Skip to main content

A tribute to Vernon Pohlmann (1920-2020)

Dr. Vernon Pohlmann

Dr. Vernon Pohlmann

Dr. Vernon Pohlmann (1920–2020), professor emeritus of sociology, will be fondly remembered for his service to Illinois State University as well as to his community, his country, his God, and mankind.

Pohlmann served his country in World War II, where he earned two Bronze Stars and rank of captain prior to an honorable discharge. Following that service, he attained a B.A., M.A. and Ph.D. from Washington University in St. Louis.

While in St. Louis, he taught in the public school system and served as budget director. Through research and fieldwork in St. Louis, Pohlmann and a colleague examined the cost to society of segregated education and produced a groundbreaking report that was cited by Thurgood Marshall during the pivotal 1954 Supreme Court case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, in which state laws permitting the racial segregation of schools were declared unconstitutional.

While Pohlmann believed that his part in this advancement for racial equality in education was his greatest achievement, his imprint did not stop there. In 1955 he began his career at Illinois State University. While on faculty at Illinois State, President Dr. Robert Bone asked Pohlmann to serve as head of the newly formed Sociology and Anthropology Department in 1966. He continued to serve as chair until 1970. It was during this time that a master’s degree in sociology began. In 1973 he was invited to give the College of Arts and Sciences Lecture based on the seminal reputation of his scholarship.

Dr. Vernon Pohlmann (far left) with colleagues Dr. Martin Nickels, Dr. Robert Dirks and Dr. Paul Baker during the 50th anniversary of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in 2017

Dr. Roy Treadway, emeritus professor of sociology, fondly recalls working with Pohlmann. In 1978 the pair established “Community Research Services” in the department in effort to foster applied research within the College of Arts and Sciences. “We collaborated on several research projects, presenting at least one joint paper. Before Vern’s retirement, we also developed the Census and Data Ushers Services within the department as part of the Illinois State Data, working with the U.S. Bureau of the Census.”

In addition to presenting over 30 papers, Pohlman presided as president and vice president over the local American Association of University Professors, president of the Illinois Sociological Association, Secretary for the Midwest Sociological Association, a member of the board of the Illinois State University Annuitants Association, and chair and co-chair of many Illinois State committees, one of which one involved inter-racial issues and the development of the High Potential Student Program at Illinois State.

This same compassion for social justice regarding inter-racial issues, youth, and the elderly continued throughout his life in one form or another. His many papers and research projects had not only local but national impact. He served as on the Town of Normal Council, was on the board for United Way, and volunteered with Home Sweet Home Ministries throughout his time in the community.

For all of his accomplishments, he was inducted into the 2007–2008 College of Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame.

Pohlman also cared deeply about philanthropy and giving back. The Pohlmann Family Development Grant was created to help serve those students working in applied research experiences. Dr. Frank Beck, director of the Stevenson Center for Community and Economic Development, said: “Dr. Pohlmann was a peaceful, gracious, and generous person; his smile and charm warmed the room. He cared deeply about students receiving applied research experiences that assist McLean County; he endowed the Pohlmann Fund such that Stevenson Center students can assist local organizations. We are proud to carry forward a small piece of Dr. Vernon Pohlmann’s immense legacy.”

Those who worked with him remember him fondly. Treadway states: “Vern was not only an academic colleague, but a mentor in my professional life both at Illinois State University but also in various national population and public data associations. He helped me with my teaching, working with students, and contributing to the department. My life at Illinois State University was greatly enriched by Vern’s guidance and friendship.”

Professor Emeritus Dr. Bill Tolone also reminisced: “Throughout all of my years with Vern, he was an important role model for me. In his own quiet, deliberate way, he set a standard for us in terms of professionalism. … I feel a real loss with Vern’s passing, as I know many others do. Vern gave himself and his professional life to ISU and, in particular, to our department. Along with other senior faculty, Vern established our department and served us in so many ways. I will always remember his professionalism, his friendship and how he mentored me.”

The impact of Pohlmann and his contributions are deep and expansive within both Illinois State University and the broader community, as well as within the discipline. His contributions continue to make a positive effect in so many ways, and he will be missed by both colleagues and friends across campus and the community.