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Friends and colleagues remember Jack Goellner, longtime director of Hopkins Press

Jack Goellner
Jack Goellner

By any measure, Jack Goellner was a transformative figure at Johns Hopkins University Press, where he joined the staff in 1961 and served as director from 1974 until 1995. During his tenure, the Press grew from a relatively small operation publishing 25 books and six journals annually to one of the largest and most innovative university presses in the world. Since his death at age 92 on December 9, 2022, colleagues and friends across several generations have reflected on his long career and remembered a man whose vision and talent left a lasting legacy.

“Jack Goellner created the Hopkins Press that we know today,” noted current executive director Barbara Kline Pope. With great foresight and extraordinary leadership, he built an exceptional operation that bolstered the core mission associated with university press publishing. During Jack’s tenure, the successes of the books division helped to move entire fields forward. He aggressively expanded the journals publishing program, offered innovative fulfillment and warehousing services to other university press clients, and backed the truly revolutionary move into online publishing that became Project MUSE. His ingenuity, hard work, incredible dedication, and remarkable qualities as a colleague and manager allowed Jack and his team to build the Press into a scholarly publishing powerhouse. All of us at Hopkins Press are grateful to be standing on the shoulders of Jack Goellner.”

The son of German immigrants, Jack Gordon Goellner grew up in Parma, Ohio, and graduated from James Ford Rhodes High School in Cleveland. He received a bachelor’s degree in English (as well as an honorary doctorate) from Allegheny College and a master’s degree, also in English, from the University of Wisconsin. After service at Fort Knox with the US Army during the Korean War, he worked as a reporter in Springfield, Ohio, and then did public relations for the Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company.

Jack loved telling the story of how he discovered the world of university press publishing by reading a novel whose protagonist was director of a small press. Ever the newspaperman, he investigated further, and his interest increased. He reported writing six letters of inquiry to a selection of university presses, receiving four job offers (including one from Harvard), and finally accepting a position at Hopkins Press as manager of sales and marketing in 1961. He was eventually appointed editor-in-chief and then director in 1974. “Jack was a lucky man in that he found a job that suited his particular talents perfectly,” said Barbara Lamb, his wife of 38 years and the Press’s managing editor for 25 years.

As director, Jack looked for opportunities that reflected the academic strengths of Johns Hopkins at the time, publishing award-wining titles in European history, classics, political science, literary theory, and medicine. He launched a highly successful line of health and wellness titles by publishing The 36-Hour Day, by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, which remains the Press’s all-time bestseller. He sought financial support to underwrite prestigious projects such as The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley and The Papers of Dwight David Eisenhower. He skillfully navigated new programs funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to secure a matching grant and create an endowment to support publishing in the humanities. He found the Press a permanent home, a renovated former church in Charles Village. He also worked to expand and diversify the operation in ways that have helped the Press to thrive ever since.

“Jack was a master at balancing the ‘noble duty’ of scholarly publishing with the need to keep the Press on sound financial footing,” said Erik Smist, the current associate executive director and senior director of finance and administration. “To that end, he assembled a leadership team that transformed the Press by creating a portfolio of interconnected publishing businesses that we still operate. It’s hard to overstate how important those decisions were to the future of the Press.”

Jack’s chief financial officer and associate director, Bob Warren, created Hopkins Fulfillment Services (HFS), which leveraged existing infrastructure to offer warehousing and customer services to other publishers. The move not only created a new revenue stream and opportunities for cost sharing but also strengthened ties to the university press community. His journals manager and associate director, Marie Hansen, championed the dramatic expansion of the journals publishing program from six journals in the 1960s to 46 at the time of Jack’s retirement in 1995.

“Jack and Marie realized that growing the journals program would not only serve the scholarly community but also help stabilize and sustain the Press’s finances,” observed Bill Breichner, journals publisher at Hopkins Press. Weve expanded on the strategy they charted, and we now publish 108 journals, one of the largest portfolios of any university press. Our strength in journals publishing has been important for the Press and, of course, it provided a solid foundation content-wise for the initial iteration of Project MUSE.”

