Rolf Muuss, former Goucher College professor and author, dies

Rolf Muuss was the author of the textbook "Theories of Adolescence."
Rolf Muuss was the author of the textbook "Theories of Adolescence." (Handout / HANDOUT)

Well into his 90s, Rolf Eduard Helmut Muuss contemplated the major and minor events of his life. At 92, the author of the textbook “Theories of Adolescence” and more than 100 research studies and articles in medical, psychological and educational publications, wrote a memoir that spanned 29 pages.

“He was a professor, and he still kind of liked lecturing a lot,” said his daughter, Gretchen Frensemeier. “He loved operas, and when he was up to it, he often had people over on Fridays in the evenings for operas, and he would research the operas and give a little preamble to them about the operas. I think it was his way of still being a professor teaching a class. So I think it was just his way of doing things. He couldn’t write any more books on theories of adolescence or things like that. It was the one thing he could still write a book on.”


Dr. Muuss (pronounced “moose”), the Professor Emeritus of Education at Goucher College, where he worked for 36 years, died July 3 at the University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson of heart failure. He would have turned 96 on Sept. 26.

John Rose, who chaired the college’s Department of Philosophy until he retired in 2019, credited Drs. Muuss, Eli Velder, Jane L. Morrell and Barbara W. Gould with defining the school’s identity.


“Goucher was the place to go for a degree in education in the state of Maryland,” Dr. Rose said. “It was nationally renowned because of the work that Rolf and Eli and Jane and Barbara did. He was really an expert in special education and consulted for the Kreiger Institute.”

Dr. Muuss was the youngest of three children born in Tating, Germany, to the former Else Osterwald, a nurse, and Rudolf A. Muuss, a Lutheran minister. When his mother died in 1929 from breast cancer, his father remarried and had three more children.

Dr. Muuss’ perspective was shaped by the Great Depression, which hit Germany hard.

“It made him become very frugal,” his daughter said. “It was very hard to get him to throw anything out. It definitely made him much of a saver. He never got rid of anything.”

After participating in a nine-month Teacher Training Program arranged by the Office of Education in Washington, D.C., Dr. Muuss immigrated to the United States in 1953. He graduated with a master’s degree in education from what was then Western Maryland College in Westminster in 1954 and a doctorate in educational psychology from the University of Illinois in 1957.

While working as a research assistant professor at the University of Iowa, Dr. Muuss was invited in 1959 to interview for an opening at Goucher.

“When at the end of the day I was asked: ‘What will it take to entice you to come to Goucher?’ I answered rather frivolously, not really expecting a positive reply: ‘the rank of associate professor,’ ” he wrote. “That is how my 36-year professional career at Goucher began.”

Frona Brown, an assistant professor of education for Goucher’s Center for Education, Business and Professional Studies Faculty, graduated from the university with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1965, but met Dr. Muuss for the first time when she began teaching there in 1985.

“At first, you thought he was this big, stern German professor and a little intimidating,” Dr. Brown said of Dr. Muuss, who stood 6 feet, 2 inches tall. “I met him because I was hired to teach in the education department, where he was an icon. I realized after a while, that he was really a big teddy bear, not an intimidating man.”

Dr. Rose, who had known Dr. Muuss since the fall of 1980 when he was hired by Goucher and moved into an office two doors away from Dr. Muuss’ on the second floor of Van Meter Hall, said Dr. Muuss was one of the first people to translate the works of existential philosophers such as France’s Jean-Paul Sartre and Germany’s Martin Heidegger for American audiences. He also befriended colleagues and students alike and sought to make a positive impression.

“I remember that he had a collection of neckties that he hung on a hook in his office that were already tied up,” Dr. Rose said. “So when he’d go out to a faculty meeting, he’d throw one of those on. One day, I said, ‘Rolf, I forgot my tie,’ and this was back when we wore suits and ties in class. He said, ‘Here, have one of mine, John.’ ”

Dr. Muuss’ doctoral dissertation became the basis for “Theories of Adolescence,” which was first published in 1962 and republished five more times. The textbook was translated into Dutch, Hebrew, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Spanish and Chinese.


Dr. Brown, who helped edit the fifth edition, said Dr. Muuss — who was naturalized in 1992 — enjoyed the educational process.

“He wanted to teach,” she said. “He wanted to help you learn.”

Dr. Muuss developed a strong friendship with Dr. Velder, a Jewish American who fought for the Allied Forces, and the pair learned they were on opposite sides of a river during one battle.

“They sat down and had one conversation,” Dr. Rose recalled. “They said, ‘Look, we were on opposite sides of this, but I want you to know that I don’t hold anything against you,’ and vice versa. They said that to each other. The foremost thing was they were going to become colleagues to one another and support one another in their common shared values. It was beautiful. They had this one conversation, and from that day forward, they were fast friends.”

When Dr. Velder died in April, Dr. Muuss wrote a eulogy that Dr. Brown delivered at Dr. Velder’s memorial.

“Faculty scuttlebutt circulated questioning whether an Orthodox Jew and a former pilot of the Luftwaffe could work together,” wrote Dr. Muuss, who retired from Goucher in 1995. “However, contrary to such dire predictions, we quickly became trusting and supporting colleagues, thanks to Eli’s open-mindedness and tolerance. He accepted me without any recrimination and became my model and I often turned to him for guidance.”

Mrs. Frensemeier said her father and mother, the former Gertrude Kremser, who married her husband on Dec. 22, 1953, in Santa Monica, California, expected her and her older brother, Michael, to bring home A’s and B’s. Even as a senior at Goucher in 1982-1983, Mrs. Frensemeier was not immune to advice from her father.

“In my last year, my father told me, ‘You are taking a computer class because computers are the wave of the future,’ ” she recalled. “So I did take a computer class, but I didn’t like computers because that’s what my brother was into. As it turned out, that’s what I did with my career as I became a computer accounting specialist, and it’s all because my father told me that I had to take one computer class.”

Mrs. Muuss died of cancer in 1999, and Michael Muuss died in a car accident a year later.

A private funeral for Dr. Muuss was held July 8, and he was buried next to his wife and near his son at Dulaney Valley Memorial Gardens in Cockeysville.


In addition to his daughter, Dr. Muuss is survived by one brother, Uwe Muuss of Altenholz, Germany, and one half-brother, Hans Muuss of Langenhorn, Germany.

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