As he approached his 92nd birthday, Sam Baron, Carolina Meadows resident and retired UNC History professor, had no idea he would soon receive invitations for guest appearances from two quite different organizations a world apart.
It all began when Dr. Baron was invited to be a special guest at the fiftieth reunion of the Grinnell College Class of 1963. Baron had taught history from 1956-1966 at this small private, liberal arts college in central Iowa. Remembering him as one of their favorite instructors, organizers of the reunion agenda invited him, at their expense, to return to Iowa to join with them in celebrating this milestone occasion.
At the Grinnell reunion, Dr. Baron was lionized with full V.I.P. treatment and participated in a variety of events focusing primarily on the graduates’ reminiscences of memorable academic moments. One of the graduates, Marilyn, told how she had been enamored with Baron’s course on the History of Western Civilization, specifically the readings and discussions of the great books. She recalled a class assignment where students were assigned to write a paper. Because of her enthusiasm, she invested considerable time and effort preparing her essay. However, she became concerned when her graded paper was not returned along with those of the others students. It seemed she had been so totally immersed in the readings she had mistakenly signed her paper Machiavelli, rather than Marilyn.
Baron considers himself most fortunate to have received this rewarding invitation which enabled him to become reacquainted with his students of fifty years ago and to revisit favorite haunts in this idyllic Iowa community.
Meanwhile, in far off St. Petersburg, Russia, another group, Dom Plekhanova, was preparing to honor Dr. Baron for his contributions to Russian history. In the early 1950’s, while studying for his doctorate at Columbia University, Baron had written his dissertation on the first Marxist revolutionary group in Russia, and its leader, G.V.Plekhanov. Several years later, Baron completed a full-length biography on this subject, titled, Plekhanov: the Father of Russian Marxism, which was published by Stanford University Press. The book was translated into Spanish, Japanese and Russian, the last after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
This book, together with Baron’s lifetime interest in Russia, and his research time living in major Russian cities, resulted in a second unexpected invitation. As 2013 is the 150th anniversary of The Emancipation of Labor Group, a special conference was scheduled in St. Petersburg in September to commemorate the occasion. Because of his familiarity with Plekhanov, the original leader of the organization, Baron was invited to give a lecture at the conference. Although he knew this could be the journey of a lifetime, he reluctantly concluded that a trip of this magnitude was too much for a man of his years.
However, at his Russian hosts’ request, Baron prepared a videotape of his lecture to be used in lieu of his actual appearance at the conference. The video was produced at Carolina Meadows by residents Jim Butcher and Frank Baine and sent to St. Petersburg for the conference. While he admits disappointment at being unable to attend the event in person,Baron says he feels honored to have been invited and proud to have been able to participate via videotape.
Ninety-two year old Baron looks back on 2013 as a most satisfying year, grateful for his good health and his many opportunities for intellectual activity and enriching interaction with his many friends at Carolina Meadows.
Photo: Sam Baron, second row center, with Grinnell College Class of ’63