History prof dies at age 90

The noted former University professors and political commentator died on Sunday.

Keaton Schmitt

Hy Berman, a former University history professor of more than four decades, died Sunday. He was 90.
 
Friends and colleagues describe Berman as a man who wanted to meet everyone and who everyone had to meet. 
 
Theofanis Stavrou, a University Greek and Russian history professor, was a friend of Berman’s for the entirety of his tenure at the University, and after his late colleague’s retirement. 
 
“Hy would not stop, as long as there was someone near him he would keep talking,” Stavrou said. “And I’m saying that really as a compliment because he was very well informed and really had a lot to say.”
 
Many Minnesota politicians sought the company of Berman and his intellectual reserves, Stavrou said, including former Governor Rudy Perpich.
 
Stavrou said that his favorite memory of Berman was on an academic trip to Poland in 1989, just a few months before the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. 
 
“The thing I remember about that trip was he was very fond of having his picture taken,” said Stavrou, “He would somehow work his way into the front and be in the very front. It reached the point where everyone would ask, ‘Where is Hy?’ and a few moments later he would appear in the very front of the group,” 
 
Stavrou said that wasn’t a mark of narcissism, but just Berman’s gregarious nature on display.
 
“Many people did not realize how terribly knowledgeable and well informed he was,” Stavrou said. 
 
Berman often seemed like he was grasping for words, he said, but that was just the professor organizing his thoughts. 
 
Berman, whose specialties spanned a wide breadth of labor history, was known for bringing academia out into the public, Stavrou said.
 
“He was a teacher to all of us,” said Wy Spano, director of the Masters in Advocacy and Political Leadership program at Metropolitan State University, who worked with Berman
 
“In terms of ourselves as an organized state, there was nobody who knew more about it,” Spano said. “The greatest compliment someone could pay me was to confuse me with Hy.”
 
“He was kind of a legend, someone who knew everything about the state of Minnesota,” said Doug Armato, director of the University of Minnesota Press.
 
When Armato first started working at the University, he said, everyone told him that he “had to meet Hy.” After they met, Berman informally advised the University Press for years.
 
He said that Berman was easily accessible by all, and that he loved being a populist. 
 
“He loved to wear super ugly sweaters. He was the opposite of an elitist,” Armato said.
 
Berman is remembered by many as a master storyteller — especially when it came to politicians, Stavrou said. One time, he said Berman regaled him with bits told to him by
former Vice President Hubert Humphrey about the USSR’s General Secretary at the time, Nikita Khrushchev. 
 
Berman had a significant media presence outside academia, appearing on the TPT political news show Almanac for over 30 years where he worked with producer Brendan Henehan.
 
“He was a public historian before the term existed,” Henehan said.