Richard Robert Sheldon II
Hanover, N.H. — Richard Robert Sheldon II, Professor Emeritus of Russian at Dartmouth College, died peacefully surrounded by family at his home in Hanover on Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2014, after living for many years with Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.
Dick was born in Kansas City, Kan. on July 12, 1932, the son of Helen Irene Zerzan and Richard Robert Sheldon. He grew up in Salina, Kan., eldest of three brothers. At the University of Kansas Dick became president of Phi Delta Theta fraternity, and in his senior year, president of the student body, graduating with a BA in English literature in 1954. After his first year of law school at the University of Michigan his studies were interrupted by a tour in the Army, which he spent in Mannheim, Germany as a radio operator. He then studied at the Sorbonne for a year before returning to Michigan to finish his JD and begin studies in Russian. Later he would say it was the Soviet launch of Sputnik in 1957 that prompted his interest in Russia. In 1964, he was awarded a PhD in Russian Language and Literature from the University of Michigan.
On Feb 8, 1964, he married fellow graduate student Karen Ryden Sears and they moved to Grinnell, Iowa where he headed the Russian Department at Grinnell College. In 1966, Dick joined the Russian department at Dartmouth where he remained for the rest of his career. He served as chair of the department for nineteen years. An authority on Russian formalist critic Viktor Shklovsky, Dick translated several of his books, notably A Sentimental Journey (1970), Zoo, or Letters Not about Love (1971), and Third Factory (1977). His translation of Zoo was nominated for a National Book Award in 1972. From 1984 to 1989 he served as associate dean of humanities, but his real love was for teaching and mentoring students. He taught courses on Chekhov, Solzhenitsyn, Tolstoy, and Nabokov. Dick was loved and admired for his kindness, intelligence, sense of fair play and dry wit. He made new students and faculty feel welcome, often inviting people to the house for his famous coffee cake. The doors were always open to a stray student or animal. He was devoted to his students and remained friends with many until the end of his life. Known as a family man, Dick’s children remember a supportive and generous father who loved spending time with them, leading them on adventures in places as close to home as Mink Brook and as far afield as Europe and the Soviet Union.
His wife Karen survives him as do their four children, Kate Sheldon and husband, Eric Ansel, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; John Sheldon of Savannah, Ga.; Robert Sheldon and partner, Stelios Sardelas of Paris, France; Becky Sheldon Yazdan and husband, David Yazdan, of Brooklyn, N.Y.; grandchildren Ike and Max Ansel and Lily and Benjamin Yazdan; his brother, William Sheldon and wife, Ulrike Sheldon of Nurnberg, Germany; and sister-in-law, Ruth Sheldon, wife of his brother, George Sheldon, who pre-deceased him in 2013, of Chapel Hill, N.C. Dick and Karen were married 50 years.
The Sheldon family is very grateful to Dick’s dedicated caregivers and to the nurses and aides of the Lake Sunapee Region VNA and Hospice whose good humor and devotion so enriched his final years. The Parkinson’s Center at DHMC was an invaluable resource for the entire family.