GORHAM — Henry Amoroso was the type of professor who made a profound impact on his students’ lives.

“Instead of being behind a lectern, he’d take on characters. He’d pretend to be Socrates, for instance,” said his son Justin Amoroso. “He would engage the students in that way. Students were laughing and having a great time.”

Mr. Amoroso, a professor of literacy education at the University of Southern Maine since 1982, died Friday at age 66. Since his death, his family has received an outpouring of sympathy from former students.

“On his Facebook page, the comments left, it speaks for itself,” his son said. “There’s a pattern across-the-board that he’s touched a lot of lives.”

“He was fully committed to enriching the lives of others,” said his wife, Marilyn.

She received a long e-mail during the weekend from a former student who said Mr. Amoroso “changed (his) life,” his wife said. She said the former student was grateful to have crossed paths with Mr. Amoroso.

Before coming to USM, he was a tenured professor at Vanderbilt University and was voted “Favorite Teacher” by students at Peabody College for Teachers.

During his tenure at USM, Mr. Amoroso served in various capacities. Most notably, he was involved in starting the university’s first online classes, and he developed core curriculum classes such as “Poverty in America” and “The Illuminated Autobiography,” which are still taught by professors today.

“They continue to be popular courses,” his wife said.

In addition to influencing his students, Mr. Amoroso led by example when teaching his children.

His son said he imparted a thirst for curiosity to his children, and had an open mind and heart toward others. Justin Amoroso is now pursing his master’s degree in philosophy and hopes to become a writer and a teacher, “100 percent” influenced by his father.

“Just taking that sense of doing unto others,” he said, in addition to being honest and a hard worker. “I apply it to my life all the time. That’s because of him.”

With a lifelong interest in education and literacy, Mr. Amoroso examined his life after Justin asked him “what books had influenced him, what made him who he is today.” His book, “Fighting Prosaic Messages,” was the result of that conversation.

“He looks at four generations, my great-grandmother, my grandfather, himself and me,” his son said. “We each have a different experience in the education system.”

The book has since been described as a “signature piece” as he traced education and literacy in schools. From that, Mr. Amoroso expressed his thoughts on how to approach education.

As he approached retirement, Mr. Amoroso began to create a retreat for himself and his wife in their backyard. As he was diagnosed with acute lymphatic leukemia, he was putting the final touches on his “Zen-like” garden, his wife said.

The project took him over three years. The garden features layers of elements, a pond and a platform with a tree growing in its middle. It was a place that Mr. Amoroso hoped to use as a meditation area, to relax and enjoy life, his wife said.

“When you walk into the area, it gives you that sense of peace,” she said. “It’s beautiful.”

 

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: [email protected]