Nathaniel Bernard Blumberg, 89, a World War II combat veteran, writer, professor and former dean of the University of Montana School of Journalism, died Feb. 14, 2012, after suffering a stroke on Feb. 8.
Dr. Blumberg had spent 35 years at the University of Montana and lived near Big Fork.
Born April 8, 1922, in Denver, Colo., he was the eighth and last child of Abraham Moses and Jeanette Blumberg. He graduated from East Denver High School after covering the city’s high school sports for the Rocky Mountain News.
He enlisted in the Army in August 1942, interrupting his education at the University of Colorado. He was assigned to the forward observation team of Battery C of the newly formed 666th Field Artillery Battalion. The battalion fought in the Battle of the Bulge, then drove across the Roer River and the Rhine, through the heart of Germany and into occupation in Austria. He earned three battle stars and a Bronze Star in combat.
Shortly after VE Day in 1945, he published the first history of a unit in World War II, “Charlie of 666,” which he had begun writing when the battalion was formed in 1944. With his poker winnings and combat pay, he published the 32-page booklet in a German print shop and distributed it to members of his battery to send home.
After the war he returned to the University of Colorado, was named editor of the student newspaper and received a bachelor of arts in journalism and a master of arts in history. He was awarded a Rhodes Scholarship for two years of study at Oxford University, where he earned a doctorate in modern history under the tutelage of historian A.J.P. Taylor. He was a starting guard for Oxford in the first Oxford-Cambridge basketball game ever played in 1949.
Dr. Blumberg was an assistant professor of journalism at the University of Nebraska from 1950 to 1955, when in 1954 the University of Nebraska Press published his “One-Party Press?,” the first significant study of press performance in a presidential election. He went to Michigan State University for a year as an associate professor and in 1956 he was brought to the University of Montana to become dean and professor of the School of Journalism. He served 12 years as dean.
He established the annual Dean Stone Night in 1957 to honor the founder and first dean of the School of Journalism, to present awards to outstanding students and to bring a prominent journalist to lecture on the campus, a tradition still followed.
He formed the department of radio-television in 1957 and brought in Phil Hess to put KUFM on air on Jan. 31, 1965, six years before National Public Radio was begun in 1971. He has been called on air “the grandfather of Montana Public Radio, a public service of the University of Montana.”
With Mel Ruder of the Hungry Horse News, president of the Montana Newspaper Association, he installed the Montana Newspaper Hall of Fame in the School of Journalism in 1958.
Also in 1958, he founded the Montana Journalism Review, the first journalism review in the United States, three years before the Columbia Journalism Review. It is still going.
Shortly after the inauguration of President Kennedy in 1961, the U.S. State Department asked him to serve as an “American specialist” in Thailand for the summer. Three years later, under President Johnson, he served in the same capacity in Trinidad, Guyana, Surinam and Jamaica.
He was elected vice president of the American Association of Schools and Departments of Journalism in 1962. He was elected national chairman of the accreditation committee of the American Council on Education for Journalism in 1967 and national president of Kappa Tau Alpha, the society honoring scholarship in journalism, in 1969.
He was a member of the Rhodes Scholarship state selection committee from 1956 to 1987, including seven years as state secretary. He served six times on the western seven-state Rhodes regional selection committee.
Dr. Blumberg was a staff writer for the Denver Post, associate editor of the Lincoln (Neb.) Star and assistant city editor of the Washington Post. He had served as a visiting professor at Pennsylvania State University, Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley.
He married Lynne Stout in 1946 and they had three daughters, Janet Leslie, Jenifer Lyn and Josephine Laura. They divorced in 1970. In 1973, he married Barbara Farquhar, a college English professor and a widely published poet, who came to Missoula with her daughter, Nina. She died in 2007.
In 1980 he established WoodFIREAshes Press to publish books which he hoped to write, edit and design without commercial publishers, editors or agents. He crafted “The Afternoon of March 30, A Contemporary Historical Novel” in 1984, which centered on facts never reported by mainstream newspapers or on television about the attempted assassination of President Reagan by John W. Hinckley Jr.
In 2000 he published “Charlie of 666, a Memoir of World War II,” which included his 1945 history and his recollections on the war 55 years later. It was nominated for the 2002 Distinguished Book Award of the Society of Military History.
From 1991 to 1999 he published 20 issues of the “Treasure State Review, A Montana Periodical of Journalism and Justice.”
He wrote many articles for magazines, including coverage of the March on the Pentagon in 1967 and an essay, “Chicago and the Press,” based on his time covering protesters during the 1968 Democratic National Convention. He was co-editor with Warren Brier of “A Century of Montana Journalism” and editor of the two-volume “Mansfield Lectures in International Relations.”
When he was honored by the Montana Newspaper Association along with Mel Ruder of the Hungry Horse News and Hal Stearns of the Harlowton Times as the first three Master Editor/Publishers in 1991, he told an audience of weekly journalists that “I am just as proud of the kind of people who don’t like me as I am of the kind of people who love me.”
He spent his last years in his cabin working on a book, including a chapter on “My 30 Years With John W. Hinckley, Jr.” in which he named Neil and Sharon Bush as co-conspirators in the attempt to assassinate President Reagan.
Survivors include daughters, Janet Leslie Blumberg of Bothell, Wash., Jenifer Blumberg of Charlo, and stepdaughter Nina Gutierrez of Ciudad Colon, Costa Rica; and 10 grandchildren.
He requested no formal services and that his ashes be scattered with those of Barbara among the trees around their home near Big Fork.