Kenneth A. Lohf, Former Director of CU Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Dies at Age 77

May 10, 2002 - Kenneth A. Lohf, (1925-2002), who retired in 1993 after a 40-year career with Columbia University Libraries, died May 9 in New York City after complications from a stroke. Featured in The New York Times upon his retirement for his remarkable contribution to rare book and special collections, Mr. Lohf was also a published poet, literary scholar, bibliographer, collector, benefactor and friend. He gave generously of himself and his collections contributing to his church, profession and passions until his death. In addition to Paul Palmer, his companion of 53 years, Mr. Lohf is survived by three nephews, Gerald K. Freitag, Ronald J. Freitag, and Donald J. Freitag and many friends.

Kenneth A. Lohf

As Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library (RBML) director for 25 years, his tireless and devoted service to the collections doubled their size to a half million volumes and 26 million manuscript items. Among those were thousands of letters from authors like William Faulkner, James Joyce Sinclair Lewis and Eugene O'Neill, medieval manuscripts and a 4,000-year old Babylonian cuneiform tablet. During his tenure, the RBML underwent a $3-million renovation, the money for which he nearly single-handedly raised. He served for 20 years as secretary-treasurer of the Council of the Friends of the Columbia Libraries.

Mr. Lohf was fond of explaining that the Library was not a museum but rather a place for scholarship and query. The use of the materials that he worked so hard at collecting was his reward. At his retirement, he was honored by Columbia with three separate exhibitions - one of items acquired during his tenure; one documenting his life at Columbia; and the third displaying books from his collection which he donated to the university. He also, established the Kenneth A. Lohf Rare Book and Manuscript Library Materials Fund.

"As a member of a generation of great bibliophiles who shared with him a passion for significant books and great libraries, he will be sorely missed," said Jean Ashton, Director of Columbia University Rare Book and Manuscript Library.

Mr. Lohf was a generous contributor and benefactor to Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, the Grolier Club, the Morgan Library, Columbia's Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the Museum of Modern Art, and the American Museum in Bath (England). Originally from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Mr. Lohf attended Amherst College before serving in the U.S. Air Force in India during World War II, and then received his B.A. from Northwestern University. He earned his Master's Degrees in English (1950) and Library Science (1952), both from Columbia University, and then worked in various positions at Columbia Libraries until he was named to head the Rare Book and Manuscript Collection in 1967.

His passion for collecting began when he was a graduate student at Columbia. He amassed a comprehensive collection of British poetry of the First and Second World Wars (Sassoon, Owens, Graves, etc.), 19th and early 20th century poets and writers (Arthur Symons, J.A. Symonds, Walter Pater, and Lawrence Binyon,); original letters and manuscripts; drawings of Pre-Raphaelites (emphasis on Edward Burne-Jones), and literary figures associated with them.

Mr. Lohf, a long time member and benefactor of Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue, has served for two terms on the vestry, was named Chairman of the Saint Thomas Choir School Committee, a trustee of the Saint Thomas Choir School fund, a member of the Building Committee, the Finance and budget Committee, the Grants Advisory Committee, the Parish History Committee and the Music Committee. Likewise, he has served as a delegate to the Convention of the diocese of New York. Mr. Lohf also wrote a chapter on the history of the Choir School in the recent parish history, "Saint Thomas Church Fifth Avenue."

He became a member in 1996 of the Priory in the United States of America of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem. In 2000, he was promoted to the rank of Commander Brother for his dedication and commitment to the Order.

Mr. Lohf was also a long time Fellow of the Morgan Library, had served on the Library's Council of Fellows, and was a Patron of the Library. Several years ago he began a program of giving that will result in the transfer to the Library of his extensive collection of World War I and II poetry as well as many other books, works of art and manuscripts from his collection, said his lawyer William Warren.

He was also very involved with the Grolier Club where he was President from 1990-1994 and council member from 1987 to 2002. He was elected to the Club in 1961 and chaired several committees including the Public Exhibitions, Library, Special Functions, Small Exhibitions, and Publications. In observance of the 50th anniversary of the end of World War II, the Grolier Club in December 1995 presented an exhibition featuring manuscripts, first editions, drawings and portraits of 130 British poets of the 1940s who served on the battlefronts and home front. Mr. Lohf, with firsthand experience as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Force stationed in India, curated an exhibition that included many items from his personal collection of British war poetry. A poet himself, Lohf composed the title poem for Poets in a War, the volume he wrote to accompany the exhibition.

Mr. Lohf was the author of numerous books of poetry, literary bibliographies (some on his own, some with Eugene Sheehy) of Joseph Conrad, Hart Crane, Yvor Winters, Sherwood Anderson, Marianne Moore, Frank Norris and The Little Review (indexes); and exhibition catalogues including two for the Grolier Club and seven catalogues for Columbia University Libraries.

He began writing poetry while in the Air Force and by 2000 had published twelve collections of poems. These include, XXX for Time; poems (Boston, Bruce Humphries, 1966), Seasons: seven poems (Janus Press, 1981), Arrivals: six sonnets (Eric & Joan Stevens, 1987), Passages (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1991), Places (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1992), New York Elegies & other poems (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1995), Moon & Sun (Kelly-Winterton Press), Endings / beginnings (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1994), Hours (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1996), A Hymn of Simon Peter (Kelly-Winterton Press, 1998), Red Unto White (Kelly-Winterton Press), and The Book of Twelve (Kelly-Winterton Press, 2000).

Written: 05/10/02 KRS