Stewart Blersch (AB ’67, MA ’68, PhD ’75) first gave to The Ohio University Foundation in 1967, answering the “Class of 1967 Challenge Fund” call and laying groundwork for future gifts.
His generosity spanning five decades, Blersch made the first of several planned gifts supporting student scholarships and awards in 2012. Among these: a $600,000 bequest to create the Roma King & Neville Rogers Scholarship, which allows graduate students to take a break from teaching to focus on writing their theses and dissertations. In 2017, Blersch made a $3,000 gift to this fund to provide immediate student support. The recipient: Allison Combs, a doctorial student in the Department of English.
Originally from Batavia, New York, Combs earned her master’s degree from the University of Mississippi and researches British and American modernism with a focus on animal studies in relation to race, class, sexuality, gender, and disability. The King Rogers Scholarship supported her five-day trip to the Chapin-Horowitz collection of cynogetica (an august word for “dog book”) at the Swem Library at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia.
“The collection was really quite spectacular,” Combs said. “The research award was such a wonderful thing to receive.” The Chapin-Horowitz collection’s cornerstone: the Ioannis Caii Britanni, written in Latin by John Caius and published in 1570, is considered the first complete historiography of the dog.
“Having come upon the book midway through my research, I realized that knowledge concerning the origins of the domesticated dog had not drastically changed until very recently,” she said.
“Financial support was (and still is) imperative to my research,” said Combs, who had been borrowing books from veterinary schools. “… this is no comparison to sitting in an archive with thousands of books at my fingertips. Working in the archives allowed me to follow my nose and trace relationships between people and their dogs. I had access to daybooks, personal journals, artwork, marginal notes, and tangible artifacts—there were moments where I felt like I was a part of their world, like some omniscient observer with a window into a way of life that is otherwise impossible for me to imagine or understand.”
“Having been given this grant was two-fold: it gave my research a sense of importance and value that solidified my dissertation path; and it took my research in new and provocative directions. It was truly a beautiful gift.”
Fifty years prior to Combs’ visit to Williamsburg, Blersch was an OHIO teaching assistant and realized his passion was to be an educator. He went on to a 31-year career as a Professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, retiring in 2007. Blersch met Neville Rogers while studying 19th century poetry in the Honors Tutorial College and Roma King while taking a year-long graduate seminar on 19th century literature.
“I have a real sense of gratitude for Dr. King and Dr. Rogers. They were true inspirations. They were great teachers, and they took a lot of time to help me succeed in graduate school,” Blersch said.