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Joseph Zygmunt, emeritus professor of sociology, dies

by Sherry Fisher - February 17, 2009


Joseph Zygmunt, professor emeritus of sociology, died Dec. 22 in Evansville, Ind. He was 87.

Zygmunt joined the UConn faculty in 1961 and retired in 1989.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1942 from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana, where he was a member of Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Kappa Delta, and Psi Chi honorary societies.

After serving in the U.S. Army during World War II, he went on to earn master’s and doctoral degrees in sociology at the University of Chicago. He also was a lecturer at the University of Chicago and at the Indiana University Extension Division.

Arnold Dashefsky, professor of sociology and director of the Center for Judaic Studies and Contemporary Jewish Life, says, “As a new member of the faculty in sociology in the 1970s teaching a required course on society and the individual, I frequently turned to Joe Zygmunt for advice. He taught the same course. He was a very thoughtful and supportive colleague, and I missed his wise counsel when he retired.”

Susan Eisenhandler an assistant professor of sociology, was a student in one of Zygmunt’s courses, Society and the Individual.

“I was a serious student and more than accustomed to taking well-organized, prolific notes,” she says. “In Joe’s class, those abilities were put to the test. I filled several legal-sized yellow pads during the semester.”

Eisenhandler says Zygmunt was “steeped in the social psychology of the Chicago School – the ideas of George Herbert Mead, John Dewey, Anselm Strauss, and others – such as Harry Stack Sullivan and W.I. Thomas – intellectuals who argued that it is in the continuous interaction between person and group that meaning, identity, and culture are created.

“Professor Zygmunt’s lectures were exhaustive and detailed and built a solid foundation for my graduate study in sociology,” she adds. “He taught the subject matter well and with integrity.”

Zygmunt enjoyed gourmet cooking, gardening, and photography.

He was predeceased by his wife Margaret, a brother and two sisters. He is survived by his brother Walter, sister-in-law Loretta, and nieces and nephews.

Contributions in his memory may be made to the Ronald McDonald House of the Ohio Valley, P.O. Box 5381, Evansville, IN 47716.

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