Kenneth N. Brostrom
February 18,1939—March 31, 2020
Professor Kenneth Norman Brostrom, 81, of Saline, MI passed away on March 31, 2020.
A longtime Saline resident whose three children attended Saline Area Schools, Kenneth’s love for nature and community was evidenced by his work in several local leadership roles including Pittsfield Township Park Commissioner and Pittsfield Township Trustee – a position he held until 2008.
“We were all heartbroken at the news of Ken’s passing,” observed Christina Lirones, who worked alongside Ken for several years in her role as Pittsfield Township Treasurer. “Ken loved nature and he cared about community. He was instrumental in everything we did, and the Township purchase of the beautiful 535-acre Pittsfield Preserve to set aside historic natural habitat, parks for recreation, and other township facilities was among our most important achievements.”
Family and friends also recall the importance of church community in Ken’s life, and his passion for promoting inclusion and diversity through various interfaith service roles in his community. “Ken was a man of wisdom and integrity,” comments Jonathan Wynne, an author and Team Chaplain for the Detroit Pistons, recalling his ten years working alongside Kenneth through their respective roles on the Board of Samaritan Community Development Corporation, an outreach ministry of Labor of Love Church in Pittsfield Township. Wynne also noted Ken’s support and encouragement for initiatives including an annual golf event to raise money for youth programs and Ken’s facilitation of a gospel concert at First United Methodist Church in Ann Arbor, where Ken was an active member since the 1970s.
Kenneth delighted in spending time with his beloved children and grandchildren. His daughter, Jennifer Allison Brostrom (pen name Jennifer Allison), was inducted into the Saline High School Hall of Fame in 2019 for her work as an author of novels for young readers – an event Kenneth was proud to attend and celebrate. Kenneth’s son Matt Brostrom is a Physical Therapist based in South Lyon, and his son Mark Brostrom is a prosecuting attorney based in Westminster, CO. Kenneth is also survived by his brother Gordon Brostrom, his nephew (and godson) and Greg Brostrom, his niece Erika Lostaunau, and many friends who became family, including his godson Brandon Willis of Ann Arbor.
Kenneth’s six grandchildren -- Maximus (16), Gigi (13), Marcus (13), Abrianna (11), Isaac (8), and Daniel (5)—cherish memories of a generous and loving grandfather who always had time to take them to amusement parks, restaurants, Dairy Queen or the swimming pool; who always remembered their birthdays; who always had time to play a game or read a story; and whom they will always remember with a deep love.
Kenneth was born February 18, 1939, the son of Harold Brostrom and Nettie Alvina Marie Wolf of Rapid City, South Dakota. Living at the edge of the Black Hills of South Dakota during his elementary school years, he and his younger brother Gordon spent countless hours far from home, running free in the pine forests and climbing a huge, twenty-foot high boulder that they named “Castle Rock.”
Harold Brostrom, Kenneth’s father, worked for Western Union, and a series of promotions led to the family’s relocation to Duluth, and then to Omaha, Nebraska, where Kenneth attended high school. Kenneth’s mother, Nettie, was a talented seamstress who often made her own clothes during wartime in the 1940s. Nettie was also an avid gardener throughout her life – a skill that Kenneth carried on in his adulthood.
Kenneth played Varsity Basketball at North High School in Omaha. He also played on the tennis team and participated extensively in music: he played tuba in the band, bass in the orchestra, and sousaphone in the marching band. Following high school graduation in 1957, Kenneth attended Cornell University in New York on a scholarship.
After completing his undergraduate degree in history, Kenneth attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to complete an MA in History followed by his PhD in Slavic Languages and Literatures. During this time, Kenneth met Paula Allison, a music student attending Depauw University in Indiana, who would become his wife of more than fifteen years and mother of their three children. The two married in 1965, and their first child, Jennifer Allison, was born in 1966. Paula and Kenneth divorced during the 1980s, but Kenneth maintained a close co-parenting relationship and friendship with both Paula and her husband Barry England (also Saline residents) throughout his life.
