The departments of Language, Literacy & Sociocultural Studies and Linguistics at the University of New Mexico held their first of two celebrations in the honor of Regents’ Professor Emerita Veronka (Vera) John-Steiner on April 28 in the Rotunda at the UNM Science & Technology Park.
John-Steiner taught for 40 years at the University. She was an internationally recognized scholar, author and teacher, who passed away on December 6, 2017.
Lois Meyer, professor in the LLSS department read the opening welcome and convened the event.
The event featured 10 speakers, along with some comments and memories virtually sent by John-Steiner’s friends, colleagues and students. Meyer read those comments and memories to the audience.
Anita Pfeiffer, a retired professor of LLSS department, and a very close friend of John-Steiner, was the first speaker who shared her memories of John-Steiner with the audience.
“Vera always had a wonderful smile that I will remember fondly. She was my friend and I will miss her,” Pfeiffer said.
Meyer read the memories sent by Courtney Cazden, a Charles William Eliot Professor of Education at Harvard Graduate School of Education. The note read, “Vera was my oldest continuous colleague. We met more than 50 years ago, and during all these years her graciousness and generosity always seemed overwhelming.”
Teresa Meehan, one of John-Steiner’s students said, “Vera was so much more than the renowned scholar we all loved and respected. She had a presence of her even in the darkest moments that radiated, that which I call grace.”
Sherman Wilcox, a professor in the linguistics department, while sharing the feelings of his wife who was the advisee of John-Steiner told the audience, “Vera was a formidable presence, so knowledgeable, so famous, so able to tell her stories about her conversations with famous writers, dancers and composers. She was a true Renaissance woman,”
The world has lost a great scholar, a great mind and UNM lost a colleague, a mentor and also a friend, Wilcox said.
“Vera was ‘thoughtful’ in the personal relationship sense — always making feel others very welcome. She was also just so full of thinking, full of thoughts,” said Jill Morford, a professor and chair of the linguistics department.
John-Steiner was renowned for her work on collaboration and creativity, as well as interpreting the works of Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky. She helped edit “Mind in Society” (1978), which made a selection of Vygotsky’s work widely available in English for the first time, and authored “Notebooks of the Mind: Explorations of Thinking” (1997) and “Creative Collaboration” (2000), among other significant texts.
Holbrook Mahn, a professor in the LLSS department and program coordinator of Educational Linguistics and English as a Second Language programs was the last speaker of the event.
Mahn said, “I have the privilege of being a student, a mentee, a co-author, a colleague and a dear friend of Vera.”
“We must carry on not only her resistance, but also, carry on her intellectual curiosity and carry on her ethos of care,” Mahn said.
Mahn said he resonates with all of the things said about John-Steiner as a person, but that he wanted to talk about her contribution to the promotion and development of Vygotsky’s theoretical framework. He said one of the things that he thinks is very unknown about the major contribution of John-Steiner’s is the publication of Mind and Society, where John-Steiner fought vigorously for Vygotsky’s true stance.
The second celebration will be held at the Santa Fe Children’s Museum on Saturday, July 7.
Tasawar Shah is a news reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @tashah_80.