In Memory

Steve Tollefson

Steve Tollefson



Stephen Tollefson, a former lecturer in UC Berkeley’s College Writing Programs and director of the campus’s Office of Educational Development, died Friday. He was 66.

A member of UC Berkeley faculty and staff for about 40 years, Tollefson was the only person to have received the Distinguished Teaching Award, Chancellor’s Outstanding Staff Award and the Berkeley Citation, an award given for extraordinary service to the campus. He was known for his fiction and essays, his leadership in the College Writing Programs and his work on innovating and improving the quality of teaching on campus.

Former student Regina Kim said Tollefson brought energy to the classroom and was so involved with the students in the class that during in-class workshops, he was able to recall details from each of his about 20 students’ papers.

“Every time we talked about a reading, he would get really into the discussion — it wasn’t even like he was a teacher,” Kim said. “He had a lot of passion for his students.”

Tollefson, originally from Montana, earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and went to UC Berkeley for his master’s. He was hired as a lecturer in the College Writing Programs in 1973 while pursuing a doctorate at UC Berkeley. His talents as a lecturer were recognized in 1984 when he was awarded the Distinguished Teaching Award.

Tollefson also advised professors on their teaching as the director of the Office of Educational Development. He created grants, planned lunch meetings and developed online teaching resources to improve the abilities of teachers across all departments. In particular, Tollefson led Berkeley Writers at Work, an annual interview with an author on campus intended to build a greater sense of community by talking about the writing process.

According to Catherine Koshland, the vice chancellor for undergraduate education, Tollefson’s projects and his passion heightened the value that UC Berkeley professors place on the craft of teaching.

“There is no single person who has done as much for teaching on the campus as he did,” said Kevis Goodman, an associate professor in the English department. “If this school is a research institution where teaching is highly regarded — and I think it is — that’s because of him.”

Tollefson published several books on grammar and writing, as well as short stories, poems and numerous articles on topics ranging from teaching introductory writing courses to the shifting trends in what his students read. His writing demonstrated his wit and wry sense of humor while discussing writing tips and his own life experiences, according to Gail Offen-Brown, a lecturer in the College Writing Programs who knew Tollefson for more than 35 years.

“He was one of the warmest people I’ve ever met,” Goodman said. “Extraordinarily accomplished but also modest — his interest was in making everyone else look their best.”

Richard Freishtat — a senior consultant at UC Berkeley’s Center for Teaching and Learning, which used to be the Office of Educational Development — became a good friend and mentee of Tollefson after Tollefson retired and Freishtat filled his position. He said Tollefson wanted to see others improve and succeed rather than focusing on himself. Tollefson was able to be both a friend and a mentor and could have a serious conversation about work but balance the conversation with humor and charm, Freishtat said.

“Steve had an unbelievable humor and an ability to engage with anyone on campus,” Freishtat said. “His presence and things he’s done will live on for a long, long time.”














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04/04/17 09:17 PM #1    

Robert (Bob) Sorensen

I'm so saddened to just learn that our classmate Steve Tollefson passed away at age 66 in 2015. Steve distinguished himself at BWHS as an outstanding student and leader.  He was a wonderful person, my best memory is his natural gift for friendship with whoever he crossed paths with.  I'm blessed to have been in his circle of friends in high school. Steve had a distinguished 40-year career at University of California-Berkeley.

I came across this wonderful tribute to Steve posted on the "Daily Californian" a student newspaper at Cal Berkeley. It includes a great photograph of Steve with his students. Copy and paste the link in your browser.

Bob Sorensen




04/05/17 08:30 PM #2    

Robert (Bob) Sorensen

I'd like to share a link to a story from the Missoulian newspaper in Missoula MT written April 3 2014 by Steve's older brother Greg Tollefson. 

Copy and Paste the link in your browser:

Background: Written a little more than a year before Steve passed away, it's a great reflection on the relationship between Steve and Greg that tells the reader a bit about who Steve was as a person. Some may recall that Greg himself was a BWHS graduate (Class of 1965?) and a wrestler with a heart big enough to win some dramatic upset matches. Greg wrote a weekly Outdoors column in the Missoulian for 27 years and signed off with his last column for the Missoulian November 27,  2014. 

Bob Sorensen



05/10/17 01:37 PM #3    

Polly Hansen (Farina)

In a conversation with one of my dearest friends from my days at BWHS, Nancy Nielsen, I learned that my very good friend Steve Tollefson had passed away almost 2 years ago.  How does that happen?  Steve and I live 30 miles away from each other.  We saw each other infrequently, but every Christmas exchanged cards promising that THIS year we'd get together.  I wondered why I hadn't received a card these last two years, and was determined to call him to make that long postponed date.  And now, as so often happens to us, it is too late.  But Steve lives on in my heart and mind.  On those infrequent visits over the years, we laughed over so many memories from our Billings days.  Steve was a groomsman in my wedding 48 years ago and we still laughed over his mother admonishing him before the wedding "Make sure you don't stand in the wrong place and end up married!"  I have loved that man from our first meeting at a Boy Scout event when we were 7 or 8 and will always cherish the blessing of having known him.  He was and remains an extraordinary human being.  And one last impact from Steve - enough of these "Someday we'll get together!"  I'm going to plan those now - starting with a visit to Nancy in October.  

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