Please remember in your prayers Dr. Harry Webb, a photographer, filmmaker and associate professor of education whose association with the University of St. Thomas spanned half a century.
Webb had been living at the Minnesota Veterans home and in his final years had Alzheimer’s. He died Saturday, Aug. 16, at age 94.
Visitation was held from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, Aug. 25, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church, 2300 Hamline Ave. N., Roseville. His funeral was held there at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 26. Visitation also was held for an hour prior to the service; a luncheon followed.
Born in 1919 in Philadelphia, where he graduated from high school, Webb served in the Air Force and later studied social science, communications, audio-visual education and photography at the University of Minnesota, where he earned his bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate.
By the time he came to St. Thomas in 1954, he already had been involved in the production of two dozen educational films covering subjects that ranged from trout to Seminole Indians. He was hired as an associate professor of education and director of the college’s Audio-Visual Center. As part of the job, he directed the campus film club and the photography department, which provided images for The Aquin student newspaper, the Aquinas yearbook and public relations.
A 1954 article in The Aquin introduced Webb to the St. Thomas community. “By spring, Webb hopes to have set up courses in photography and audio-visual,” the story said. “Because of the growth of still photography and films in business and especially in television, he feels that both these courses will equip students with useful tools for future vocations.”
Seven years later an Aquin article described another of Webb’s duties: filming football games.
“The football cameraman is hoisted up 40 or 50 feet where the wind velocity is three times that on the playing field,” he was quoted as saying. “I remember an impossible night when (Frank) Deig was coaching the team against Gustavus, away. The weather was so bad that there was no one in our stands and six on the Gustavus side. And there I was, up on the roof making films.
“It’s like holding your cheek next to an ice cube and watching the game through a keyhole,” he said.
While records show that Webb retired in 1995, he remained a frequent sight on campus for many more years. In 1998, St. Thomas published Faces of St. Thomas: Dr. Harry Webb Photographs 1954-1998, which he dedicated “To my dear wife, Lois, and to my colleagues who have taught me so much over the years.”
While Webb took thousands of photographs of St. Thomas life, the ones he selected for his book were formal or candid portraits of colleagues, many of them friends he had known for decades.
(Copies of the book are available free at the University Relations receptionist’s office on the fifth floor of Loras Hall on the south campus. If you’d like a free copy delivered via campus mail, call University Relations at (651) 962-6405.)
Mike Ekern, the university’s director of photography, said Webb was “an excellent photographer. The sheer volume of his collection and quality of his work, which included formal portraits as well as photographs taken during unguarded moments, shows how much he valued this place. The people here were important to Harry, and he took the time to photograph them.”
Ekern’s predecessor, Roger Rich, was hired by Webb in 1970 and spent the next 37 years taking photographs for the university.
“Harry was very friendly and he liked to spend time visiting with people before he took their picture,” Rich said. “He liked to get to know the subjects he was photographing. He also was very particular and took a lot of time setting up a shot.
“Years ago we’d set up very bright lights to take portrait shots. The lights created quite a bit of heat and the subjects would sometimes start sweating, so Harry had a makeup kit and would use pancake powder on them so they wouldn’t glisten.”
In addition to always wearing a bowtie, Webb also was known for the breakfasts he’d make in the office. “He made toast every morning, and sometimes he’d open a can of sardines as well,” Rich said.
Webb created many of the portraits of faculty members who were selected for the annual Professor of the Year Award. Those are displayed on the third floor of the Anderson Student Center, and many are included in his Faces of St. Thomas book.
Paul Hague, a longtime member of the English faculty, wrote in the forward to Faces of St. Thomas: “On the edge of the next century, the University of St. Thomas flourishes: new buildings, new courses, new directions. The future beckons. But to a small – and shrinking – band of faculty and staff, looking backward perhaps holds as much attraction as looking forward even to the brightest tomorrow.
“Harry’s pictures are a gift and a blessing to all who were part of an earlier St. Thomas. They are published here at a good time – before the memories fade.”
Bill Kirchgessner, a former member of the University Relations staff who worked with Webb on Faces of St. Thomas, wrote in the book that after coming to St. Thomas in 1954, “Harry quickly established himself as the number-one proponent for instructional media services and the advantages of using media in teaching.
“That got him into the classroom, where he forged strong ties and fast friendships with the faculty. It was this – that he lived and worked among these people – that enabled him to capture on film the rich, colorful personalities of the people who make up the St. Thomas community.”
Tom Webb, one of Harry’s sons, wrote that his father “was blessed with a long life — 94 years — and spent it looking at every glass half-full, usually with a smile on his face.
“He played a lot of roles in his lifetime: college professor, filmmaker, extraordinary photographer, delighted grandfather, amateur painter, overzealous pruner, World War II serviceman, book author, wacky food devotee and, especially, loving husband and father. Even in his final years, as his sharp mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s and his world narrowed, he never forgot his bride of 60 years and their four children. And they never forgot him. I have been endlessly impressed by the love and devotion shown by my mother, and by each of my siblings, during my dad’s long and difficult decline.”
Webb is survived by his wife, Lois, of Falcon Heights; son Bill (Sue) of Edina, son Tom (Trevor) of St. Paul, daughter Nancy (Dennis) of Green Valley, Ariz., and son David (Julie) of Shoreview; a brother, Clarence, and sister, Jane, both of Philadelphia; and 10 grandchildren. His three sons hold undergraduate degrees from St. Thomas (classes of 1977, 1979 and 1985) and David holds a St. Thomas doctorate.