August 10, 2020
An innovator in journalism education who predicted the demise of print and rise of Internet media, Ralph Lowenstein is dead at age 90. He suffered a sudden stroke and died Monday, August 10 in Gainesville, Florida. Lowenstein was dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida for 18 years, 1976-1994. During that time, he led the college to national recognition as one of the top five schools of communication in America. The University of Florida was a leader in the transition to digital journalism – the first to introduce computers into the classroom, and the first journalism school in the nation to start a daily Internet newspaper. As dean, Lowenstein also supervised five professional broadcasting properties, including two television stations. He was one of the principal founders in 1981 of WUFT-FM, an NPR station supervised by the university. Lowenstein was president of the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication, the major North American organization of communication faculty and administrators, 1990-91. In 1994, the Freedom Forum named him “Journalism Administrator of the Year,” which included a Gold Medallion and $10,000 award. Ralph Lynn Lowenstein was the youngest of three sons, born March 8, 1930, to Henry Lowenstein and Rachel Berman Lowenstein in Danville, Virginia. Rachel was born in Danville, too, but Henry had immigrated from Russia as a teenager and owned a jewelry and pawn shop. Part of a religious Jewish family in a small southern community, Lowenstein developed an aversion to the pervasive anti-Semitism and racism he encountered. At 15, he was an Eagle Scout and some of those skills led him to a daring adventure as a soldier that was to define the rest of his life. As an 18-year-old sophomore at Columbia University in the summer of 1948, he made his way to England as an exchange student, then volunteered for the Israeli army in Paris, lived in a Displaced Persons camp in Marseilles with false papers, traveled on a crowded refugee ship to the new state of Israel and was smuggled into the country. Because he had a driver’s license in his native Virginia since the age of 14, he was assigned as a halftrack driver in an armored unit and saw combat 10 days after arriving in the country. His unit, the 79th Armored Battalion, spearheaded the action in October 1948 that cleared the North Central Galilee of Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese troops, securing it as a part of Israel. Lowenstein was one of fewer than half a dozen Southern Jews serving in that war, and the only Columbia University undergraduate to volunteer. He returned to the U.S. and, after graduating from the Columbia School of Journalism, Lowenstein served in the U.S. Army for two years during the Korean War. His U.S. Army experience involved two unusual events: in the 101st Airborne Division, at Camp Breckenridge, Kentucky, the first unit to which he was assigned for basic training purposes, he was promoted to the temporary rank of sergeant first class only five months after his initial enlistment; in his second assignment, to the 261st Signal Company, at Ft. Bliss, Texas, he was among a group of white soldiers sent to integrate the last all-Black unit in the United States Army – initially, almost all of his bunkmates and almost all of his officers were Black. During his Army service in El Paso, he met another journalism student, Bronia Levenson, who also grew up Jewish in an even smaller town, La Mesa, New Mexico. They married in 1955. Following army service, Lowenstein was a newspaper reporter for the El Paso Times. He wrote a series of articles credited with effecting major change in U.S. Immigration and Naturalization policy, resulting in reuniting hundreds of families separated on two sides of the U.S.-Mexican border, and eventually also providing U.S. haven for thousands of persons from Central Europe. The episode was featured on NBC television as part of its “Big Story” series, with a young Martin Landau playing the role of an equally-young Ralph Lowenstein. He is the author or co-author of six books, including a novel about the Israeli War of Independence. He holds B.A. and M.S. degrees from Columbia University and a Ph.D. from the University of Missouri School of Journalism. Among his professional awards are the Columbia University Journalism Alumni Award for Distinguished Service to Journalism and the Professional Journalistic Society’s Distinguished Service Award for Research About Journalism. He was a media critic for CBS network Television News and wrote a nationally-syndicated column called “The Media Dean.” In the late 1950s, as a faculty member at the University of Texas at El Paso, he founded the campus Hillel and also served as Hillel counselor. In El Paso, he served on a committee of Christians and Jews that successfully promoted the passage of the first municipal anti-discrimination ordinance in the South, a full year before the federal public accommodations act of 1964. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of Missouri, he returned to Israel with his family in 1967-68 as visiting professor and head of journalistic studies at Tel Aviv University. In 1968 he joined the faculty of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, where he became chair of the News-Editorial Department. He established and advised a Missouri study program in Israel for graduate students. He was named dean of the College of Journalism and Communications at the University of Florida, in Gainesville, in 1976. He was only the second Jewish dean in the history of the university. Lowenstein served as president of ADL committees in El Paso, Texas, Columbia, Missouri and Gainesville, Florida. Lowenstein spent 28 years collecting and building a unique archive that recorded the data and experiences of the 1,500 American and Canadian volunteers in Israel’s armed forces during the War of Independence, 1948-49, and those Americans and Canadians who served as ship’s crew to bring Holocaust survivors through the British blockade of Palestine prior to establishment of the state. The material was acquired by the American Jewish Historical Society in New York City in 2010, and, called the “Machal Archives,” are now a permanent historical resource for scholars studying this episode of American Jewish History. Lowenstein also directed the construction and wrote most of the explanatory material for the Museum of American and Canadian Volunteers in Israel’s War of Independence, now on view in the main lobby of the UF Hillel building. One copy is on permanent display at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles. He received the American Jewish Historical Society’s Emma Lazarus Statue of Liberty Award in 2011. In 2010, in his 80th year, Lowenstein co-authored a book on the future of the mass media and directed the fund-raising campaign for a Gainesville Holocaust Memorial, which he conceived and designed. Most recently, he was featured in “A Wing and A Prayer,” a documentary describing the American role in creating the Israeli air force. It was shown by almost every PBS station in the U.S. during 2015 and 2016. Lowenstein was historical advisor for the film, produced and directed by Boaz Dvir, a native Israeli who graduated from UF during Lowenstein’s deanship. He is survived by his wife, two children, Joan Lowenstein of Ann Arbor, Michigan and Henry Lowenstein of Gainesville, Florida, and six grandsons. A private family graveside service will be held Thursday at B’nai Israel Cemetery with Rabbi David Kaiman officiating. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the B’nai Israel Synagogue, 3830 NW 16th Blvd, Gainesville, FL 32605 or University of Florida College of Journalism, https://www.uff.ufl.edu/jou/.
An innovator in journalism education who predicted the demise of print and rise of Internet media, Ralph Lowenstein is dead at age 90. He suffered a sudden stroke and died Monday, August 10 in Gainesville, Florida. Lowenstein was dean of the... View Obituary & Service Information
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