R.I.P. Ben H. Adelson, Educator

Ben Adelson, bombardier, standing right

Ben Adelson, Educator


Ben Adelson, who inspired and guided many a fledgling journalist and passed along his love for the written word to countless students during his 32 years as a teacher, died today (6/9/11) at age 90.

Adelson began his teaching career at Sutter Jr. High School in the San Fernando Valley.  After five years he transferred to Fairfax High School, where he taught English and journalism for a decade.  He then moved on to Pierce College in Woodland Hills, where he taught for 16 years until his retirement in 1981.  Adelson was part of the instructor team that raised the Pierce College Journalism Department into an award-winning, nationally-recognized entity.  Pierce students and their publications consistently received highest honors from the California Newspaper Publishers Association (CNPA) and the Journalism Association of Community Colleges, among others.  Adelson himself was recognized by the CNPA as a Community College Journalism Teacher of the Year

Adelson was known for his wickedly sharp wit, including an endless supply of puns, and for his exacting standards in matters from incisive word usage to the exercise of due diligence in information gathering.  Though students feared the “red pen of Ben,” they also worked hard to gain his praise.  He prized his relationships with his students and colleagues, and especially enjoyed team teaching journalism classes with Robert Scheibel, Tom Kramer and Mike Cornner, whom he called “three of the top teachers I ever met.”

He believed that one key to the department’s success was that “We had a low B.S. level.  I seldom told students that my opinion was an absolute.  I’d suggest they talk to another advisor and get another opinion.”

Born in Brooklyn on February 4, 1921, Adelson moved with his family to Tucson at age eight, and then to Los Angeles at 14.  He graduated from Hollywood High School in 1937.

During WWII, Adelson served as a B-24 bombardier, based in Kunming in Southwest China.  He had 300 hours of combat missions in 1943-44 in the China-Burma-India Theater, and earned five Air Medals and a Distinguished Flying Cross.  He married Nancy Rowe of Port Arthur, Texas, in 1946.  Their devoted marriage lasted 65years until his death.

Adelson graduated from the University of Southern California with the class of 1948, and went on to earn his master’s degree in English, also at USC.  He began his teaching career in1949.

A devout Trojan, he once said he wanted his epitaph to be “Fight On!”  Those words he also imparted to countless students along the way.

Former students Greg Meyer and Stacy Jenel Smith lunched with Ben Adelson for more than 30 years after their graduations, and several years ago they lovingly conspired with him in the editing of this obituary.

 Following is a slide presentation shown at Ben Adelson’s memorial service, held in the Great Hall on the Pierce College campus, Nov. 6 2011.

6 thoughts on “R.I.P. Ben H. Adelson, Educator

  1. Brad Smith

    Ben Adelson taught me everything I know about peanuts, USC football and ridiculous jokes. The only thing sharper than his wit was his mustache. I see Ben now in his ames chair, reading some book, listening to chamber music, yelling for Nancy and grumbling about something political. I fear that his reaction to this note would forever silence my pen, but post I must. MIss you Uncle Ben.

  2. Mike Sturman

    I guess what I remember most was Ben’s apparent glee in handing out GFEs. Fortunately, I only received 1. My years at The Roundup (1976-77) were some of the best, and Ben, Shieb, Mike and Tom contributed to that immensely. I was just learning about journalism then, and Ben helped put me on the right course. I think of him often.

    Mike Sturman

  3. Dennis Anderson

    To All Roundup Alumni from “The Adelson Era”

    It was a golden era because the Advisors “The A’s” cared deeply, passionately, completely about teaching us to be good journalists.

    They were hard to rank but it would be hard to find someone who knew Ben who did not love him. He was beloved.

    I learned about his time in a B-24 Liberator more than 50 years after the “Good War.” It’s clear he was fun and funny in the face of flak and oblivion, and that never left him. He also accounted that because he was a bit of a wise guy, it’s how he got made bombardier instead of a pilot, by cracking wise to some Tac officer. He knew Chennault of the Flying Tigers, and the Tigers were his escorts against the Black Dragons in Mitsubishi “Zero” fighters.

    He was stern about process, gentle about gentle and beautiful women, wry about human foibles, and a master of language and style, delivering his own thoughts with grace and wit.

    With Mike Cornner, Tom Kramer, Bob Scheibel, and yes, Bob Wilson they made up the words and language end of a simply great journalism department.

    And they gave me 35 years of work, most of it hard, much at night, and sometimes when things go “Bang!” What a gift.

    With Love to All

    Dennis Anderson, Editor
    Antelope Valley Press
    Palmdale, Calif.

  4. Julia Akoury

    I was 18 when I first encountered the red pen of Ben, and I was scared to death to be on the pointed end of his sarcasm. It took only one red circle and I never again wrote “over” when I meant “more than.” I learned more from Ben and the Pierce advisors than any teachers I had before or since. They all were the best.

    I once gave Ben a coffee mug that pictured two owls sitting on a branch. One said “Who,” and the other said “Whom.” Making him laugh felt so great… He loved that mug, and would remind me of it for years to come.

    It’s sad to imagine the world without his brilliant mind and sharp wit. We were so lucky…

  5. Tom DiSilverio

    Ben Adelson was a truly remarkable teacher. But more than that, he was a remarkable man. I was privileged to know Ben for more than 40 years and I never tired of his company, his keen intellect, his wisdom or his wit. While he often presented the exterior of the irascible curmudgeon, Ben was one of the world’s biggest teddy bears. He had the softest of hearts and a real love for anyone with the barest hint of common decency. While he could be demanding of his students, no one ever worked harder to make certain they could succeed. Ben was a thinking man’s patriot and had seen the evil men were capable of inflicting on other men. He had keen sense of justice and loved life like only those who dared to risk their lives in defense of something greater than themselves. While he had much to be proud of, he was, I suspect never prouder of anything in his life than his service as a B-24 bombadier in China in WW II. He loved his wonderful wife, Nancy with an intensity that was palpable and it was a sublime pleasure to share time with them over the years. I will miss you, Ben. The world is a lesser place without you in it.

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