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Former USF professor Charles Arnade dies at 81

Charles Wolfgang Arnade earned many distinctions throughout his long life.

A three-time Fulbright scholar who specialized in Latin American Studies, he was a White House Fellow who traveled to more than 120 countries, spoke three languages and understood five others.

A 50-year career, most of it spent at the University of South Florida, places him among the longest serving full-time professors in Florida's state university system.

But what his friends remember most about Arnade, who died at the age of 81 Sunday in northern Virginia under hospice care, was his independent spirit, his fiery nature.

"He was passionate about his work and his students and his university," said Roy Weatherford, a retired USF philosophy professor who worked with Arnade for more than 30 years. "We kind of knocked heads a few times, but his heart was always in the right place."

Born in Germany in 1927, Arnade grew up in China, Bolivia and Switzerland. His mother was a secretary and his father was an adviser to the Chinese military.

When he was 9, he encountered three men on a raft while swimming in southern Germany. One of the men complimented him on his stroke and encouraged him to keep swimming because the country needed sports champions.

Arnade was convinced he'd been speaking to Adolf Hitler.

A year later, after his family had moved to China to escape the Nazis, he witnessed the "Rape of Nanjing" in which nearly 370,000 Chinese were slaughtered by Japanese soldiers.

It was perhaps his unconventional upbringing that gave Arnade the courage to stand up to injustice. As an assistant professor at Florida State University in the 1950s, he risked censure when he brought a final exam to a student who had been arrested during finals week for supporting the Tallahassee bus boycott, a protest to end segregation on city buses.

He nearly lost his job at the University of Florida several years later when he predicted that racial integration would arrive within 10 years. And he continued to speak his mind after coming to USF, butting heads with nearly every university president he encountered.

When representatives from the Florida Board of Regents came to USF in 1995 to hear the school's pitch for an NCAA Division 1-AA football team, he voiced his dissent. A school that had failed five times to establish a chapter of the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa should be focused on strengthening academics rather than landing a football team, he said.

Ray Arsenault, co-director of the Florida Studies Program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, described Arnade as one of the most unusual people he's ever met.

"He was sort of like Shakespeare's fool," Arsenault said admiringly. "You could always count on Charlie to tell the truth when no one else was doing so."

Arsenault, who met Arnade in 1980, recalled his efforts several years ago to put one of his classes online.

"He couldn't quite get with the new technology," Arsenault said. "He'd be there with his nose up to the camera asking, 'Are you there? Are you there?' "

Harvey Nelsen, who worked alongside Arnade for 40 years in USF's international studies program, said Arnade always enjoyed a challenge. He gave up a tenured professor post at the University of Florida to become a member of USF's charter faculty, Nelsen said, simply because "he liked the idea of a new university where the ground hadn't been plowed."

Nelsen saw Arnade for the last time about a year ago, shortly before he and his wife, Marjorie, sold the Pasco County home where they had lived for nearly 50 years and moved to a retirement community in Virginia. Arnade was slowing down a little, Nelsen said, but he still enjoyed gossiping about what was going on at USF.

Marjorie Arnade said her husband rebounded a little after the move, immersing himself in the community library and continuing to read his subscriptions to the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post and the Financial Times.

"He loved that," said Mrs. Arnade, 78.

In addition to his wife, Arnade is survived by seven children, 13 grandchildren, and his sister, Jutta Gregnoli. The family is planning a memorial gathering for him, tentatively set for November.

Molly Moorhead contributed to this report. Donna Winchester can be reached at or (727) 893-8413.

To read a column Charles Arnade wrote about meeting Adolf Hitler, go to

Former USF professor Charles Arnade dies at 81 09/08/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 12, 2008 5:48pm]
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