Oftentimes when a person’s life has presented many challenges and obstacles along the way, there may be no greater achievement than to be recognized for one’s work when evening begins to fall. Maury Klein, a professor emeritus at the University of Rhode Island and author of 16 books, will garnish such acknowledgment as a 2011 inductee to the Rhode Island Hall of Fame.
“The election is a gratifying honor that I am proud to receive, the more so because I’m not a native Rhode Islander,” said Klein. “I came here in 1964 to teach at URI and I’ve long since come to think of Rhode Island as my home.”
The Rhode Island Hall of Fame is a body which honors the exceptional achievements of Rhode Islanders locally and abroad. Six-hundred state citizens have been elected since the Hall’s inception in 1965, and the 47th ceremony on Friday, June 17 will honor Klein along with eight other inductees.
“There are several state that have hall of fames and the institution has a salutatory effect on a state’s self-image,” said Dr. Patrick T. Conley, President of the Hall of Fame. “There tends to be a high level of negative press towards Rhode Island, but there are many great citizens who have affected the state for the better.”
“To my knowledge, there is no other professor at URI, with the exception of perhaps Dr. Robert Ballard, who has had such an impact as a result of his writing,” he added. “He is the most prolific writer in Rhode Island and although his books are read nationally, he is not as well known locally.”
Klein is a nationally recognized historian of American economic development, writing books such as The Power Makers, a study of the creative American genius at the turn of the century which brought the United States into the Gilded Age. His 44 year career as a URI professor has given Klein a sharper perspective on life and what it means to be an American, a topic which he frequently discusses in his books.
“I loved the interaction with students and was a demanding teacher and grader,” said Klein. “Above all, I loved watching them grow over the years I knew them. What I liked most about being at URI was the freedom it allowed me to do the things I wanted most to do.”
The road which has led to such an accomplished career, however, was not always a straight one, and the path may have often seemed lost had Klein not been provided support from his own teachers as he grew older.
“My childhood was very nomadic and difficult, which is why high school and college became so important,” said Klein. “Both taught me to lead a creative life and enabled me to find direction. In college, I found something I could do tolerably well: writing.”
Born in Memphis, Tennessee to mother who was the seventh daughter of a Louisville, Kentucky physician and a father who worked as a supervisor in a women’s clothing store chain, Klein did not enjoy the family stability that other children may had at the time.
“I was the only child of two people who could not have been more different from each other,” said Klein. “They separated several times, divorced, remarried, and divorced again.”
The Odyssean nature of Klein’s childhood travels did have a reaching impact upon his choice to study American history.
“Because I had moved so often as a kid, I became deeply interested in what the country was like and all the differences I found in different parts of the country,” said Klein. “I majored in history largely because I figured in a history course you could explore just about anything, and that turned out to be true.”
Sophomore year at East Denver High School in Colorado finally gave Klein a chance to settle in and set himself to study without the burden of moving throughout the country. Klein credits this time in life as a formative one, and also cites his college years at Knox College in Illinois as important to his transition into the academic world.
“Books were not a big thing in our home, but as an only child I tended to read anything I could get my hands on,” said Klein. “So many people have helped me along the way that I would hardly know where to begin. One very influential teacher, Professor John L. Stipp, Chair of the history department at Knox, opened my eyes to the wonders of that subject and led me to become a historian.”
The Rhode Island Hall of Fame will thus recognize Klein’s achievements as an historian and educator. It is a validation of a career well invested, an olive branch extended from an institution to a teacher who has done the same to thousands of young college students gathering at a small university in South Kingstown. Klein is grateful for such a tipping of the cap in his direction.
“I always wanted to be good enough at something to make a hall of fame,” said Klein. “I didn’t make it in sports but at my age I’ll take any hall of fame that will have me.”