KEENE, N.H. – Ralph O. Hjelm, 88, a former professor of philosophy at the University of Maine, died Jan. 16, 2012, at his home, after a brief illness. Hjelm was born Jan. 20, 1923, in New Britain, Conn., and grew up in Worcester, Mass., Chicago and Washington.
After receiving a Bachelor of Arts degree from Upsala College and a Bachelor of Divinity from Augustana Theological Seminary, he attended Union Theological Seminary, where he studied under Paul Tillich and Reinhold Niebuhr. Upon receiving his Master of Sacred Theology in modern theology from Union in 1949, he enrolled at Harvard University, where he earned a doctorate in the history and philosophy of religion in 1954. While at Harvard, Hjelm served as minister of Lutheran Church of the Redeemer, Woburn, Mass., and married Margaret Stever, with whom he raised two sons. The marriage ended in divorce in 1985. Hjelm was a professor at Upsala from 1954 until 1969, when he joined the faculty of the University of Maine, Orono. There he led the religious studies program and served as chairman of the philosophy department. Upon retiring in 1988, he moved to Peterborough and later Keene, N.H. Hjelm was an avid lifelong traveler, particularly in Europe and the Middle East, and through his retirement he continued a vigorous pursuit of his scholarly interests. Among his many admiring colleagues and students, he is remembered for his generous erudition, wit and friendship.
Hjelm is survived by two sons, Jeffrey of Camden and Thomas of New York; their wives, Dori Harnett and Adriana Bratu; a sister and brother.