Remembering Horst S Jarka – Fulbrighter from Austria 1951

Horst S. Jarka passed away in Missoula on February 9, 2021 at the age of 95. For three decades he taught German language and literature at the University of Montana. Innovative as a teacher, he has former students spread throughout the community and across the country, and was known for his engagement and wit in the classroom. He was also an accomplished researcher in the field of German literature. In addition to his academic career, he was deeply involved with his family and spent many many happy days with them in the outdoors of Montana. He had a strong instinct to connect with people and was known for his humor and witty, surprising comments. People appreciated his spirit up until his last days at the Village Senior Residence.

Horst Jarka was born in Austria just outside of Vienna in 1925. He first came to the United States as a Fulbright Scholar in 1951, studying American literature at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. He was a member of the first group of students from Austria to receive the Fulbright Scholarship. At the University of Minnesota, he met Lois Huntoon, who was also studying literature, and they were married in Austria after he returned to Vienna the following year. He continued his studies there and received his PhD in English literature from the University of Vienna. After teaching English at a secondary school in Vienna for a number of years, he accepted a position at the University of Montana in 1959, teaching German language and literature, at a time when there was an effort in America to boost language teaching after the scare of Soviet advance in space exploration and international influence. He quickly established himself as an important member of the UM faculty and took advantage of the opportunity to develop as a teacher and to further his scholarly research. He came to love Montana but continued strong ties to Austria, both personal and academic.

He had a distinguished teaching career, receiving the Teacher of the Year Award in 1968. His innovative teaching included a yearly drama course in which the students produced a play in German using hand puppets, in a puppet theater he built himself in the basement of his home. These performances were remembered by members of the community and the participating cast for years afterwards. He also conceived and developed large scale interdisciplinary courses, collaborating with other faculty members and reaching a large number of students. Students in his introductory language courses often spoke of his lively and entertaining teaching style.

A very accomplished and widely respected writer and researcher, he published many studies on German and Austrian literature. He came to concentrate on anti-fascist writers of the 1930’s, and was responsible for the re-discovery of the playwright and poet, Jura Soyfer, of whose works he painstakingly produced the definitive edition. He also translated some of Soyfer’s works into English and wrote the authoritative biography based on interviews with survivors of fascism in Europe. Over the years he attended, and presented papers at, many academic conferences on German literature, both in the US and abroad.

Having grown up rambling in the Vienna Woods and hiking across Austria, he naturally embraced the western Montana landscape. Much of every summer was spent with his family hiking, camping, and exploring the mountainous terrain of Montana.

Lois, his wife of 68 years, lives in Missoula and is much loved by friends and neighbors. His son, Hannes Jarka-Sellers lives with his wife, Lucy Bell, in Philadelphia; his grandson, Peter, lives in St. Paul, MN and granddaughter, Sophy, is attending college. His daughter, Käthe Jarka and her husband, Immanuel Davis, live in Minneapolis. We all mourn his loss, but his vitality and love continue to be with us.

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