Robert K. Sherk, 91, professor emeritus in the Department of Classics and a man noted for his academic integrity and heroic military service during World War II, died July 8 in Eastern Niagara Hospital in Lockport.
Sherk served in World War II with the US Army Air Corps from 1943-45, flying 21 missions as a bombardier in the B-24 Liberator over Germany and Austria—the same heavy bomber and harrowing crew position celebrated in Lauren Hildebrand’s 2010 best seller “Unbroken.”
His plane was shot down and he was listed as missing and presumed dead. In fact, badly injured and barely conscious, he believed he was saved from being killed by civilians who discovered him by his ability to speak German. Sherk was a prisoner of war for more than a year in Germany’s notorious Camp Stalag III, where he was an interpreter and from which he escaped and was recaptured. He received a number of military citations for dedication and service to his country.
Following the war, Sherk attended UB, where he received a BA in classics magna cum laude in 1947. He then attended Johns Hopkins University, receiving a PhD summa cum laude and with expertise in Greek and Latin literature, philosophy, epigraphy, linguistics, ancient history and archaeology.
He taught at the University of Maine-Orono, from 1950 until 1962, when he joined the UB classics faculty. He retired from the university in 1990.
Sherk specialized in Hellenistic and Roman history and ancient biography, but is best known for his work in epigraphy, in particular for “Roman Documents From the Greek East” (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1969) and “Municipal Decrees of the Roman West” (Arethusa Monographs, Buffalo, 1970).
Other significant works included the histories “Rome and the Greek East to the Death of Augustus” (1984) and “The Roman Empire from Augustus to Hadrian” (1988) from the five-volume series “Translated Documents of Greece and Rome” (Johns Hopkins University Press, then Cambridge University Press), which he co-edited with Ernst Badian of Harvard University. The series made important historical documents available in English to scholars and students of classical history and attempted to reproduce faithfully the textual difficulties and uncertainties inherent in the documents so that a reader without knowledge of classical languages could assess the reliability of the various readings and interpretations of the texts.
Stephen Dyson, Park Professor of Classics at UB and former chair of the department, called Sherk “one of the best UB scholars of his generation and a good enough teacher to be nominated for a SUNY Chancellor’s Award. He was a very good, respected scholar and a loyal citizen of UB; a man whose quiet integrity I always found appealing.
“He was not the showman, so common for that generation of UB humanities faculty members,” Dyson noted. “I guess 21 missions and time spent in a POW camp gives you some perspective and modesty.”
Added Jack Peradotto, UB professor emeritus of classics: “As great as his military honors and later scholarly achievements were, Bob Sherk’s avoidance of the limelight was relentless. He was, in a nutshell, a very private person.”
He also was collegial, a great conversationalist and a stickler for precision.
UB alumnus Tom Banchich, professor of classics at Canisius College, recalls Sherk as “a regular figure at what then were semi-exclusive, classics-dominated deipnosophistic lunches at which he was usually engaged, rarely disinterested and sometimes openly aghast.”
Accurate to the bone, Banchich says, “He told me he had once flown to Rome to check a reading on an inscription that he thought he might mention in a footnote.”
Wan Yong Chon, UB professor of nuclear engineering who headed a major research project that led to the development of the emergency reactor-core cooling systems that remain a standard safety feature in today’s nuclear reactors, died July 15 in San Jose, Calif. He was 88.
A key figure in the development of the South Korean nuclear power industry after retiring from UB in the mid-1980s, Chon served as a special adviser to the Korea Electric Power Corp. and was instrumental in facilitating the full transfer of reactor technology from American manufacturers to the South Korean government. Ultimately, he helped lay the groundwork for an independent South Korean nuclear power industry.
Born in the Korean province of Hwang-Do, Chon earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in chemical engineering from Seoul National University. During the Korean War, he served as a lieutenant in the Republic of Korea navy. He also helped found the Naval Research Laboratory at the Chin-hae Naval Base in South Korea.
In 1954, Chon was invited to participate in the visiting scholar program at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and subsequently earned a master’s degree in nuclear engineering from North Carolina State University in 1957 and a PhD from the University of Michigan in 1960. He later taught at the University of Rhode Island, the University of New Brunswick and McGill University before accepting a position as an assistant professor of nuclear engineering at UB in 1968.
In addition to teaching, he served as director of the Western New York Nuclear Research Center, located on UB’s South Campus, and worked as a consultant for Calspan Corp.
He also was a member of the Tuscarora Yacht Club in Wilson, was an amateur cellist and an author of books on Taoism and Buddhism.
A memorial service will be held Aug. 8 in San Jose.