Nils Y. Wessell, 92, died Sunday, March 4 in Naples, FL. He died of complications from a fracture in his shoulder, suffered when he fell February 14 at his home in Naples. He is survived by his daughter Bobbie, who was at his bedside, by his son Nick, who had just spent 12 days with him, by Bobbie's husband Bill, by his loving and beloved grandchildren Brian and his wife Kris, Andrew and his wife Jeanie, and Kerry, and great grandchildren Caitlin and Dylan. He had many friends on Chebeague, having bought Warren Hamilton's house in 1951 with the encouragement of Jan and Marian Friis and Bill Hauck. He will have his ashes spread upon the waters offshore Chebeague where those of his beloved wife, , Marian, were also spread nearly a decade ago.
Bobbie and Nick suggest that anyone wishing to make a charitible contribution in their Dad's memory consider either of the following:
Stephen L. Ross Scholarship Fund
Maine Community Foundation
245 Main Street
Ellsworth, ME 04605-1613
Chebeague Island Library
From the Gobe:
Nils Wessell, 92, oversaw Tufts University transformation
With a sense of proportion that might have come from years of experience as a college administrator, Nils Y. Wessell downplayed the pressure of his job after announcing in 1965 that he planned to step down as president of Tufts University.
"If I were an elevator operator, I would be just as concerned with my responsibility to stop the elevator as I am with my responsibility as a college president," he told the Globe.
Dr. Wessell, who was the youngest dean ever at Tufts when he began his 27-year career at the college, died Sunday in Physicians Regional Medical Center in Naples, Fla., of complications from injuries suffered in a fall at home on Feb. 14. He was 92 and had lived in Naples after dividing many of his retirement years between Sanibel Island, Fla., and a house on Chebeague Island, Maine, that he bought in 1951 from the island's milkman.
"He really led the transfer of Tufts from Tufts College to Tufts University," said Bernard Harleston, a member of the university's board trustees. "He was the one who had the vision that we could be bigger and greater."
"He was really an extraordinary president for the institution at a critical time, and was very much liked and respected by the students," said William Meserve, a trustee emeritus at Tufts.
While serving as president of Tufts, Dr. Wessell also headed what became known as the Wessell Commission, formed to review the state's prison system after rioting at the Charlestown State Prison in 1955. The Legislature approved many of the commission's recommendations, which "marked the state's emergence from the Dark Ages of penology into an era of enlightened and productive correctional reform," the Globe said in a 1965 editorial.
After leaving Tufts, he became president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, a philanthropic institution in New York City. He retired in 1979.
"He was a very proud but self-deprecating man in terms of his accomplishments," said his daughter, Roberta W. McCuskey of Los Angeles. "He was a regular guy. He was not swept up in his accomplishments at all."
"You can't say I was ever an infant prodigy," he told the Boston Post in 1940. "I flunked kindergarten. It's a fact. I had to spend two years in kindergarten."
After that, academic life went more smoothly. He graduated from Lafayette College at 20 with a bachelor's in psychology, from Brown University the next year with a master's, and in 1938 from the University of Rochester with a doctorate in psychology.
Dr. Wessell was 24 when he was appointed dean at Tufts in February of 1939.
"And he looked 24 when he hired me in 1956," said Harleston, who previously taught psychology at Tufts. "He was very easy and affable. Biggest dimples I can remember seeing. A big laugh, too. When he laughed, you knew he was laughing -- something that went a little deeper than the superficial stuff."
The son of Swedish immigrants, Dr. Wessell was born in Warren, Pa., and grew up in Plainfield, N.J. His father was a Congregational minister, his mother a nurse, his middle name a challenge to pronounce.
"Yngve is for an old Viking hero," he said, in the 1940 interview, of the name, which is pronounced ING-va. "As nearly as I can make out, my father was reading some unknown tome about the vikings when I was born, and he bestowed the title on me."
During his graduate work at Brown, Dr. Wessell taught psychology courses, including one at Pembroke College, a women's school affiliated with Brown. One day he asked a question of Marian Sigler, who was sitting at the front of the class. She based her answer on the text the class was reading, he disagreed, and they sparred briefly over the accuracy of the text. The next class, "she was as far back in the room as she could go and I could tell by the way she glared what she thought of me," he recalled in 1940.
They got past the rocky start and were married 59 years. She died in 1997.
"Talk about a love story," their daughter said, "just incredible devotion."
Along with overseeing the name change from Tufts College to Tufts University, he presided over the addition of dormitories, laboratories, an engineering building, and a library, which was named for Dr. Wessell. Characteristically, he used the occasion to poke fun at himself.
"He joked that he wasn't able to raise enough money from one wealthy guy so they had to name it for him," his daughter said. "He was a man who related equally to everyone," said his son, Nils H. of Mystic, Conn.
In addition to his daughter and son, Dr. Wessell leaves three grandsons; a great-granddaughter; and a great-grandson.
Dr. Wessell asked that no service be held. His ashes will be spread off in the waters of Casco Bay near Chebeague Island, as were his wife's.
From the New York Times:
By DENNIS HEVESI
Published: March 9, 2007
Nils Y. Wessell, who as president of Tufts University from 1953 to 1966 guided its transformation from a small college to a respected university, died Sunday near his home in Naples, Fla. He was 92.
The death was confirmed by his son, Nils H. Wessell.
Dr. Wessell oversaw the conversion of what for 101 years had been Tufts College, in Medford, Mass. On the day he was installed as president, Dec. 9, 1953, he called for Tufts to become a university "in name as well as in fact." In 1955, the Massachusetts Board of Corporations changed Tufts's status.
"It was more than a name change," Tufts's current president, Lawrence S. Bacow, said in an interview Wednesday. "It was a commitment to becoming a true research university. That meant developing graduate programs in the colleges of arts, sciences, engineering."
During Dr. Wessell's presidency, biology and chemistry laboratories, an engineering building, new dormitories and the Wessell Library were built, and the Lincoln Filene Center for Public Service and the Experimental College were opened.
Previously, Tufts had been a liberal arts college with schools of medicine, dentistry and law. It had 3,500 students when Dr. Wessell became its eighth president, at the age of 39. It now has about 9,000 students.
Nils Yngve Wessell was born in Warren, Pa., on April 14, 1914, the son of Nils Johan Wessell, a Congregationalist minister, and Esther Walquist Wessell, a nurse. In addition to his son, of Mystic, Conn., Dr. Wessell is survived by a daughter, Roberta McCuskey of Los Angeles; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren. His wife of 59 years, the former Marian Sigler, died in 1997.
After graduating from Lafayette College in 1934, Dr. Wessell earned a master's in psychology from Brown University in 1935 and a Ph.D. from the University of Rochester in 1938. From 1939 to 1947, he taught psychology at Tufts. Before becoming president, he was the college's dean of liberal arts and its vice president. While serving as president of Tufts, Dr. Wessell led a panel that reviewed the state's prison system.
From 1968 to 1979, Dr. Wessell was president of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation. The foundation, established by a former president of General Motors, supports higher education and science research.
In 1976, Gov. Hugh L. Carey of New York named Dr. Wessell the
chairman of a commission to study the possibility of merging the
City University of New York, which was facing a fiscal crisis,
with the state university system. The commission ultimately advised
against the merger, but recommended an increase in state aid to
the city system.
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