Constance Cain Hungerford, 73, a former interim president at Swarthmore College and longtime faculty member, died Wednesday, May 12, at Crozer Chester Medical Center after suffering a stroke.
Ms. Hungerford, who retired last year, was an art historian who joined the college’s faculty in 1975. She served in several roles, earning respect, admiration, and affection from students as well as her peers.
“Her tenure at Swarthmore was extraordinary not just for her longevity as a scholar, administrator, and mentor to generations of students and colleagues alike, or the myriad ways she served the institution,” Swarthmore president Val Smith wrote in an announcement to the campus community.
“It was remarkable also because of the way she served — with grace, humility, a deep reverence for the college’s mission, and genuine care of the individuals who comprise our community. I know I am not alone in finding it difficult to imagine Swarthmore without her.”
Ms. Hungerford was born and raised in Evanston, Ill., the first of five children of Craig Cain, an engineer, and Jocelyn Cain, a writer. She earned a bachelor’s degree in art history from Wellesley College. Then she received a master’s degree and doctorate in art history from the University of California at Berkeley.
She first joined Swarthmore’s art department faculty in 1975 as an instructor in 19th- and 20th-century art, American art, Picasso, modernism, and the history of photography. Within two years, she became the acting department chair. She also led the department for six years in the 1980s and again, from 2017 to 2019.
“Her intense lectures were legendary among students because of their energy, clarity, thoroughness, humor, and especially because of her passionate involvement with the works she was discussing,” said Michael Cothren, the Scheurer Family Professor Emeritus of Humanities.
Her magic was felt beyond the students in her own department.
“Many of my students and advisees volunteered how much they loved Connie’s courses and seminars,” said Carol Nackenoff, the Richter Professor of Political Science. “She clearly had an important impact as a teacher and mentor that extended far beyond those who majored or minored in art history.”
Ms. Hungerford earned respect for her research and served as curator of the college’s art collections.
She was recognized for her contributions as college provost for 10 years and interim college president during the 2014-15 academic year after the departure of president Rebecca Chopp.
“Connie brought out the best in everyone, inspiring them with her integrity and compassion to be the best person they could possibly be,” said Patricia Reilly, an associate professor of art history.
After serving as an administrator, Ms. Hungerford returned to the classroom and taught until she retired..
Her colleagues said Swarthmore will be forever touched by the time she spent there.
“Connie was gracious, a true intellect, wildly humble, an avid supporter of women, an amazing teacher, a lover of everything life has to offer, and just a damn fine human being,” said Stacy Bomento, the art and art history department’s visual resources coordinator. “Thank goodness she lent so much of herself to all of us. It means she will always be a part of us.”
Ms. Hungerford is survived by her husband, Hans Oberdiek, Swarthmore professor emeritus in philosophy; her stepchildren, Kristen Howard, Anne DiRosa, Heidi Foggo, and John Oberdiek; four siblings; and 13 step-grandchildren.
A memorial service will be at a later date.
Donations in Ms. Hungerford’s memory may be directed to Swarthmore College, 500 College Ave., Swarthmore, Pa. 19081, either to the Constance Hungerford Faculty Support Fund or the Connie Hungerford and Hans Oberdiek Student Summer Fellowship.