Edward van Aelstyn, 1936 - 2018

Edward van Aelstyn, 1936 – 2018

Remembering Van

Edward Arthur “Van” van Aelstyn passed away peacefully on May 23, 2018.  He was at home and two of his children were by his side.

Van had a rich life as a professor of English and film, theater director and actor, editor and activist.  His approach to theater was unique, as were his productions.  Van was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and discriminating appreciator and supporter of the visual arts, music, theater, and literature.

While earning his Doctor of Arts in English and American Literature and Linguistics from University of Oregon, Van served as the editor of the University’s Northwest Review.  Van transformed the Northwest Review into a leading literary voice, publishing numerous noted poets, in particular those of the Beat Generation.  In writing of Van’s term as editor, David Schneider wrote, “Possessed of an excellent academic record, van Aelstyn also displayed native curiosity, absorptive openness, and enviable spine.”

Van came to Newport in 1977 where he worked for the Oregon Coast Council for the Arts and formed the Red Octopus Theatre Company.  During this time, Van supported his family by working the graveyard shift for many years, first as a janitor at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (where he rejoined old college buddies, forming a janitorial staff with a remarkable collection of degrees and publications) and later as the desk clerk at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (rather fitting, given the hotel’s devotion to literature).

Van and several friends also formed Teatro Mundo, which became renowned for bringing its shows to Oregon State penitentiaries.  During his more than 41 years in Newport Van directed, acted in or inspired numerous shows and taught, mentored and inspired numerous students.

Ten years after arriving in Newport, Van joined the faculty of Oregon Coast Community College when it opened its doors in 1987.  He taught English and film there until shortly before his passing some thirty years later.

In 1998, when he had already been teaching here for 11 years, Van was asked to submit an application for teaching.  Van embraced the process, and provided an extended essay on how he came to teach, and what it meant to him.  In that essay, this is how he spoke of the meaning and  work of teaching:

Our opportunity is to help students perceive their environment, to think about their experience, to articulate their feelings….We do this by reading and discussing writers who do perceive, and think, and feel.

We do it by leading and steering in-class criticism of each other’s work. We do it by example. We do it by fashioning assignments that elicit that kind of activity.

When our students are exercised in this way, they respond as if they had been doing aerobics or tai chi:  they feel better, they want to go further, they are encouraged (i.e., they have been given courage).”

During his 31-year tenure at OCCC, Van shared his knowledge, passion, and remarkable personal character with countless students, colleagues, and friends, giving courage to everyone he encountered along the way.

The Edward van Aelstyn Memorial Scholarship

Van’s family has established a scholarship to benefit OCCC students.  All whose lives were touched by Van are invited to contribute.  You may use the form below or mail your gift to: OCCC Foundation, 400 SE College Way, Newport, OR 97366.

Thank you for joining us in honoring Van’s memory. He will be deeply missed.

Excerpts from Van’s obituary

Edward Arthur “Van” van Aelstyn passed away peacefully on May 23, 2018.  He was at home and two of his children were by his side.  Born on July 18, 1936, Van had a rich life as a theater director and actor, professor of English and film, editor, and activist.  He is survived by his sister, his seven children and seven grandchildren.

Van graduated from St. Martin’s, a Catholic boarding school in Lacey, Washington (now St. Martin’s University) in 1953 at the age of 16 and attended the (Catholic) University of Portland where he earned a B.A. in philosophy in 1957.  Van earned a Doctor of Arts in English and American Literature and Linguistics from University of Oregon, but his passions lay with his extracurricular activities.  He assembled and conducted a 17-piece orchestra, and he was the editor of the University’s Northwest Review.

Van transformed the Northwest Review into a leading literary voice, publishing numerous noted poets.  In writing of Van’s term as editor, David Schneider wrote, “Possessed of an excellent academic record, van Aelstyn also displayed native curiosity, absorptive openness, and enviable spine.”  In 1964 the Northwest Review caught the attention of the political right, especially the National Eagle, a Portland paper prone to using all capitals.  The Oregon State Legislature twice summoned University President Arthur Flemming to testify about it.  Despite letters of support from prominent poets and the formation of a Faculty Committee for Academic Freedom, Flemming removed Van as editor and gave responsibility for the journal to the Faculty Publications Committee.  When that committee promptly reappointed Van as the editor, Flemming suspended the journal altogether.

