David Mayer Solzman, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, died February 19. He was 83.
Solzman was born February 28, 1934 in Omaha, Nebraska, to Isel and Pauline Solzman. He had a lifelong passion for astronomy; The Omaha World Herald featured his telescope and perspective on celestial phenomena several times during his adolescence. He left Omaha at 15, after his sophomore year of high school, to attend the University of Chicago. After service as a naval officer and a business career in Omaha, he returned to the U. of C. for his doctorate in urban geography, focusing on industrial land use along the Chicago River and Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal.
In 1965, Solzman joined the U.I.C. Department of Anthropology. Over the course of his career, he was nominated 23 times for the Silver Circle Teaching Award given by graduating U.I.C. seniors, and won it five times. He retired in 2000 and continued to teach at the University Honors College until 2016.
Outside of his university career, Solzman served on the Friends of the Chicago River Board of Directors for 23 years. His U. of C. and U.I.C. lecture–cruises of Chicago waterways were popular every fall and earned him a distinguished service award from the Graham School of General Studies in 2013. Said one student of the experience, “The day was blustery and rainy. The lake was turbulent. Some fell out of their seats. Some got so seasick they had to get off. Some stayed below. Some weathered the elements. Mr. Solzman was incredible: he stayed above, got soaked, fell over once, but never missed an enthusiastic beat.”
Solzman authored several articles and books, notably “The Chicago River: An Illustrated History and Guide to the River and Its Waterways,” which featured his photography, a lifelong hobby. The book is now in its second edition. He was featured in documentaries and in local media and served as an astronomer at the Adler Planetarium from 1962 to 1971. An avid mountain climber and hiker, he also traveled the globe.
Solzman married Mary-Alice Koplik in 1959. They had two daughters, Nancy and Andrea, and lived communally with other families on two separate occassions. He later married L. Rachel McKinzie.