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January 16, 2009

Rixford Snyder, 'Dean of the Danube,' dead at 100

Rixford Snyder, who spent his career drawing students to Stanford as the head of undergraduate admission and making sure they stayed connected to the university by creating an alumni travel program, died Jan. 8. He was 100.

The cause was heart failure, said longtime friend Darien Walker.

Known to his friends as "Rixy" and dubbed "Dean of the Danube" for the 24 Austrian boat trips he organized and led for alumni, Snyder earned bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford. He was a history instructor here from 1937 until 1943, when he joined the Navy.

He returned to campus three years later as an associate professor of history and compiled the textbook Readings in Western Civilization with fellow history Professor George Knoles.

"It was required reading at the time," said Walker, who graduated from Stanford in 1960. "It had everything in it from Plato to more modern writings."

Snyder taught until 1948, when he was tapped by President Wallace Sterling to serve as director of admission. In 1964, the university elevated Snyder's post to a deanship, and he kept the job another five years.

Turning his attention to alumni affairs in 1969, Snyder started what is now the Travel/Study program.

"He felt strongly that there should be a way for alumni to connect back to the university," said Kay Williams, who worked with Snyder in the Travel/Study office in the 1980s. "He was a giant in his field and a giant in alumni relations. He knew alumni were as integral to the university as the faculty and students. It was his life, and he lived it well."

He got the idea to bring Stanford graduates on Danube boat trips while he and his wife, Elliot, were visiting the family of one of his former students in Austria.

"He was just watching boats going up and down the Danube River, and thought he could create an experience to share with alumni," Walker said.

He led two-dozen trips to the Danube between 1971 and 1989. He also traveled with alumni to England, Africa, Japan, Alaska and the Caribbean, Walker said.

"He went all over, but specialized in Germany and Austria," said Walker, who along with her husband joined Snyder on a handful of trips to the Danube. "You couldn't help but learn something every time you were with him."

Snyder formally retired in 1974, but kept a workspace in the Travel/Study office, where he compiled his memoirs and continued to go on alumni trips well into his 70s.

A major booster of Stanford sports, Snyder has a scholarship in his name that is run by the Athletics Department. He served as president of the local Rotary Club, and in his later years became increasingly involved in Palo Alto's senior community.

"All of his life, he loved learning," Walker said. "He loved anything new. It was an adventure for him. He had a childlike enthusiasm for what was going on. New food, new areas, new people to know—it was all a real joy for him. To the day he died, he enjoyed new things."

Elliot Snyder died four years ago at 94. The couple did not have children, but are survived by two nieces.

A memorial service for Snyder is scheduled for Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. in Memorial Church. A reception will follow at the Faculty Club.



Adam Gorlick, News Service: (650) 725-0224,


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