Written by Lucero Benitez, COSS Communications Specialist

Fresno State’s beloved former history department faculty member, chair and former dean of the College of Social Sciences Dr. Peter J. Klassen, passed away on March 25 at the age of 88.

Dr. Klassen was a professor, scholar and administrator at Fresno State for 30 years. He joined the university faculty in 1966 and retired at the end of the 1996-97 academic year. He served as Interim dean of (then) School of Social Sciences in 1978-79, and was appointed dean from 1979 to 1997, through which he remained active in teaching and research. Klassen was an expert on European Reformation history and was appointed professor emeritus in 2002.

Soon after he became dean, he published his second book (The Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia) and later published many additional books and articles including a recent book, Mennonites in Early Modern Poland and Russia. He taught courses on Early Modern Europe and the United States and gave many invited talks and conference presentations on the history of Mennonites in Germany and in the United States.

Under his leadership, several new and exciting programs developed and others were strengthened. Chicano and Latin American Studies was formed into its own department and there was major development of anthropological-archaeological projects.

 “He was a wonderful scholar and a lovely human being and he will be very much missed. He was passionate about giving students opportunities to study abroad and to meet students and faculty from other countries,” College of Social Sciences dean Dr. Michelle DenBeste said. “When I was new faculty he took me out to lunch and always wanted to talk about my travels and my research.”  In recent years, he attended a number of emeriti events and gave a regular scholarship for students to study abroad. As a result of his generosity at least ten students were able to travel to Russia, to Cuba, and to Germany.

Klassen provided bridges from the university to the larger community. He served as President of the Fresno Historical Society, President of Sister Cities Council, was a member of the Board of the California Humanities Council and a member of numerous other committees and community boards.

He loved teaching, traveling, writing, reading and his family. He cherished his Mennonite heritage and the church was central to his life. He is survived by wife Nancy Klassen, sons Kent, Kevin, Bryan; grandchildren Josh, Nicole, Michael, Taylor, Sabrina, Samantha, Henry and Margaret.

A celebration of life for Dr. Klassen will be held Saturday, April 6 at 1:30 p.m. at Willow Avenue Mennonite Church, 2529 Willow Avenue, Clovis.