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  • Roger E. Mitchell (1925-2011)
  • Ronald L. Baker and Todd A. Hanson

When Roger E. Mitchell died on July 23, 2011, at the Maine Medical Center in Portland, Maine, from complications due to cancer, he had profoundly, yet quietly, inspired a love of folklore in a generation of schoolteachers, nurses, business people, and farmers. As a high school English teacher, then college anthropology professor, he eagerly shared his passion for the study of humankind and its stories with thousands of students, most of whom would not go on to be professional folklorists or anthropologists. Of his work as an educator, we are certain that he would have been immeasurably proud.

Born in Merrill, Maine, on September 14, 1925, the third of fourteen children, Mitchell was intensely proud of his Scotch-Irish ancestry and rural upbringing, as those themes would appear often in both his classroom lectures and scholarship. Even before he had graduated from high school, Mitchell enlisted in the United States Marine Corps and served in the Pacific during World War II. It was in the Pacific, amid the sand and blood of an awful war, that he found what would be a lifelong fascination and love for the people and folk traditions of Micronesia. Mitchell served as a member of the honor guard at the signing of the peace treaty with Japan in 1945 and was later recalled to active service in 1950 during the Korean Emergency.

After returning home to receive his high school diploma from Merrill High School in 1947, Mitchell attended Ricker College in Houlton, Maine, where he received his bachelor's degree in English in 1953 before moving to the University of Maine, where he received his MA in English in 1954. At the University of Maine, he took a folklore course from Sandy Ives, who was a big influence on his decision to become a folklorist.

Mitchell taught English for seven years at high schools in Aroostook County, Maine, and then English as a Second Language for four years as an assistant professor at the University of Guam before enrolling in the folklore program at Indiana University (IU). At IU he would become a doctoral student of noted American folklorist Richard M. Dorson, who would have a profound and lasting influence on Mitchell's professional life. After receiving his PhD in folklore and anthropology in 1967, with a two-volume dissertation on "A Study of the Cultural, Historical, and Acculturative Factors Influencing the Repertoires of Two Trukese Informants," Mitchell joined the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire (UWEC), where he taught folklore and anthropology courses for twenty-seven years and even served a term as department chairperson. In 1970-1, he was Scholar in Residence at the University of Guam, and in 1975, received a Guggenheim Fellowship for the study of Micronesian folktale types and motifs. Mitchell's fieldwork in Micronesia would eventually be preserved in the Special Collections of the Indiana University Folklore Archives as the Roger Mitchell Collection of Micronesian Folktales. The University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire recognized his scholarly achievements by awarding him its Excellence in Scholarship Award in 1989. After retiring from the university in 1992, Mitchell returned to Maine to reside in Westbrook near Portland.

Mitchell's scholarship was based on his fieldwork in Maine, Wisconsin, Canada, Guam, and the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Noteworthy among his publications are his book, The Folktales of Micronesia (1973); a Journal of American Folklore article co-authored with his wife, Joyce P. Mitchell, on "Schiller's William [End Page 486] Tell: A Folkloristic Perspective" (1970); and a book chapter on "Tradition, Change, and Hmong Refugees" (1992), as well as other articles on the contemporary Hmong community in Eau Claire (1987; Mitchell et al. 1989). In addition, he contributed regularly to Asian Folklore Studies, including "Genre and Function in Eastern Carolinian Narrative" (1968a), "The Oedipus Myth and Complex in Oceania with Special Reference to Truk" (1968b), "Micronesian Ghosts and the Limits of Functional Analysis" (1975), and "Patron Saints and Pagan Ghosts: The Pairing of Opposites" (1986).

Mitchell's forte, however, may have been his monographs, including "George Knox: From Man to Legend" (1969), a...


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