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Dan Church, professor emeritus, has died

man with hat onDan Church, professor of French, emeritus, and former director of the Vanderbilt Language Lab, died October 9, 2023 in Nashville. He was 84.

Church was born in Winston-Salem, North Carolina in 1939 and grew up in North Wilkesboro and Statesville. He received his bachelor’s degree in French from Wake Forest University in 1961 and was a Fulbright Scholar the following year in France. He went on to obtain his master’s degree in French from Middlebury College in 1962, and then to the University of Wisconsin to pursue a doctorate degree.

It was at the University of Wisconsin where he met Jo Ann Nelson, whom he married in June 1963. They both earned a Ph.D. in French, with Dan completing his doctoral thesis on the theater of Albert Camus in 1967.

Church taught at Antioch College in Ohio from 1965 to 1967 and was hired at Vanderbilt in the fall of 1967, where he taught until 2001. During his time at Vanderbilt, he was the director of the Vanderbilt in France program from 1974-1976 and was the first director of Vanderbilt’s Language Lab, serving in the role from 1988-1996.

His scholarship focused on 20th-century French theater and film, with an emphasis on French regional theater and its unique form of collaboration known as “création collective.” He directed the annual French play at Vanderbilt, in association with the Department of Theatre, completing more than 20 productions. He also integrated the plays into the curriculum of the French literature classes.

He was active in the Nashville theater community, directing and acting in numerous productions in the 1970s and 1980s. He was a voice actor, specializing in obscure foreign accents for numerous Knowledge Products Series, serving as the voice of Karl Marx, Soren Kierkegaard, and many others.

“Dan was a generous and good-natured colleague, as well as a respected member of Nashville’s French-speaking community,” said Holly Tucker, professor of French and Mellon Foundation Chair in the Humanities.

Church had a particular interest in studying and teaching phonetics and was an early pioneer in what was then known as computer-assisted language learning. He volunteered for more than 30 years with the Talking Library project of the Nashville Public Library and especially loved reading short fiction for those with visual impairments.

“Dan was the first person in the Department of French and Italian to explore the uses of technology in foreign language teaching,” said Virginia Scott, professor of French, emerita, and former department chair. “The innovative exercises he developed helped to change the ways our profession conceived of computer-assisted language learning. His commitment to students was exemplary, especially those who lived in McTyeire International House.”

In 2013, Church was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Palmes Académiques by the French minister of education, in honor of his contributions to French language and culture abroad.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Jo Ann (Nelson) Church, their son, Peter Church, six grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased by his son, John Church.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be directed to the Blair School of Music, which he loved and whose concert series brought him a great deal of joy.