By Brandon Scalea
A boy was born to a Dutch mother and a Polish father in Belgium. At the onset of World War II, he was left without parents overnight. Originally a Flemish speaker, he had to learn French quickly in order to survive, hidden, in France until 1945. He learned English, too, by listening to BBC broadcasts on a clandestine radio.
Still, he became the first Ph.D. in a family that did not have any formal education past high school.
The Rider community will be saying goodbye to this man, Dr. Fred Lasser, when he retires later this month after 39 years and one semester as an adjunct professor of English. He was honored by colleagues at a reception on Dec. 3.
Lasser benefited students with his knowledge of the classics, religion and mythology, and for nearly four decades, he made Rider students better writers.
Sophomore secondary education major Alison Alfano recalled her time in CMP 125 with the professor.
“He was an excellent instructor who was knowledgeable in many different fields,” she said. “He kept the class interesting by telling stories and tying biblical and mythological references into his lectures. He brought his passion to the classroom and I really think he enriched all of us.”
Despite his fine qualifications, it was a humorous twist of fate that gave Lasser a job at Rider in the first place.
“After two years of teaching high school, I decided to see if I could get a job elsewhere,” he said. “Rider had a chair of the English department back then named Paul Sher. We were on the phone for about two hours, and he detected some sort of French accent in me. We ended up having a conversation in French, where he never asked me once about teaching English. He said he wanted someone to speak French with during lunch, so I was hired.”
Before earning his Ph.D. in comparative literature from Rutgers in 1979, Lasser studied at a number of schools in New York City.
Showing knowledge in several different fields, Lasser made it clear that he did not originally plan to teach English.
“I majored in Greek and Latin; who teaches that nowadays? So that was out. I minored in philosophy; did I really want to teach philosophy, though?” he said. “Now, I didn’t have enough credit to teach anything besides English. I studied English in graduate school, but I had to make up some courses. Two years later, colleges decided to do away with the requirement for foreign language. My whole field is killed. Then, I was left with English.”
Before beginning his career as a teacher, Lasser worked as a social worker in the Department of Social Services in New York. A few years later, he began to teach college graduates social welfare legislation and report writing.
As a result of his work, he received an annual scholarship of $10,000 to attend the Graduate School of Social Work at NYU, though he chose the City College of New York instead.
In 1972, he began what would be a 27-year career as a part-time lecturer at Rutgers, where he taught literature courses that would include modern drama and existentialism. Lasser also taught several English courses including war and ethics, Holocaust studies and urban studies.
Much of the same was done at Rider, where he started as an adjunct in 1976.
“I had been upgraded over the years to a priority adjunct and an assistant professor,” he said. “I did function as a full-timer for many of the years even though I was legally considered part-time. I taught six courses per year for many of the years. When I divided my time between here and Rutgers, I was teaching 12-14 courses per year.”
Outside of his work as a teacher, Lasser wrote numerous papers, including academic grant proposals, publications, works for the theater, screenplays and even musical pieces. In 1969, he won the Jerome Lowell DeJur Award for his first novel, The Excommunication.
In 1980, he wrote the book for Fortune and Fame: Do or Die, a musical that was performed off-Broadway the following year. His most recent works include a series of 40 Shakespearean sonnets to which he added nine original illustrations called Requiem to Samson.
After a nearly four-decade-long chapter at Rider, Lasser insisted that although he is parting ways with this career, a new career will begin for him.
“It is as if I just walked into Rider yesterday,” he said. “But much work is left to be done. I’ve always been very much into the art because I have a musical background. I’d like to start publishing heavily. I also have a series of works from 1968 to 1978 that I had not seen for 30 years; they were tucked away between dusty pages of The New York Times that my cat took an interest in. All of a sudden, here were my paintings and collages from that time. I would like to have these reproduced.”
Lasser will retire when the Fall 2015 semester ends on Dec. 23, and this new chapter will begin.