In modern parlance, an extreme definition of an eccentric person is that he is an oddball. Many Saginawians, who knew him only from an occasional glimpse as he strode erectly down the street—or by reputation that he was a miserly old recluse—thought him an eccentric of the oddball variety. He was Carl H. Ibershoff (Eebershoff), who was one of the nation’s prominent college professors, an authority on languages, particularly German. He had earned a doctor of philosophy degree in 1912 from Harvard University. But when he was home in Saginaw, he signed his name without the educational prefix.
He was graduated from the University of Michigan in 1899 with a B. A. degree. Then he studied both in Paris and Berlin. Several years later, he completed the requirements for an M. A. degree at Harvard and after that received his Ph.D. degree.
Dr. Ibershoff became head of the modern language department at Detroit University High School. He also taught at the Universities of Iowa, Wisconsin, Cornell and Harvard. He was a translator, lecturer and drama coach. He wrote articles for leading American and European philosophical journals. He was a foremost college professor when his salary would be a pittance compared to those received today, together with fringe benefits. At the end of each school year, he came back to Saginaw to live in his wood-frame home at 540 S. Warren. Its weathered dark brown paint was checked in places. The front porch steps creaked underfoot.
He never owned an automobile and was a bachelor who preferred to live frugally by himself. He was immaculate of dress, although his suits, some shiny, sometimes were years out of vogue. He had prematurely white hair and kept it groomed carefully. When he wore a hat, it was the homburg style. In his time, he was one of the most distinctive and interesting figures on the Saginaw scene.
He was born December 24, 1875, in Toledo, Ohio, and came to Saginaw at the age of four. His father, Louis, was principal of the Germania School in the rear of the old Germania Society at Third and Lapeer. The Germania was forerunner of what became the Lincoln School.
Dr. Ibershoff began his formal schooling by starting out in the third grade at the Germania School. He never could account for why he had skipped the first two grades. Presumably, his father intended for that part of his education to begin at home under Principal Ibershoff’s tutelage.
Dr. Ibershoff, a graduate of Saginaw High School, was fond of skating, hiking, canoeing and tennis. He was thought a good tennis player. He held a number national scholastic awards, including Phi Beta Kappa.
When he was home vacationing in Saginaw from his teaching duties, he always was a welcome visitor when he chose to come to the newsroom of the Saginaw News.
He was a frequent contributor to the newspaper’s “People’s Forum” column. An Ibershoff contribution was a delight to read. It was not lengthy or pretentious. It was lucid, with well-ordered sentences, and usually pungent. His political views and observations usually were years ahead of their time. He forecast crime and racism as the nation’s coming foremost problems years before they became that.
This writer, in his reportorial days on the newspaper, once was assigned to interview Dr. Ibershoff for a feature article. It was a warm summer afternoon. A smile on his face, he was waiting for me at the threshold as I creaked up the front steps. He had made a big pitcher of iced lemonade and there were cookies to go with it. He discussed, especially, the Greek philosophers. He made them seem to live again. I came away with a good story after a memorable visit and the conviction I had met a great man and a real human person.
His skill as a translator once brought an offer from the Atlantic Monthly to publish a volume of his translations of German poetry if he would provide sufficient material for such a volume. The choice of poems was to be left to him and the magazine’s publishers would assume all financial risks. But, due to the unusual press of professional duties and prior commitments, it was impossible for him to accept the attractive offer, he said.
Dr. Carl H. Ibershoff, noted educator and sometimes author, died here in 1965 at the age of 89.
Soon afterward, it was learned that the “eccentric” Carl H. Ibershoff, contrary to appearance, had been a wealthy man with a real love for his home town of Saginaw, its institutions and some of the colleges he had attended, as expressed in his will, which dealt with a $700,000 estate.
He left a bequest of $250,000 to the University of Michigan, major gifts to the leading hospitals here, the Saginaw Museum and Hoyt Library. He gave $30,000 to the City of Saginaw for improvement of parks and playgrounds. With this latter gift the city was able to buy the miniature “steam” locomotive and the string of passenger coaches it pulls around the city’s children’s zoo grounds. The C. H. Ibershoff Special, as it is named, is by far the zoo’s most popular attraction—and a kind of steam-chuffing monument to the fact people are not always what they are thought to be.