Former longtime Santa Rosa Junior College instructor Marvin Sherak was a man equally passionate about English words and Italian culture.
Many summers, Sherak locked his office at the JC and traveled with his wife, Helen, and their children to Rome or Florence or Venice. His knowledge of Italian art, history, food and wine filled the guidebooks he wrote and shared with friends but never got around to having published.
Also an activist for free speech and a co-founder of the Sonoma County Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, Sherak died Jan. 1 at the age of 90.
Possessing a booming voice and a profound appreciation of literature and language, he was a prominent figure at Santa Rosa Junior College from 1956 until his retirement in 1989.
A daughter, Katharine Sherak of San Francisco, said that as a young man in New York City he aspired to be a chemist. He’d begun studies at the City College of New York when he went into the army after the U.S. joined World War II.
He served in the Signal Corps, mostly in New Guinea. Following the war he returned to New York and enrolled at Queens College, majoring not in chemistry but English.
“I think he came to the realization that that was his true passion,” Katharine Sherak said.
He earned an undergraduate degree in English at Queens and Master’s degrees from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and UC Berkeley. It was at the school in Wisconsin that he met his future wife, also a New Yorker, at a party.
Katharine Sherak said, “He brought somebody and she brought somebody but they met and that was that.” They would be married 64 years.
Shortly after Marvin Sherak left Cal, SRJC hired him as an English instructor. He taught Shakespeare and world literature, and he savored the company of fellow JC instructors fascinated by learning and, for the most part, inclined toward liberal politics.
In the mid and late 1960s, Marvin and Helen Sherak marched in opposition to the Vietnam war and they co-founded what would evolve into the Santa Rosa-based chapter of the ACLU. In 2000, the chapter honored them and a number of other early ACLU activists with its Jack Green Civil Liberties Award.