Robert Simon Rosengard, a beloved English teacher and musical radio host from Monticello, NY known mostly as Gandalf, died of coronavirus in Huntington, NY, on April 8, 2020. Gandalf was born in 1939 in Boston, MA to David Eli and Bruna Hazan Rosengard. He graduated from Boston Latin School; he received his BA with honors from Amherst College in 1961 and his MA from Cornell in 1962, both in English.
Gandalf started his 25-year teaching career at Monticello High School in 1970, and from that time forward it has been estimated that “thousands of students were affected by his encouragement and persuasive insights.” He was the coordinator of English for the Monticello Schools for decades. He was an elected member of the Monticello Board of Education and served as vice president for a term. In addition, he taught English for many years at the Sullivan County Community College both on campus and within the prisons in Sullivan County as part of the college program. He also taught college English classes for Bard College as part of their prison program. The success of his prison teaching is especially notable.
In the late 1990s, Gandalf began an association that lasted until 2017 with the public radio station WJFF in Jeffersonville, NY where he eventually served as a board member and as president. But it was as volunteer host of the two-hour weekly program he created, Monday Afternoon Classics with Gandalf, that he exerted his most far-reaching impact. Featuring “classical” music (a term he used broadly) from the 20th and 21st centuries, Gandalf, entirely self-taught in this repertory, acquired (at his own expense) thousands of CDs of this music, which he then studied, wrote about and played over the air. He interviewed hundreds of composers of this music, from the famous (Elliott Carter) down to not-yet-known composers (Evan Mack), whom he delighted in discovering and championing. Gandalf’s CDs, and many of his interview recordings and transcripts, will form the hub of a music library at WJFF, which will be a great resource for future scholars.
Gandalf was much loved by the family who survives him: his sister and brother-in-law Rose and Dan Subotnik; his niece and nephew, Eva and Joseph Subotnik; his grandnieces and grandnephew; his step-children Jeth Hawkins, Timothy Hawkins, Lee-Ann Geyer Higgins, and their spouses and children; and many dear cousins. Contributions in his memory can be made to WJFF Radio Catskill, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, or the charity of your choice. Graveside services were private. Arrangements were by Levine Chapels, Brookline, MA.