URBANA — Winton U. Solberg, 97, professor emeritus of history at the University of Illinois, died on Wednesday (July 10, 2019).
Solberg, the second of three sons, was born Jan. 11, 1922, to Ole A. Solberg and Bertha G. Tschappat Solberg on a farm near Aberdeen, S.D. He completed public school in Aberdeen in 1939 and attended the University of South Dakota, graduating in 1943 magna cum laude in history and political science.
He was immediately inducted into the United States Army and sent to Officers’ Candidate School at Fort Benning, Ga. Commissioned a second lieutenant on May 27, 1943, he trained troops for over a year and was then ordered overseas. On Sept. 10, 1944, he sailed for Europe, landing in England a week later. He landed on Omaha Beach on Sept. 20 and joined the 115th Infantry Regiment of the 29th Infantry Division near the battlefront at Aachen, Germany. An officer in a heavy weapons platoon, Solberg was on the northern flank of the Allied Expeditionary Forces, and his unit fought in the Battle of the Bulge, after which it advanced to the Elbe River. After the European War ended, Solberg served more than a year in Germany in the Army of Occupation.
Solberg was called back to the Army during the Korean War, serving as an instructor at West Point’s U.S. Military Academy. He continued his military service by lecturing at the Army Command General Staff School and the Army War College, as well as through summer duties as a Reserve Officer. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1982.
Solberg earned MA and Ph.D. degrees in American history from Harvard University. He taught history at Yale University from 1954 to 1958, then at Macalaster College in St. Paul, Minn. In 1961, he joined the history department of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, from which he retired in 1991. During his academic career, Solberg taught American history around the world, including as a Fulbright professor in Bologna, Italy, at Moscow State University in the USSR, and at the University of Calcutta, India. He held professorships at Konan University in Kobe, Japan, at Loyola University in Madras, India, and at St. Stephen’s in Delhi, India. The University of South Dakota conferred an honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters upon him in 1987. The University of Illinois awarded him its highest campus honor, the Chancellor’s Medallion, in 2017.
During his career, Solberg played an active part in the governance of higher education, serving as chairman of the history department, a member of the Senate on the Urbana campus, secretary of the University Senates’ Conference in the 1970s, president of the Urbana chapter of the American Association of University Professors (AUUP), member of the Committee on Academic Freedom and Tenure of the AUUP, and vice president of the AAUP.
Solberg’s expertise was American intellectual and cultural history. He received several awards for excellence in teaching and kept in touch with numerous former students until his death. His books and articles deal with various topics in American thought and culture over the nation’s history, including the formation of the American constitution, the Puritan Sabbath in early America, scientific knowledge in early America, and the history of U.S. higher education. He wrote two volumes on the history of the University of Illinois from its beginning to 1904, a book on Illinois’ College of Medicine from 1880 to 1920, and a volume on the Big Ten athletic conference from 1895 to 1945. He was writing and researching until his last years, and he occupied a study in the University of Illinois main library, where for over 50 years he worked assiduously, many days a week, until he was 96.
His book entitled "Arctic Mirage: The 1913-1920 Expedition in Search of Crocker Land," is in press at MacFarland Publishers at the time of his death. Another volume, the last in his series on the history of the University of Illinois, is in preparation for the U of I Press thanks to the help of his friend, colleague and early graduate student, David Hoeveler.
Winton married Constance Walton of Huntington, N.Y., on Nov. 8, 1952, in New York City. They had three children and were married for 53 years.
Winton was preceded in death by Connie, his parents, and his two brothers, Elmo and Lincoln.
He is survived by three children: Gail, of Florence, Italy, married to Giulio Nicita; Andrew, of Washington, D.C., married to Yasemin Ciftci; and Kristin, of Urbana, married to David Seyler. Winton is also survived by eight grandchildren, Suzanne, Tarkan, Matthew and Benjamin Solberg, Giulia and Marta Nicita and John and Stuart Seyler.
A funeral will be held at a later date.