John Iverson Toland Jr., a retired sociology professor and former chairman of the department of sociology at Towson University who also volunteered at a Govans food pantry, died Saturday of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, commonly called Lou Gehrig's disease, at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 79.
Dr. Toland was born in Birmingham, Ala., and was raised in Atlanta and Columbia, S.C., where he graduated from high school in 1948.
After serving in the Navy from 1949 to 1951, he served in the Army from 1953 to 1955.
In 1958, Dr. Toland earned a master's degree in sociology from the University of Maryland, College Park, and his doctorate in the discipline, also from UM, in 1969.
"He majored in sociology because it was the only course he got an 'A' in," said his wife of 49 years, the former Elizabeth Ellen Evans.
While earning his master's and doctorate, Dr. Toland worked for three years as a caseworker at Patuxent Institution in Jessup. From 1960 until 1966, he was an instructor in sociology at College Park.
He joined the faculty of what was then Towson State College in 1966 as an assistant sociology professor, and three years later, he was named the first chairman of the newly established sociology department.
"He remained at Towson for 28 years, teaching courses in sociology, criminology and the family while advising hundreds of majors in law enforcement and criminal justice," Mrs. Toland said.
"Jack was the person who was responsible for creating the basis for our criminal justice program back in the 1970s. He made an important contribution to Towson during those burgeoning years of high spirit and growth," said Howard L. Nixon, who was later chairman of the department of sociology.
"He hired people who spent their entire careers at Towson. When I came to Towson, he was the first person I got to know, and he was very helpful to me as a new chair," he said. "He was also a wonderful adviser and took time with students."
Douglas W. Pryor, the current department chairman, said Dr. Toland remained active in the discipline after retirement and continued working with students.
"He was a wonderful colleague and friend, and I talked to him repeatedly for advice," Dr. Pryor said. "He always put his students first. Having his students learn was central to him and what mattered most."
Dr. Toland, who retired in 1994, had lived on Cedarcroft Road for nearly 40 years.
For the past decade, Dr. Toland had been an active volunteer with the CARES (Civic and Religious Emergency Services) food pantry based at St. Mary of the Assumption Roman Catholic Church in Govans. The pantry is sponsored by the Govans Ecumenical Development Corp.
"He used to walk past my house," said Nancy Clark, a Cedarcroft neighbor and longtime GEDCO volunteer. "One time I said, 'Jack, you want to volunteer?' I picked him up that Monday, and he's been here twice a week ever since. And that was 10 years ago."
Dr. Toland's job was to unpack and sort donated food and organize food packages for clients.
"He was well known to our clients. He was friendly and paid attention to them," Mrs. Clark said. "He was extremely reliable and dependable."
Mitchell Posner is executive director of GEDCO and a longtime friend.
"Jack's role was that of a stalwart, and what he did really was a thankless but necessary task," said Mr. Mitchell. "But he put his heart and soul into it because he wanted to help people."
He recalled that no matter how busy he was, Dr. Toland always had a "minute to talk, offer encouragement or make a suggestion for improvements."
Dr. Toland enjoyed spending time at a vacation cabin on the Cacapon River in West Virginia. He also enjoyed his English sheep dogs, Scottish deerhounds and English springer spaniels, family members said.
Dr. Toland was a member of Govans Presbyterian Church, 5828 York Road, where a memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. tomorrow.
Also surviving, are three sons, Daniel I. Toland and Christopher A. Toland, both of Baltimore, and David E. Toland of Madison, Wis.; a daughter, Mary Jo Hoffman of Kent Island; a sister, Jo Heslin, of Port St. Joe, Fla.; and two grandsons.