RCAH Remembers John L. Revitte


An older white man with full white beard, wearing glasses and a yellow construction hat while smiling at the camera.

Caption: From the first RCAH Planning Retreat, August 2007, photo by David Cooper


Many of us remember John for his contributions to MSU as a teacher, a strong advocate for faculty rights, and a generous colleague.  He enjoyed honest and engaging conversation inside and outside the classroom. The following individual remembrances are our way of continuing those conversations that John prompted during his time in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities (RCAH).

I remember John as a warm, friendly, and wise presence in the College in those early years.  He knew so much about the ins-and-outs of the University and its administration, viewed through the critical lens of his expertise in labor history – his was a very valuable perspective to hear for a new junior faculty member.  But more than that, he was a warm personality, someone who would stop by my open office door as he walked passed on the way to or from his nearby office, and just talk about stuff, personal, professional, political and everything in between.  A real mensch.
Eric Aronoff

I met John shortly after I started at RCAH, the “year zero” we spent recruiting our first students and faculty.  From the get-go John took a strong interest in our new college, happy to contribute however he could.  Often stopping by for a quick and enjoyable chat, he was a cheerful, friendly, and frequent presence in the dean’s office wing those first few years. 
Carol Cole

I wish I knew the beauty
Of falling leaves
To whom are we beautiful
As we go?
—David Ignatow

John Revitte was level-headed, clear-eyed, and good-hearted—the base elements of a good colleague and friend.  His decency was authentic and unambiguous. 
David Cooper

What I appreciated most about John was his sense of humor and fun. He loved to take random photos of what was going on in RCAH. One day when, late as usual, I had dumped my class notes and books on a desk in my classroom and run off to my office to grab something I had forgotten, John took a picture of the desk with all my stuff on it (much to my students' amusement, of course)! We shared many lunches in the Snyder-Philips cafeteria, and he always had interesting and amusing stories to tell. He also loved to hear stories. His favorite reaction to an anecdote or even the most trivial observation was "fascinating!" I asked him once if he found everything fascinating, and he said something like "Yes, don't you?" 
Deidre Dawson

My remembrance of John combines the personal and the professional. My start at MSU involved a pretty abrupt, and sometimes bewildering, move from local non-profits and political journalism to academia. John’s interest in all these areas really eased my way into MSU. He would frequently stop by my office to check in to see how I was doing and to discuss current issues in mid-Michigan. He was one of my very first friends at MSU and someone I remember fondly. He will be missed.
Vincent Delgado

John represented the quintessential East Lansing volunteer. For years, John attended every art fair and cultural event the city sponsored. At 6:00 a.m. John was always there telling artists where to park and offering his friendship as well as insights into what was happening locally, state-wide, and nationally.
Doug Delind

I had the pleasure of working with John when the RCAH was new and just developing its personality. John and his passion for worker's rights and union history made a strong contribution to this development. I also remember co-teaching a workshop on political engagement and civil rights during Martin Luther King Jr. day many years ago. I was nervous faced with an audience of 30-40 people - mostly Black teenagers and their mentors. John was unflappable - energetic, amusing, informative, and challenging. He facilitated excellent discussions (and taught me quite inadvertently how to do the same).
Laura Delind

John was instrumental in the College’s “Building Stories” program, and he understood the importance of what in RCAH we call the presence of the past (see him pictured above in his RCAH hardhat!). Just one example was the following initiative he organized in 2008 in the very first year of the College. In March John wrote to other units on campus,

On Monday, April 14, 2008, sometime between 3 and 7 p.m. there will be a “memorial” program remembering that Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968, while he was continuing his efforts during what some have termed his “Last Campaign” supporting the 1968 Memphis sanitation’s workers’ strike for justice, respect and higher wages.

The MSU program will be held in the Residential College in the Arts and Humanities’ theatre, in the ground level of Snyder-Phillips.  The approximately 90-minute program will feature viewing of excerpts from a film about the strike and MLK’s role, several speakers and some entertainment.  The program is being sponsored by the RCAH, several other departments, the MSU Office for Inclusion and Intercultural Initiatives, the MSU Coalition of Labor Organizations, and several MSU student organizations.

This MLK program was just one of several ways in which John reminded us of the diversity of labor history and its importance for our work in RCAH.
Steve Esquith

Just as John used to pop into my RCAH office spontaneously, so in more recent years we’d bump into each other unexpectedly around town – encounters that Covid put on pause. These meetings were always pleasant interludes, times to chat about his projects or mine, news of the day, whatever came to mind. During the early years of the RCAH, John brought in ideas for exhibits in LookOut! and the hallway display cases. When I taught sections of The Presence of the Past called Hard Times, which looked at how the arts addressed the upheavals of the Great Depression, he lent me the excellent video he had made about Detroit labor history. This included a section on Diego Rivera’s DIA murals and was a rich addition to the course materials. John was a warm, witty, and generous colleague, and he will be missed. 
Carolyn Loeb

I’m not sure if I ever saw John without a smile. He had a smile that lit up the spaces he entered, and I remember the smile almost as well as the camera that hung from his neck.  He was full of energy, loved to share stories, and listened with a gracious ear.  It’s clear that he impacted so many individuals, and it’s also clear that he made his mark on RCAH’s formative years. I am grateful to have known him.
Kate McGormley

John was generous from the time of our initial meeting at the RCAH retreat at Gull Lake in 2007. His interest and knowledge of Michigan and labor history was profound. I always appreciated speaking to him about the wonderous history of Michigan and its working people.
Dylan Miner

John was also a generous mentor for many of us who were untenured in the early years of the college. 
Terese Guinsatao Monberg

John had what seemed like an endless supply of enthusiasm and energy for RCAH.  He would often stop by for a moment to chat when he’d enter the main office, engaging in various topics revolving around MSU and RCAH and sometimes sharing fun family stories.  He’ll be missed by many.
Pam Newsted

I didn’t have a lot of one-on-one interaction with John in the early days of the college, but I was always aware of his presence among us and how much he added to the life and philosophy of the college.  I will always remember him as a kind and thoughtful colleague.  I don’t think I ever saw him when he didn’t have a smile on his face.
Anita Skeen

I'll always be grateful to him for his kindness, mentorship, and generosity. I enjoyed visiting with him and truly enjoyed learning from him. 
Estrella Torrez

I remember John being very gracious with his time during that period when we were writing by-laws and moving from being a college on paper to being a college in person.
Scot Yoder