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Honoring Ralph Ketcham

September 20, 2017

Memorial Service

2003 Tribute Video

Remembrances of Ralph Ketcham

Download PDF of remembrances of Ralph Ketcham
>> Download pdf of historic panel displays.
Ralph Ketcham Memorial Service in Hendricks Chapel

Members of the wider Maxwell School community — including many alumni, some of whom traveled from as far away as Japan — joined the Ketcham family in Hendricks Chapel on September 25, 2017, to pay tribute to the life and career of Ralph Ketcham. Ketcham passed away in April (see below).

During the almost 60 years that Ketcham taught at the Maxwell School, he inspired and shaped the lives of many. Among those who shared their memories and experiences during the service were faculty colleague David Bennett; alumni Masako Iino, Howard Mansfield, and Sherry Magill; and Ketcham's son, Benjamin. (Iino was among a group of Japanese students encouraged to study at Maxwell by Ketcham, who had visited Japan as a Fulbright scholar.) The service was led by the Reverand Brian Konkol, Hendricks Chapel dean.

Included on this page are a full video of the service and a tribute video produced in 2003 when Ketcham received Syracuse University's George Arents Medal. Also available are copies of three historic panels displayed at the memorial, combining photos of Ketcham with alumni remembrances collected by the Maxwell School since his passing.

Maxwell School Mourns Legendary Teacher and Scholar Ralph Ketcham

Ralph Ketcham

Ralph Ketcham, one of the longest-serving and most beloved and influential professors in the history of the Maxwell School, died on Wednesday, April 26, after a brief illness.  He was 89.

A steadfast champion of the Maxwell approach to citizenship education — interdisciplinary, team-taught, and driven by deliberation on current events — Ketcham joined the faculty in 1951 as a graduate fellow and instructor in the original undergraduate citizenship course, Cit 1: Responsible Citizenship. After earning his PhD in American studies from the Maxwell School (1956), he taught briefly at the University of Chicago and Yale University, then rejoined Maxwell in 1963 as a tenure-track faculty member, eventually holding appointments in political science, history, public affairs, and American studies. In 1994, he was named a Maxwell Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs. He retired in 1997, the subject of a colloquium attend by roughly 75 alumni, but continued to teach an annual graduate symposium on Foundations of American Political Thought. Prior to his death, he had made plans to teach that symposium one final time this coming fall.

Though Cit 1 was discontinued in the early 1970s, Ketcham continued to promote team-taught and other innovative approaches to the topic of democratic governance and citizenship. In the 1980s, he was a key member of a faculty team that launched public affairs courses with titles such as Religion and Politics and The Corporation in American Culture, team-taught by faculty members across the University (including Ketcham himself). These courses were viewed as direct precursors to the highly successful MAX Course program launched at Maxwell in the late 1990s. Ketcham was also one of the designers of a New York State high school curriculum about participation in government.

"As much as anyone to have served this School, Ralph Ketcham embodied the mission and unique philosophical province of Maxwell," said Dean David M. Van Slyke, who served on the faculty with Ketcham for more than a decade. "He was dedicated to dialog and discussion and a true exchange of ideas — genuine, expansive debate about the meaning and purposes of American democracy and, in actuality, all of public life."

As a scholar, Ketcham specialized in constitutional and political theory, especially as it emerged and evolved during the era of the first U.S. presidents. Ketcham’s books in this vein included acclaimed biographies of Benjamin Franklin and James Madison (1966 and 1971, respectively), plus From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820 (1974), Presidents Above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789-1829 (1984), Framed for Posterity: The Enduring Philosophy of the Constitution (1993), and The Madisons at Montpelier; Reflections on the Founding Couple (2009). He edited for publication the papers of both Madison and Franklin. He was also the author of Individualism in Public Life: A Modern Dilemma (1987), The Idea of Democracy in the Modern Era (2004), and, just two years ago, Public-Spirited Citizenship: Leadership and Good Government in the United States (2015).

Recognition of Ketcham's influence on generations of Syracuse University students took many forms — including, in 1987, his selection as national professor of the year by the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education. He received from Syracuse both an honorary degree (1999) and the George Arents Medal (2003), given to SU alumni to recognize career achievements. Ketcham was an inaugural recipient of the Chancellor’s Citation for Outstanding Academic Achievement (1979).

In 1991, the Ralph Ketcham Endowed Fellowship Fund was established in Ketcham's honor in support of doctoral students in the history and political science departments. Once established, Ketcham wholeheartedly supported the fund, which has helped numerous students earn their PhD from the Maxwell School. Donations may be made online, at Contributions may also be sent by mail to: The Ralph Ketcham Endowed Fellowship Fund, Maxwell School, Syracuse University, 200 Eggers Hall, Syracuse, NY 13244-1010. Checks may be made payable to Syracuse University with a note directing the gift to the Ketcham Fund.

"More than an accomplished scholar, Ralph was an engaging, warm, empathetic man," Van Slyke added. “It is not surprising that he had a truly global impact and following.  Maxwell alumni from across generations and around the world — from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. — eagerly describe, with emotion, their involvement with Ralph. His more than 60 years of service to the Maxwell School has had a profound impact on all of us — thousands of alumni around the world, hundreds of colleagues, and anyone else lucky enough to know him."


Updated, 10/3/17


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