Toward the end of his graduate studies Van took a job at a nearby school teaching an introductory Shakespeare class, something he had never done before.  In working to stay one step ahead of his class he developed a profound love for Shakespeare, and that flowered into the calling for which he came to be known best: teaching and performing Shakespeare.

In the fall of 1967, right after the Summer of Love, Van became an Associate Professor of English at San Francisco State College (now University), mostly teaching Shakespeare.  In 1969 he joined a union-led faculty strike following a student strike to which the administration of College President (and later U.S. Senator) S.I. Hayakawa had responded by calling in large numbers of police in riot gear, effectively militarizing the campus.  Van later was fired along with most of the faculty that joined the strike.  Unlike most of the others he did not join the lawsuit to regain their positions (which was successful).  Van was disillusioned with academia and in the summer of 1971 moved with his family to a remote cabin in the mountains fifteen miles from Fort Jones, California.  He planned to complete his Ph.D. dissertation and write a book.  A few months later, on a clear fall day with snow on the ground, the cabin burned to the ground and everything was lost, including Van’s manuscript.

For the next six years Van wandered and searched for his way, living in multiple cities while maintaining his passion for Shakespeare and the theater.  In 1977 Van moved to Newport, Oregon, where he ceased his wanderings.  He worked for the Oregon Coast Commission for the Arts, which had hired him based largely on his proposal to form a theater company.  That he soon did, forming the Red Octopus Theater Company.  During this time, Van supported his family by working the graveyard shift for many years, first as a janitor at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (where he rejoined his old college buddies, John Chrisman, Ed Cameron and Dick Kennedy, a janitorial staff with a remarkable collection of degrees and publications) and later the desk clerk at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (rather fitting as the hotel is devoted to literature).

Ten years after arriving in Newport Van joined the faculty of the Oregon Coast Community College when it opened its doors in 1987.  He taught English and film there until shortly before his passing some thirty years later.  Just about his only regret during his final months was that he was unable to finish teaching his final film course.  Van and several friends also formed Teatro Mundo, which became renowned for bringing its shows to Oregon State penitentiaries.  During his more than 41 years in Newport Van directed, acted in or inspired numerous shows and taught, mentored and inspired numerous students.

Van’s approach to theater was unique, as were his productions.  He was proud to call his work amateur, noting that the root of the word is love.  He did this work with and for love – most of all, love for people.  Van persuaded countless people in the community to act for the first time.  His work was of and for the community.  Van was an enthusiastic, knowledgeable and discriminating appreciator and supporter the visual arts and music in addition to theater and literature.  He and others of his generation in Newport did much to revitalize and grow the arts scene here.  That said, perhaps his favorite art form was culinary.  Van loved nothing more than to enjoy a good meal while conversing with friends.  He also was a passionate sports fan, football and basketball in particular (Go Ducks!), and he enjoyed games – mostly cards (bridge, pinochle, hearts), military games, chess and Boggle, a game he rarely lost as he drew on his study of linguistics.

Van came to Newport in 1977 where he worked for the Oregon Coast Commission for the Arts, forming the Red Octopus Theater Company.  During this time, Van supported his family by working the graveyard shift for many years, first as a janitor at the Hatfield Marine Science Center (where he rejoined old college buddies, forming a janitorial staff with a remarkable collection of degrees and publications) and later the desk clerk at the Sylvia Beach Hotel (rather fitting as the hotel is devoted to literature).

Ten years after arriving in Newport Van joined the faculty of the Oregon Coast Community College when it opened its doors in 1987.  He taught English and film there until shortly before his passing some thirty years later.  Just about his only regret during his final months was that he was unable to finish teaching his final film course.  Van and several friends also formed Teatro Mundo, which became renowned for bringing its shows to Oregon State penitentiaries.  During his more than 41 years in Newport Van directed, acted in or inspired numerous shows and taught, mentored and inspired numerous students.