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Dean Esslinger, Towson history professor who spearheaded the university’s international exchange program, dies

Dean Esslinger, a Towson University history professor who started an international faculty exchange program, died Sept. 5 at a Towson assisted living community of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 81.

“He was really easygoing and had a very quick, dry wit but was quiet,” said his daughter, Regina Esslinger Hall of Baltimore. “He was very capable and calm. He was a happy man. He was always a happy man.”

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Born in Clifton, Kansas, he was the son of Lucy Esslinger, a homemaker, and Firmin Esslinger, a businessperson. Mr. Esslinger met his wife of 59 years, Sandra, at what was then Clifton High School and graduated from the University of Kansas in 1964. He earned a master’s degree and a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Notre Dame.

After graduate school, Mr. Esslinger moved to Towson in 1968 to teach U.S. history at what was then Towson State College, where he worked for 38 years until retirement. He acted as the director of faculty development and later created the university’s international faculty exchange program, becoming an associate vice president for International Programs. It started when Mr. Esslinger took a trip to China in 1985.

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He “made some connections with universities there and brought some Chinese faculty to Towson to teach,” Ms. Hall said. “And then [Towson] sent some of their faculty to China and then that opened up to other countries as well. So there were exchange programs in Germany and Poland and Korea and Japan.”

“Then some of the other Maryland state universities used that as a model to do the same thing,” Ms. Hall said. “So it became a program throughout several local state universities.”

Mr. Esslinger wrote five books about Maryland, including a high school textbook, a history of Friends School for the Baltimore Quaker school’s 200th anniversary, and a history of Towson University. He contributed to other books.

“His Ph.D. and his field of study was on immigration. And Baltimore was one of the biggest ports of entry on the East Coast for immigrants, second to New York City,” Ms. Hall said. “When he started working at Towson he really dug into learning more about Maryland history.”

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As a professor, Mr. Esslinger taught that history is about people’s individual stories, not just dates and names. “There’s always something interesting to learn by listening to people’s stories,” Ms. Hall said.

Dean Esslinger loved watching sports, especially the University of Kansas men’s basketball team and Notre Dame football.

During his time at Towson University, Mr. Esslinger was the president of the Maryland International Education Association and served on several committees designating overseas cities as sister states to Maryland, such as the board of the Maryland Sister State Program. Sister states are cultural and business exchange programs.

After he retired, Mr. Esslinger worked for the Maryland Higher Education Commission as a special assistant to the secretary.

Mr. Esslinger loved watching sports, especially the University of Kansas men’s basketball team and Notre Dame football. He enjoyed golfing, attending Orioles games, and playing handball and racquetball with his regular group. Mr. Esslinger traveled the world and visited Asia and Europe multiple times.

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“Nothing made him happier than being with his kids,” Ms. Hall said. “He came to all of our sports games, his kids and all of his grandchildren’s sports games and plays and performances.”

In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Esslinger is survived by two sons, Joel Esslinger of Winchester, Virginia, and Carey Esslinger, of Towson; five grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews. He is also survived by his sisters, Mary Ann Martin of Clay Center, Kansas, and Donna Loomis, of Littleton, Colorado. He was preceded in death by his brother, Dennis Esslinger.

A service was held Tuesday at Ruck Funeral Home in Towson.


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