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Love & Graduate Fellowship

Story by
Luke Hawkins
October 2019

They met in a UW bibliography class. He was a 25-year-old from Brooklyn with a penchant for Renaissance literature. She was a 28-year-old Spanish teacher and teaching assistant in the Romance Languages Department from Paraná, Argentina. The class, on UW library resources, was required for English Department graduate students in 1958. But neither Matthew Proser nor Maria Augenblick knew that it would also be the beginning of a 60-year love story.

“Maria was beautiful, quiet, well spoken in her English—with a Spanish accent I loved and which she said she would not give up,” recalls Matthew. “We both loved ice cream. When we had our first date, she ordered a second ice cream cone. I said to myself, ‘This is it!’ So ice cream brought us together.”

Matt and Maria Proser in the 1990s

Matt and Maria Proser in the 1990s Media credit: photo courtesy of Matt Proser

In a way it was ice cream and English literature—the love of reading and the pursuit of knowledge that started when they were young.

“I started reading seriously about the age of 12 and put away my comic books,” writes Matthew. “Jack London, C.S. Forester, Nordorff, and Hall became my under-the-blankets, flashlit companions. When I finally came out from under cover, my parents were pleasantly surprised to find that I really could read, and I was hooked.”

As a young adult, Maria navigated hardship to pursue her education. When she was 17, her father passed away and she had to work to support her mother and sister. Despite this interruption in her education, she eventually returned to school and earned her degree in English with a minor in education from National University of the Litoral in Argentina.

Some 5,000 miles away, Matthew earned his undergraduate degree in English from NYU in 1954. It would take a stint in the Army, a Greyhound trip across the U.S., the advice of a trusted professor, and a graduate scholarship to bring them both to the University of Washington in 1958. A year after that fateful bibliography course, they were married.

“The University of Washington laid the foundation of my entire career... I don’t know if I owe the UW everything, but I owe it quite a lot!”

“The University of Washington laid the foundation of my entire career and supported me financially through all five years of my doctoral candidacy,” writes Matthew. “I studied with wonderful teachers who influenced my view of literature and made many life-time friends—the chief of these would be my life-mate, Maria. I don’t know if I owe the UW everything, but I owe it quite a lot!”

Now Matthew wants other students to have the same meaningful education that he and Maria enjoyed. To that end, he has planned a bequest gift that will establish the Matthew and Maria Proser Graduate English Fellowship to support future generations of scholars.

After Matthew earned his PhD,  he began a long career as an English professor at the University of Connecticut, teaching and writing about Shakespeare, Marlowe, and other giants of the Renaissance. He became a charter member of the Marlowe Society of America and in 1995 published his book, The Gift of Fire: Aggression and the Plays of Christopher Marlowe

Matthew sees the current trend away from humanities disciplines as both errant and cyclical. “Even when I was a graduate student in the 1950s, the humanities were embattled. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose! (‘the more things change, the more they are the same’),” he says. “But the humanities will never die. Human life cannot be set into a formula. Science can show us what we are, but not who we are. To lose the humanities is to lose our past, impoverish our present, and deracinate the future.”

As Matthew and Maria grew their family, Maria continued to teach Spanish and got involved in social work with the local Puerto Rican Community. For decades she served—at soup kitchens, at a local health clinic, as an AIDs counselor, with Amnesty International, and at community and cultural organizations supporting low-cost housing and furthering Latinx issues. As a couple, they raised two kids, traveled the world, protested wars from Vietnam to Iraq, and collaborated on text translation projects.

After retiring, they moved to Salt Lake City, Utah, where they relished in their children’s successes and continued to travel. Sadly, last year Maria passed away, but even in her death she continues to contribute to society and the collective good—the family agreed to donate her body for research to the University of Utah as she would have wanted.

In a practical sense, the Matthew and Maria Proser Graduate English Fellowship will enable burgeoning scholars to pursue graduate work like Matthew and Maria. But it’s also more than that—a fitting symbol of their story. Two graduate students who fell in love, traveled the world, gave back to their communities, and made a life together.

“Maria and I both remembered our days at the University of Washington with enthusiastic affection,” recalls Matthew. “The University of Washington played a highly significant part in our lives and we hope the same wonderful experience will happen to those who receive this Fellowship.”