Alan Fern, AB’50, AM’54, PhD’60, and Lois Karbel, AB’54, AM’62

Alan Fern, AB’50, AM’54, PhD’60, and Lois Karbel, AB’54, AM’62

Alan Fern, AB’50, AM’54, PhD’60, and Lois Karbel, AB’54, AM’62, met in the spring of 1952 over a table in Hutchinson Commons, quickly discovering that they had attended the same public high school in Detroit. For the next few years, they just remained friendly acquaintances. Alan pursued graduate degrees in art history and began his teaching career, and Lois completed her bachelor’s degree in the University’s Hutchins College, spending all her spare time acting at University Theater.

In the autumn of 1955, when Alan returned from a Fulbright year in London to resume teaching humanities in the College, he encountered Lois, then working in the University Library while pursuing a degree in the Graduate Library School.

Lois soon found herself a faculty wife. In those days, married faculty members were encouraged to mentor undergraduates and entertain them at home, so while Alan reveled in his teaching, Lois, too, had the pleasure of mentoring students, some of whom remain in touch to this day.

When they married, the Ferns fully expected Alan would spend his life as a faculty member. But a series of unanticipated opportunities lured him first to the Library of Congress, where he spent 20 challenging years, and ultimately to the directorship of the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. Lois spent 11 years as a reference librarian at the U.S. Information Agency, followed by freelance work editing library and museum publications.

Established in Washington, Alan and Lois made their first donation to the University in 1969. They have given consistently ever since. They give in gratitude for the role the University played in broadening their intellectual horizons and enhancing their productive careers.

Today the Ferns are UChicago Leaders in Philanthropy as members of the Chicago, Harper, and Phoenix Societies. They support initiatives across the University, including the Odyssey Scholarship Program, the Metcalf Intern Fund, and the Smart Museum, where Alan serves on the board of governors.

“We feel very deeply that the breadth of education we received at the University was life-changing,” Alan explains. “It is our obligation to support an institution that has enriched our lives so importantly, and we take satisfaction in knowing that a new generation will benefit from our gifts.”