Looking Back on a Legacy

UM history professor celebrates 50th year of teaching

By Christian Kiemele

photo of Harry Fritz

Every teacher hopes to leave an impact on their students, and one UM professor has done that more than almost any other. This spring, UM history professor Harry Fritz celebrated his 50th year of teaching U.S. history and inspiring students across campus.

Dr. Michael Allen is one of those students.

Dr. Allen came to Missoula from Ellensburg, Washington on the GI Bill after serving in the Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. After attending a conference sponsored by the history honors society Phi Alpha Theta, with which Professor Fritz was involved, he decided to pursue a master’s degree at UM. He and Professor Fritz became good friends. They’re so close that Allen stays at Fritz’s condo on the Clark Fork River when in town to visit his daughter, who started attending UM in 2013.

“Harry and I have been friends since 1974,” says Dr. Allen. “I have seldom gone a year without seeing him.”

Professor Fritz was the driving force behind Dr. Allen becoming a historian—he teaches at the University of Washington-Tacoma—and he continues to inform Allen’s teaching.

“I am still using Harry’s punch lines,” says Dr. Allen. “My course syllabi look like Harry’s. And every time I introduce my students to Andrew Jackson, I use Harry’s quote from his ‘Age of Jackson’ class: ‘Jackson once supposedly remarked that he never had much use for a man who only knew one way to spell a word.’”

For Professor Fritz, educating the next generation is a duty he feels it’s important to fulfill.

“I think students need to know something about the American Revolution, and they need to know something about the Civil War,” says Professor Fritz. “Those are the two most important events in American history. So I made sure they did.”

As he looks back on 50 years, his favorite memories are the ones where he has been able to see the impact he has made on his students.

“I got an email a few weeks ago from a former student who was in the first class I ever taught at UM, in the fall quarter of 1967,” he says. “Here’s this guy in his 70s now, living in Boise, and he remembers my class, and he told me how good the class was. That’s the best thing about teaching, moments like that.”

Fellow UM professor Kyle Volk has seen the effect Professor Fritz has left on the history department, and on the school as a whole

Harry Fritz headshot

“Harry served as the chair of the Department of History for many years,” he says. “He freed his colleagues from many of their administrative burdens and allowed them to go out and write their books and teach their classes.”

That trickle-down effect, Professor Volk says, allowed the department to hire outstanding faculty members, and allowed them to dig in with teaching and research.

While Professor Fritz has taken a step back, moving to part-time a few years ago, he still makes an impact on each of his classes.

“Harry has been a great face for UM around the state,” says Professor Volk. “He’s been in and out of high school classrooms, he’s been giving public presentations at the state house in Helena. He brings history out into the public. I think that’s been great for our department and for UM.”

To honor Professor Harry Fritz’s 50 years of commitment to students and student research, consider making a gift to the Harry Fritz Fund for Student Achievement. The fund supports UM’s history honors society and offsets the cost of student attendance at the annual conference. Visit http://hs.umt.edu/history/support.php to make a gift online.

Thank you, Professor Fritz, for your service to UM!