Joseph Wilson, professor emeritus of German studies, dies at 89

Rice alumnus Joseph Wilson, professor emeritus of German studies, died July 21 in Winchester, Texas. He was 89.

Joseph Wilson photo

Joseph Wilson

A native Houstonian, Wilson devoted most of his career to Rice, where he taught from 1954 until his retirement in 1998.

With a strong interest in German, Swedish and Old Germanic languages and literature, the Sid Richardson College member earned a Bachelor of Arts in German from Rice in 1950. He spent a year at the University of Stockholm and then returned to Rice, where he completed a Master of Arts in German in 1953.

After joining the Rice faculty in 1954 as an instructor of German, he became an assistant professor in 1957, an associate professor in 1963 and a full professor in 1986. For a couple of years he studied at Stanford University, where he earned a Ph.D. in German in 1960.

As the recipient of Humboldt Fellowships, Wilson was able to study for long periods in Kiel and Marburg, both in Germany. He also made research visits to East Germany, Denmark and Iceland. He published many works on the German language, Old Germanic languages and the German languages of Texas, including “The German Language in Central Texas Today” and “The Texas German of Lee and Fayette Counties,” papers that appeared in “Rice Institute Pamphlet Rice University Studies.”

After retiring, Wilson continued his research in languages by translating the German and Wendish church records at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Serbin, Texas. He also was engaged in the archaeology of German and Wendish settlements in Texas, even on his own ranch in Winchester, where he discovered a Clovis point, a prehistoric tool made by natives of North America more than 10,000 years ago.

Klaus Weissenberger, professor of German studies, remembers Wilson as “an enthusiastic colleague and precise scholar of German philology.”

Wilson is survived by his wife, Adele Herbrich Wilson, to whom he was married for more than 70 years; his children, Lucy Cundiff of Centerville, Mass.; Carolyn and husband Wayne Kellam of Bryan, Texas; Janet and husband James Kaiser of Belton, Texas; and Mark Wilson and wife Alice of Winchester; and nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Aug. 3 at St. Michael’s Lutheran Church, 700 Frio St., in Winchester. Burial will follow in the church cemetery.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Texas Wendish Heritage Society, St. Michael’s Lutheran Church in Winchester, the American Red Cross or a charity of your choice. A tribute page is posted on the Phillips and Luckey Funeral Home site.

About B.J. Almond

B.J. Almond is senior director of news and media relations in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.