Former Professor Had a Deep Passion for Theology

Article excerpt

Byline: Clifford Ward Daily Herald Correspondent

Dr. Ron Goetz ~ 1933-2006

Ron Goetz thought deeply about life's greatest mysteries.

The former chair of the theology and religion department at Elmhurst College devoted his life to probing the central tenets of Christian thought, but his friends also recalled a man whose intelligence, humor and conviction influenced all whom he touched.

Dr. Goetz, 73, died on Oct. 9 from cancer.

"He had a bombastic approach to life," said Paul Parker, who has been on staff at Elmhurst College, a private college affiliated with the United Church of Christ, since Dr. Goetz hired him in 1987.

As a theologian and critical thinker, Dr. Goetz could penetrate the weak point in any argument. Still, colleagues said, his ability to see all sides didn't paralyze his ability to choose a course of action.

"He himself was not a middle of the road guy; whatever he was involved in, he was all in," Dr. Parker said.

Dr. Goetz led civil rights marches in the West suburbs in 1960s, fought city hall over the destruction of a historic dormitory at Elmhurst College, and was unafraid to involve himself in campus politics.

"He was a Christian in the best sense of the word, in words and actions," said his daughter, the Rev. Rebecca Clancy.

Dr. Goetz was born in Chicago, the only child of a chemical company executive and his wife, but early on rejected the materialistic and "high society" lifestyle in favor of something deeper. His parents were not religious, and Dr. Goetz saw a different path.

"Religious questions have preoccupied me since my early childhood," said Dr. Goetz at his retirement. "They are my deepest passion."

He was graduated from Harvard University Divinity School after receiving a degree from Northwestern University (where he later earned his doctorate).

While in Boston, he met Harriet Spengler, and was impressed when he saw the same books on her bookshelf that were required reading at Harvard. They married in 1956. He joined the Elmhurst College faculty in 1963. As a theologian, Dr. Goetz was influenced by neo- orthodox thinkers Karl Barth and Elmhurst's most famous graduate, Roland Niebuhr.

"He was always an ardent defender of orthodoxy, but in an unorthodox way," said David Heim, the executive editor of The Christian Century magazine, for which Goetz was a longtime contributor. …