Michael Cherniss

Michael D. Cherniss, of Lawrence, Kansas, passed away on April 1, 2013, at the Baldwin Health Care and Rehabilitation Center. 

Mike was born April 7, 1940, in Los Angeles, CA, the eldest child of Edward H. and Blanche B. Cohen Cherniss.

His sister, Terri Ann, predeceased him. He is survived by his loving and devoted wife, Jane Garrett, his brother, Roger (Diane), two nephews, Matthew and Alexander,  and three grand nephews, Joshua, Zachary, and Finn, all of Los Angeles; one niece, Katie Olive, of Neodesha, KS; as well as cousins, friends and colleagues.  He died from complications of a stroke suffered in 2012.

Born and raised in Los Angeles, Mike graduated from North Hollywood High and then attended U.C. Berkeley where he earned a B.A., M.A. and PhD. in English. Mike joined the staff of the University of Kansas where he taught for 44 years. He published numerous articles and books in his specialty, Old and Middle English. He retired as a full professor in 2010.  Former student, Antha Cotton-Spreckelmeyer, wrote of Mike in the 2010 KU English Department Update:  “My own students assure me that Mike is still captivating young minds with his unique approach to literature.  Even in the digital age—or perhaps especially in the digital age—reading poetry aloud still has its charm.  As one student commented just last year, ‘I love the way he reads Middle English to us.  It has helped me see that if you don’t get all the words, you can still feel the passion.’  Could there ever be a more apt legacy for an educator, or one more well-deserved?”

Mike will be remembered for his keen intelligence and sharp sense of humor. He made many loyal, lifelong friends. He will be remembered and missed by all who loved him.

The family will host a private service at a later date. 

Donations in his memory may be made to the U.C. Berkeley Library Fund and may be sent in care of Warren-McElwain Mortuary.

7 Condolences

  1. Mary Pat McQueeney on April 4, 2013 at 6:18 pm

    I was saddened to read of Dr. Cherniss’s passing. Though I didn’t have him in class, I always found him to be gracious when I wandered through the English halls. He was a man who loved language– My thoughts are with you, Jane.

  2. Chris Johnson on April 5, 2013 at 2:34 pm

    I took Beowulf with Professor Cherniss back in Spring, 1990. It was hard work translating line-by-line, but along the way I learned about oral-formulaic theory and was introduced to The Singer of Tales. I am so glad he taught the course the way he did. I still think from time to time about things I learned in that class even 20 years later. I was sorry to see his obituary in the LJW. May he rest in peace.

  3. Philip Cooper on April 7, 2013 at 9:35 am

    My father and Mike’s were best friends since Jr. high in LA, so Michael is a part of my earliest memories. I ultimately married Terri, his sister, a beautiful person, who passed away in 2002. As Mike moved to Kansas early on, we didn’t get to see him often, but he had a memorable personality, brilliance, and style. My second wife, Carol, and I send our condolences to the entire Cherniss family.

  4. Nancy Baker on April 7, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    I am sad to hear that we have lost Dr. Cherniss. He was a great teacher and a thoroughly interesting person. Jane, you and the rest of the family are in my thoughts.

  5. Tom Shippey on April 9, 2013 at 4:45 am

    Mike and I might have been competitors, in the limited field of Old English studies, but as soon as we met we became friends. He was just extremely funny, and we both enjoyed working off little jokes on each other. He passed me a Camels Full Strength cigarette at a KU basketball game, which made me feel I was 14 again, and about to be sick. I returned the favor by passing him a bottle of whisky I had acquired off the back hill in Scotland and asking his opinion of it. Mike tossed a shot down, his expression never altered, but once he could speak, he husked out: “I give it C- for taste and A+ for bite.” I am sad to think we will never forgather at Kalamazoo again, but glad to have known him, and to remember him.

  6. David Lampe on June 28, 2013 at 7:47 pm

    Lament for the Medievalists
    –after Dunbar

    Almost healthy and without distress
    I am troubled now with great sadness
    And made aware of my own mortality
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

    I recall friends who now are lost
    Whose work was done at such great cost
    Honored in death for their mastery
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

    I’ve seen death suddenly devour
    Noble Judson, still in his flour
    Then Jimmie, Derek, and Lee
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

    And dear Anne scholar of scop
    Tom, who helped give my career shape
    And now my old friend, Mike C.
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

    A Californian in Kansas, how bizarre
    With that 357 mag in his Boxty sports car
    Who loved Hawaiian shirts and hated high tea
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

    Swans on K’zoo’s lake are now safe
    No more ugly shirt contest and laughing disgrace
    No more slow descents from a Shippey party
    Timor mortis conturbat me

    A final shout chorus, where trumpets scream
    riffs repeat and build, a Boethian dream
    ends my lament in a minor key
    Timor mortis conturbat me.

  7. Franklin Kolsky on December 8, 2017 at 12:24 pm

    I took several classes from Mike at KU and after I graduated in 1970 I lived and worked in Lawrence for seven years. Mike was part of a small group of friends and was always welcome and very inspiring to be with. One of the usual get togethers started with: “Hey we have a case of Guinness, do you want to join us?” Mike was always a willing participant. I am deeply saddened with the news of his death only recently received.

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