Remembering Dick Beringer — mentor, Civil War scholar and UND professor

Remembering Dick Beringer — mentor, Civil War scholar and UND professor

Nationally known for his works on the Confederacy, Beringer was ‘one of the nicest guys in creation,’ UND History colleague says

Richard Beringer (seated) and the late D. Jerome Tweton were both named Chester Fritz Distinguished Professors of History. Archival image.

Richard E. Beringer, Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, and nationally known Civil War expert, passed away on Feb. 19 in Wisconsin.

Beringer, who joined the UND faculty in 1969, wrote several well-regarded and award-winning books about the Civil War and the Confederacy. He co-authored Jefferson Davis: Confederate President; Why the South Lost the Civil War; Historical Analysis: Contemporary Approaches to Clio’s Craft; The Anatomy of the Confederate Congress: A Study of the Influences of Member Characteristics on Legislative Voting Behavior; and contributed to On the Road to Total War: The American Civil War and the German Wars of Unification, 1861-1871.

He was designated Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor at UND in 1988 and twice received the Jefferson Davis Award of the Confederate Memorial Literary Society for distinguished research and writing on the period of the Confederate States of America.

Richard Beringer

Richard Beringer

Beringer was born on Dec. 29, 1933, the son of William and Martha (Wupper) Beringer in Madison, Wis. He graduated from North High School in Sheboygan, Wis., in 1952, and went to Lawrence College, Appleton, Wis., graduating Phi Beta Kappa in 1956.

He completed a master’s degree at Northwestern University in 1957 before serving in the Air Force as a personnel officer from 1957 to 1960. He returned to Northwestern to work on a Ph.D. in history. He then taught a year at Oshkosh State University in Wisconsin.

He married Luise Anne Templin in 1964. In 1965 they moved to California, where he taught at Hayward State University. In 1968, he received a grant to learn documentary editing, working on the Jefferson Davis Papers at Rice University, Houston, Texas.

At UND, he chaired the history department from 1993 to 1997. He was awarded a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Humanities in 1971.

From 1979 to 1980, he spent a year as co-editor and author of the introduction for Vol. 4 of The Papers of Jefferson Davis and in 1994, he taught at the University of Augsburg in Germany on a Fulbright Travel Award.

He retired from the University in 1999.

A passion for military history

“I remember Dr. Richard Beringer, ‘Dick’ to his colleagues, for many reasons,” said retired Chester Fritz Distinguished Professor of History Gordon Iseminger.

“First, for what can best be described as his passion for military history. This he demonstrated not only in the courses he offered on military history at the University of North Dakota and as a visiting professor at the University of Augsburg in Germany on a Fulbright award, but also in his association with UND ROTC instructors and students, in his taking short courses at West Point, and, especially, his many book-length publications on the Confederacy during the American Civil War.

“Second, for his being the first in his department to use a computer for research, notes, lectures and manuscripts, while his colleagues were still plodding along with typewriters, yellow legal pads, pencils, and ballpoint pens.

“Finally, for his penchant for organization. Everything in his office was in place, and he kept notes to remind him of appointments and things to do. Dr. Beringer carried a stiff-sided briefcase that was frequently open near his desk. Everything in the briefcase was organized-his lunch in a brown bag, books he intended to use, note pads, lectures he was scheduled to deliver, and personal items.

“He particularly revealed his penchant for organization during his term as department chair from 1993-1997. Matters dealing with the department, deans, and other administrators were handled deftly and on time. Department meetings began on time, agenda items were dealt with fully and in order, committee reports heard and discussed, and meetings ended promptly.

“I regretted that Dr. Beringer chose to retire early so that he could finish his last book. I missed him. We had been colleagues for 30 years.”

A welcoming professor

“Dick Beringer was almost certainly the best known of us while we were all here,” said Al Berger, retired professor of history. “He was nationally known for his work on the Confederate States in the Civil War. As a teacher, he taught graduate students to be meticulous in research, and he was very much interested in teaching students to use documents in archives. He knew what research was. He was a tremendous writing instructor, and he was a great traditional sort of professor.

“He was also a tremendous colleague who was very supportive,” Berger continued. “He introduced me to Grand Forks, and was part of the cadre of professors at UND who were very welcoming when I got here in 1987. They had a long history of their own of mentoring younger colleagues, including me. Dick Beringer was one of the nicest guys in creation.”

Added James Mochoruk, professor of history: “When I was first hired at UND, Jerry Tweton was still the chair, but by the time I actually got onto campus, Dick Beringer had become the chair.

“All that I knew about him at the time was that he was an outstanding scholar, with a phenomenal reputation as an expert on the Civil War. What I quickly came to realize was what a fine human being he was. Indeed, I will always treasure the way he mentored me, cared for me and, ever so gently, imparted his wisdom to a (then) young colleague.

“I especially enjoyed the times we spent together as office mates when he had retired and was working on his last major book project,” Mochoruk said. “At the time, I was serving as department chair, and his calm and careful advice helped me to cope with some very difficult times. I will miss him greatly.”

Springboarding a career

“Dick’s passing has bestirred many memories,” said Kim Porter, professor of history, in an email. “He was, after all, the chair who hired me. On the last day of my interview, he invited me into his office for the ‘chat’—salary, insurance, tenure rules, etc. I was in a new suit; this was the season for interviews.  He asked me to sit down in a disreputable looking chair. I hesitantly did. The chair apparently did not have any springs/bottom. When my fanny finally hit what was very nearly the floor,  my knees were essentially even with my eyes. Dick made no comment and we concluded the interview.

“Right after the flood, he called me at home and asked why I wasn’t involved in the North Dakota Museum of Art’s oral history project. He knew part of my doctoral training involved oral history and thought I should be involved. But since I hadn’t been invited, I had not known of the project. Dick suggested that I invite myself to the meeting. I did. I ended up using the oral history project to springboard a part of my career. I have no idea how many folks I’ve interviewed in my post-flood work, but it has been many. And I’ve taught many the craft as well. Of course, I ultimately ended up as the editor of the Oral History Review. I’ve always thought that Dick was responsible for the success of that part of my career; and I’ve been grateful.

Dick was a scholar and a gentleman. I don’t ever remember him responding with anger to events in an occasionally contentious department. He’s been gone from campus for a while of course, but he was frequently on my mind.

Porter continued: “Two minor points that probably shouldn’t be included in an essay, but which make me smile.  Dick proudly wore his Air Force raincoat all of his UND career. It not only fit, but he took care of it. He always carried his lunch in a brown paper sack. After eating, he would fold it up to take home. The bag occasionally looked rather ratty before he replaced it. We were eating as a group one day and Tom Howard (also a history professor) had also packed his lunch in a brown bag. After Dick folded his bag ever so neatly, Tom made a fine display of crumpling his bag and giving it a toss in the trash. Dick’s look was priceless.”

Beringer is survived by his wife, Luise; children, David, Middleton, Wis.., and Jeffrey (Lisa), Carmel, Ind.; two grandchildren, Matthew and Anna, and a brother, William (Marilyn), Atlanta, Ga. He was preceded in death by his parents and one brother.