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Franz Samelson

Franz Samelson
Franz Samelson, 91, a professor emeritus of psychology at Kansas State University, died Monday, March 16, at Meadowlark Hills Retirement Community in Manhattan.

He was born Sept. 23, 1923 in Breslau, Germany (now Wroclaw, Poland). His parents—one of Protestant and one of Jewish background—were both doctors.

He spent his childhood in Breslau and graduated from Gymnasium (high school) there. Because Nazi laws wouldn’t allow him to attend the university, he moved to Munich to attend photography school and worked in a factory with prisoners of war. After the war, he worked for the U.S. Army and earned a diploma in psychology at the University of Munich in 1952.

He immigrated to the United States in 1952, joining his brother Hans and their mother in Ann Arbor, Mich., and continuing his graduate studies in psychology at the University of Michigan, from which he earned his Ph.D. in 1956. He became a U.S. citizen in 1958.

He met his future wife, Phoebe, through the university’s outing club. They married in 1955 and would have marked their 60th anniversary in June. They had one daughter, Karen, to whom he was devoted.

In 1957 they moved to Manhattan, where he taught social psychology for more than 30 years. His scholarly work focused on the history of American psychology and analyses of the discipline's development, including the evolution and impact of American psychological and intelligence testing. He was an active and esteemed member of Cheiron, the international society for the history of behavioral and social sciences.

He was deeply concerned about both community issues and world affairs. His experiences in Nazi Germany gave him a profound distrust of nationalism and militarism and a strong belief in social justice. In the 1960s he was an early participant in Manhattan’s Human Relations Council, which campaigned for fair housing and other forms of racial equality. He also was a member of the Manhattan Alliance for Peace and Justice.

After his retirement he was active in RSVP senior tax advising, Habitat for Humanity, the Manhattan Arts Center and the Kansas Bach Choir. He and Phoebe loved to travel, in later years joining Elderhostel programs in the U.S. an abroad.

Through Phoebe he was a longtime friend of the Konza Prairie and the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Manhattan.

Mountains provided a place of solace during the war years, leading to a love of skiing, hiking, mountain climbing and camping. He was an avid sailor on Tuttle Creek Reservoir and longtime member of the Blue Valley Yacht Club. He also enjoyed ice skating, bicycling, soccer, gardening and reading. He was a true Renaissance man.

Survivors include his wife, Phoebe, daughter, Karen Samelson, of Milwaukee, and nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by brothers Hans and Klaus.

A private family service will be held at a later date.

Memorial contributions to the KONZA Environmental Education Program through KSU are suggested. Contributions may be left in care of the Yorgensen-Meloan-Londeen Funeral Home, 1616 Poyntz Avenue, Manhattan, Kansas 66502.

Online condolences may be left for the family by clicking on "Send Condolences" on this page.

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