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Samuel L. Becker 1923 - 2012

Samuel Becker

Distinguished Professor Emeritus

We are sad to report that Samuel L. Becker passed away on November 8, 2012.

Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, Samuel L. Becker of Iowa City, Iowa, died November 8, 2012. Becker was a first-generation American born in Quincy, Illinois, January 5, 1923. Growing up along the Mississippi River as a Boy Scout and Sea Scout, he achieved Eagle Scout rank in 1938.  He earned all his degrees in communications from the University of Iowa (47BA, 49MA, 53PhD).  Interrupting college to enlist in the Army following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he served in the Pacific Theatre, primarily in New Guinea and the Philippines, receiving a Bronze Star for combat heroism near Mount Calugong and Luzon. In 1950, he joined the Iowa faculty where he met Ruth H. Salzmann. They married June 14, 1953, in Continental Village (Putnam County), NY.

Affectionately dubbed “Mr. University of Iowa,” Becker served the university in many capacities and was famous for his signature bow tie and suspenders. He was appointed Full Professor in 1961 and was Chair of the Department of Speech and Dramatic Arts (now Communication Studies) from 1968 to 1982. Becker is internationally known for his scholarship on all aspects of communication, in particular, his seminal research on televised presidential debates, the impact of mass media, research methodology, smoking prevention, and speech and media pedagogy.  He loved teaching large freshman-level lecture courses, working with doctoral students, and mentoring junior faculty. He also served as a member of the Board in Control of Athletics and Iowa’s representative to the Big Ten Conference.  After retirement in 1993 he was called back into service as Interim Director of the School of Art and Art History and Interim Provost.  Becker received numerous awards and honors, most notably the dedication of the University of Iowa’s Samuel L. Becker Communication Studies Building in 1993
Everyone knew Becker as modest, even-tempered, frugal, and eternally optimistic.  He championed peace, justice and civic engagement and was an unabashed liberal Democrat.  With wife Ruth, he was instrumental in starting Goodwill Industries, Johnson County ARC, and Systems Unlimited. He and Ruth were members of Agudas Achim Synagogue.  Sam loved people, although he was famous for forgetting names.  Over the years he honed expertise in tennis, devising bear-proof food containers for camping, making cherry and elderberry wine as well as potato pancakes, and writing weekly family letters.

Despite all that Becker personally accomplished, his greatest pride came from the accomplishments of his children, grandchildren, and many graduate students. He was preceded in death by his wife Ruth; daughter Anne; parents Nathan and Rose; sisters Zelda, Mary, and Esther; and brother Bill. He is survived by his daughter Judy, son Craig, son-in-law Dave Bryant, daughter-in-law Amy Dru Stanley, and grandsons Tom and Isaac Stanley-Becker and Sam and Ben Bryant.

Contributions may be made in his memory to the University of Iowa Foundation. No memorial service is planned at this time.


Tributes to Sam:

Sam Becker Video Profile

Bruce Gronbeck's tribute letter