Stephen A. Norwick was remembered Sunday in a meadow at Sonoma State University, the campus where he spent nearly four decades teaching generations of students.
The banjo-playing professor charmed those who knew him with his warmth but earned deep respect with dogged scholarly pursuits that wound through geology and environmental studies, folk music and literature.
"The term Renaissance man applies," said Rocky Rohwedder, chair of SSU's environmental studies and planning department.
About 300 people filled white chairs on the green lawn Sunday for a celebration that was supposed to be a retirement party.
But Norwick died June 19, 11 days after he was struck and gravely injured by a hit-and-run driver as he cycled on Petaluma Hill Road.
His sudden death was briefly but deeply acknowledged Sunday by Reb Irwin Keller of Cotati's Congregation Ner Shalom.
"This sucks," said Keller. "Being here today really, really sucks, that it happened the way it did, fast and flukish, unexpected, robbing us of any chance to offer our good-bye."
The day then turned to remembering the man who, in Keller's words, "studied the how and lived in the mystery of why."
Told in turn by colleagues, current and past students, longtime friends and family, stories recounted in the lakes area of campus pieced together a portrait of Norwick.
"Eclectic, humorous, arcane, ditsy," said Paul Judge, a 1974 graduate who then worked as a university lecturer.
With a thick white beard, John Lennon-style glasses and a pocket protector, Norwick was most likely spotted pedaling through campus, ringing his bicycle bell, stopping to talk.
He could go all day without noticing that the right leg of his pants was still rolled up from his morning bike ride to work.
But he knew something about everyone — from family connections to scholarly research — and was a "bio-computer of what was going on on campus," Rohwedder said.
Norwick's two daughters, Sara-Rozet Norwick of San Francisco and Rebecca Norwick of Windsor, his sister Susan Horrocks of Orinda, and other family filled the front rows. His wife Marthe Norwick bounced and cuddled their wiggly 6-month-old granddaughter in the back.
Rebecca Norwick recounted pretending to be John Muir with her father on camping vacations and tagging along on university field trips.
"I knew all the lectures in the books," Rebecca Norwick said.
Norwick sent hundreds of students on their way to careers in ecology, the environment, urban planning and teaching.
He expressed deep pride in his students and was closely engaged in many of their studies.
"He called me at 8 o'clock in the morning and said, &‘Marty, I had a dream about how your computer modeling could work out,'" said Marty Camarillo, a current student who at the time was studying sudden oak death on Mount Tamalpais.
After the eulogies, people gathered around tables piled with Norwick's published books on science metaphors found in literature, his papers on tektites, photos from college and family trips, pine cones and favorite literature.
"I remember him at age 5 reading the Webster's unabridged dictionary," said Philip Frost, a physician from San Francisco who grew up with Norwick in San Lorenzo.
"I was his translator and field assistant," said his wife of 46 years. "He always had to be studying something."