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Chico State

Fond Farewell: English Professor Emeritus Ernst Schoen-Rene

A summer night sky above a lit-up academic building
(Jason Halley / University Photographer)

Professor Emeritus Ernst Schoen-Rene, who taught for 35 years, passed away on October 27, 2023. He was 86 years old.

Born on October 13, 1937, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Schoen-Rene grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Geneva, New York, when his father took the helm of the English department at Hobart and William Smith Colleges. Schoen-Rene attended public schools in Geneva graduating from high school in 1955. As a student, he was an outstanding scholar and was active in theatre, music, track, cross-country, school publications, and student government.

Portrait of Ernst Schoen-Rene wearing his glasses, a jacket, tie, and blue buttoned-down shirt.

He graduated from Yale University in 1959, where he was a member of the Yale Russian Chorus. Schoen-Rene went on to earn a doctorate in English from the University of Washington and joined the Chico State English department in 1970.

Schoen-Rene was a beloved and versatile professor who taught a wide range of subjects, including literature, composition, film, drama, and courses for future educators. The praise of colleagues and students earned him the Outstanding Teacher and Outstanding Academic Advisor awards at Chico State.

“A generalist in the richest sense, Dr. Schoen-Rene has taught an immense variety of subjects during the 14 years he has been at Chico,” wrote professors Margaret Bierly and Carol Burr in a letter of nomination. “Yet, despite his broad range of undertakings, students over the years have continually referred to him as ‘the best teacher I ever had,’ ‘an excellent instructor,’ ‘the ideal teacher,’ and similar appellations. Faculty who have had the opportunity to hear Dr. Schoen-Rene, concur.”

Described as energetic, creative, and inspiring, Schoen-Rene was known to devote himself wholeheartedly to his teaching, working 80 hours a week preparing, teaching, and meeting with students and colleagues. He also made weekly cassette recordings for his students of plays or relevant musical compositions they were studying.

Schoen-Rene was the advisor for hundreds of English students involved in Chico State’s credential program and upper-division liberal studies majors.

English Professor Emeritus Peter Hogue became good friends with Schoen-Rene in graduate school and said Schoen-Rene and his wife, Betty, were the first to greet him and his wife when they moved to Chico in 1971. 

“Ernst was an inspired eccentric, an inventive and resourceful teacher, very devoted to his students and teaching, and actively attuned to all the humanities, especially literature and music, but also art, cinema studies, languages and composition,” Hogue said.

Outside of work, Schoen-Rene attended every play, film, and classical music concert he could. He wrote music reviews for the “Chico News and Review” and wrote the music for a production of Brecht’s Caucasian Chalk Circle. He volunteered in elementary school classrooms, and wrote child-friendly musical versions of Oedipus, Macbeth, The Second Shepherds’ Play, and Hamlet, and catchy lyrics to well-known classical music to teach children. Schoen-Rene also authored more than 50 children’s plays, and composed songs, poems, and choral reading arrangements for elementary school children in Chico.

Schoen-Rene’s sense of commitment and dedication to his community was matched by the kindness and warmth with which he treated those around him.

Schoen-Rene continued to teach at Chico State as a retired annuitant until 2006. He and Betty moved to Kingston, New York. There, he participated in poetry gatherings, play readings, presented courses in art for the Saugerties Lifespring Program (a learning community for adults and retirees), the Musical Society of Kingston, and was active in Holy Cross/Santa Cruz Episcopal Church. He and Betty traveled extensively in England, Germany, Finland, and to the West Coast.

Schoen-Rene is survived by his wife, Betty; sons, Ernst R. Schoen-Rene and Erich Schoen-Rene; daughters-in-law, Jill and Shelly; grandchildren, Laszlo, Neva, and Oscar; his sister, Juliet Baker; brothers, Karl Schoen-Rene and Augustus Schoen-Rene.

Donations in his memory may be made to the Performing Arts of Woodstock, the Woodstock Symphony Orchestra, and the Pendragon Theatre in Saranac Lake.

The University flag will be lowered Tuesday, December 12, in his memory.