In 1967, Kenneth received a Fulbright Fellowship to study with acclaimed Russian literature translator Max Hayward at Oxford University. Accompanied by Paula and their baby, Kenneth boarded a ship bound for England, and eventually settled into a row house in the Jericho neighborhood of Oxford. While overseas, Paula and Kenneth traveled throughout Europe while Kenneth completed his PhD dissertation on the Russian dissident author Boris Pil’njak. Promoting an awareness and understanding of artists who persevered amidst the dangers and restrictions of a totalitarian state would remain an important aspect of Kenneth’s scholarship, translation, and teaching throughout his career.
Among Kenneth’s noteworthy scholarship is his 1979 translation of Archpriest Avvakum: The Life Written by Himself, the autobiography of a seventeenth century Russian Orthodox priest, which remains widely read by students of Russian as a cornerstone of Russian literature, to be reissued in a new edition by Colombia University Press in 2021.
“Moscow in the middle of the seventeenth century had a distinctly apocalyptic feel,” the Press copy states. “An outbreak of the plague killed half the population. A solar eclipse and comet appeared in the sky, causing panic. Brostrom’s translation of The Life Written by Himself is not only an important historical document but also an emotionally charged and surprisingly conversational self-portrait of a crucial figure in a tumultuous time.”
In 1976, Kenneth accepted a faculty position at Wayne State University, where he taught for more than forty years. “Ken genuinely loved teaching, and he played an important role in our success at WSU,” comments Don Haase, Professor Emeritus of German, recalling Kenneth’s innovative approach to creating and teaching interdisciplinary courses including “Russian & East European Film,” and “New Soil, Old Roots: The Immigrant Experience.” “Unfailingly collegial, kind, smart, level-headed, hard-working, and always operating in good faith, Ken was a devoted colleague and friend to all,” Haase added. “Always kind and empathetic, he had the respect and affection of colleagues, staff, and students.”
Former WSU student Alexandra Lemieux remembers signing up for Prof. Brostrom’s Slavic Film course during the fall of her freshman year: “It ended up being one of my favorite courses in my undergrad years, and it shaped the rest of my time at WSU,” she comments. “Because of the incredibly interesting class discussions and the ways Professor Brostrom would constantly inspire and challenge our perceptions and interpretations, I ended up taking multiple Russian language and culture courses, including another great course taught by Prof. Brostrom that focused Eastern European short stories.”
Many WSU students remember Professor Brostrom’s mentorship and help in support of their career goals. “Because of his support throughout my academic career,” Lemieux notes, “Professor Brostrom was one of the people I was most excited to notify of my acceptance into medical school.”
WSU faculty member Alina Klin echoed this sentiment: “Over thirty years, Kenneth offered me valuable professional and personal guidance and support. I will dearly miss his warmth, cordiality, wisdom, compassion, political insight, and wonderful stories.”
Many of Kenneth’s coworkers fondly remember their colleague’s infectious humor and his penchant for entertaining friends with stories from years past. “Sometimes he just couldn’t stop laughing as he told a story!” Louise Speed, former head of WSU’s Munich study abroad program, recalls. She also remembered how Kenneth walked with a cane in his later years following a hip replacement surgery, sometimes stopping by to rest and chat in her office on the way to his own office. “We would talk about everything under the sun,” she said, noting that she often appreciated his film recommendations. “He had a keen critical eye for good TV and films – unsurprisingly, since he taught Slavic film for so many years.”
In 2016, WSU students and faculty honored Kenneth for his forty years of devoted service and dedication to teaching. Addressing students and his colleagues, Kenneth described the opportunity to teach and to explore serious ideas as a source of joy -- “a true blessing.” He reflected: “I’ve often thought that at its best, in the classroom, it is a sacred thing that’s going on.”