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Ronald Marmarelli remembered for decades as dedicated journalist and faculty member


Ronald Marmarelli, affectionately known as "Marm," took a lot of pride in the hundreds of young journalists he taught his more than three decades at CMU. Photo courtesy of Beth Marmarelli.

It is a strange and nerve-wracking experience to write the obituary of the man who taught hundreds of journalism students how to write obituaries. Even though Ronald Marmarelli won't be able to read this, one wonders how he would edit this piece with his famous green pen. 

Ronald Sylvester Marmarelli died on July 4, 2018 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, with his family by his side. He was 75 years old.

One of Central Michigan University’s most devoted journalism faculty members for more than 35 years, Marmarelli spent decades working closely with students teaching AP Style, reporting techniques and inverted pyramid structure. He simply loved teaching others how to be good journalists, his daughter Beth Marmarelli said. One of the things she admired most about her father was how connected and committed he was to his students; he cared very much about their success.

Marmarelli was born March 15, 1943, in Pittsburgh. He graduated from Duquesne University, where he met his wife, Deborah. The couple was married for 49 years.

After college, Ron served in the U.S. Army from 1966-1968. He began his journalism career as a reporter for the Lancaster New Era in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. He earned his master's degree at Temple University in Philadelphia. Marmarelli went on to complete his doctoral coursework at Michigan State University before arriving at CMU.

Journalism Department Chair Tim Boudreau considers Marmarelli a “long-time friend and mentor” who guided him through the journalism program in the early 1980s. His passion for journalism inspired Boudreau to pursue it as a career.

“He was a quiet, unassuming guy with a keen sense of humor who gave out green eyeshades to his students. He was sort of our departmental historian and the go-to guy on editing matters,” Boudreau said. “He touched my life and the lives of hundreds of journalism students at CMU.”

Affectionately known as “Marm” by journalism students and faculty, he was known to be a tough professor. As an experienced journalist who emphasized the fundamentals of reporting and editing, he set high standards for his students. He wanted them to learn journalism the "correct way." Students knew that Marm’s classes wouldn’t be guaranteed A’s, but they also knew that he was a person one aspired to impress. If he applauded your work, you did indeed do a truly exceptional job. 

“He had a profound impact because he really cared,” Beth said. “He always wanted people to be as good as they possibly could be.”

Marmarelli’s high standards were not exclusive to his students. Growing up, Beth’s school papers were always proofread by her father. That often ended with her assignment covered in editing marks. Beth had a “love/hate relationship” with being edited by her father her whole life, but ultimately Marmarelli made her a better writer and editor.

A lifelong fan of Pittsburgh sports, particularly the Steelers and the Pirates, Marmarelli often brought his Terrible Towel to wave in class. It was entertaining to watch her father go through a “range of emotions” when they went to Pirates games, Beth said. He cheered loudly when they were doing well, but yelled just as loudly at them when they fell short.

“He was the first one to be on them when they were struggling,” Beth said, laughing.

Beth described her father as someone who “wasn’t a talker” but instead spoke when he felt that he had something important to say. In the past few years, he did a lot of his talking on Twitter, a place for him to offer his views on politics and sports and to reach out to his former students and colleagues.   

In his free time, he usually had a book, or his iPad, in his hands. He had a strong love for music, and was a big Bob Dylan fan. Within the confines of his office, which was filled with photos, books and images and quotes from magazines of websites, Marm always had music or NPR playing in the background.

Marmarelli is survived by his wife, Deborah, daughters Trina and Marissa Beth, brother David Marmarelli and grandsons Charlie and James Schroeter. Beth said a big joy of her father’s life was being a grandparent.

A scholarship fund has been established in memory of Marmarelli’s love of journalism and commitment to CMU’s journalism department. Donations can be made online.