Indeed, one of the most consequential developments of Jack Goellner’s tenure resulted from his support for an innovative pilot program to publish the Press’s journals online in the early days of the internet. Undertaken in partnership with the Hopkins library (now the Sheridan Libraries) and supported by funding from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the NEH, that fledgling effort would become Project MUSE, today a separate division at the Press providing global access to a massive online collection of half a million journal articles and a million book chapters from nearly 300 publishers. By all accounts, Jack’s reputation and credibility at Hopkins and within the publishing community were critical to its success.

Jack Goellner was a very supportive director,” recalled Marie Hansen on the occasion of MUSE’s 25th anniversary in 2020.I think the whole idea of the electronic future was amazing to him. He never gave up his manual typewriter until his final years at the Press, but he did a good job representing MUSE to Hopkins and the university press community.” Wendy Queen, the current director of Project MUSE, agrees. “Many hands helped to build MUSE,” she noted, “and there were many milestones and successes leading to our launch in 1995. But MUSE wouldn’t exist at Hopkins without Jack Goellner, without his blessing, involvement, and advocacy in those earliest days. Considering everything that has happened since, it’s a truly amazing legacy.”

Jack’s influence and impact reached far beyond Johns Hopkins, particularly as the Press became known as a training ground for future leaders. Over his 20 years as director, he hired and mentored many talented staff who went on to become directors of other university presses. “There have been so many terrific colleagues throughout the university press community with close ties to Hopkins,” said current editorial director Greg Britton. “That’s because Jack hired great people and cultivated the leadership skills that every publisher needs. Something like a dozen presses have been led by people who worked with Jack at Hopkins, including Bill Sisler at Harvard, Nancy Essig at Virginia, Eric Halpern at Penn, MaryKatherine Callaway at LSU, and Doug Armato at Minnesota.”

Jack hired Doug Armato as marketing manager for books in 1988, recruiting him from a much smaller press and encouraging him to “shake things up.” Named director of University of Minnesota Press in 1996, Doug recalls, “I learned greatly from Jack’s example: how to think through complex problems and opportunities, how to consult widely and persuade others, how to lead through reason and with humor, and how to take large, confident, calculated risks without flinching. In short, under Jack I learned to be a leader and a complete publisher. And all these years later, I still employ those tools and still follow his wise and humane example.”

Jack also served the broader publishing community with a stint as president of AAUP, then the Association of American University Presses, now known as the Association of University Presses (AUPresses). He held various committee assignments for the Association of American Publishers (AAP), and served on boards and in advisory roles for various presses and non-profit organizations including the Maryland Historical Society. He served on the board of the Johns Hopkins Federal Credit Union for 25 years, and was cited by their former CEO with being the best board member he ever had.

For the several generations of staff who worked with him, Jack Goellner is remembered in very personal ways as an exceptional publisher, boss, colleague, and friend. Many recall his genuine interest in everyone at the Press, his awareness of their work, and his desire to see them succeed. He boosted staff individually by writing fan letters,” often amusing typed notes acknowledging a milestone passed, a question settled, or a job well done. It was easy to think of him as a firm and fair parent: reassuringly in charge, expecting the best, attentive to details, reveling in the accomplishments of others.

“I’ve never known a person more curious than Jack was—about everything,” recalls former executive editor Jackie Wehmueller. “He threw himself into whatever interested him. We were lucky to experience publishing with him, because he was always enthusiastic. Jack was an acute listener as well as a natural public speaker. In staff presentations he regaled us with our accomplishments, our strengths, and our goals. His humor was wry, his insight as on target as the pitches he served from the mound in the annual Press softball game.”

When Jack retired in 1995, he was proud to be only the fourth director of America’s oldest university press, then in its 117th year of operation. For many, Jack embodied that storied Hopkins history and the time-honored traditions of publishing.

“Looking back, especially for those of us who joined the staff late in Jack’s career, he seemed like our connection to an earlier era of publishing,” observed Glen Burris, a former book designer. “Not old-fashioned exactly, because Jack was always comfortable with innovation and change. But gentlemanly, in the sense that our work was guided by high standards and deep respect for what we published. Jack cared a lot about sales, of course, but the bottom line was never the only measure of success or significance. Jack made us feel like we were part of something great, because that’s what he believed. It was a privilege to work with him and be part of his time at Hopkins.”

A memorial gathering to honor Jack Goellner will be held on March 4, from 2:00 PM until 4:00 PM, at Roland Park Place, 830 West 40th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211. RSVP, if you can, to 410-243-4712. 

Contributions to Jack's memory may be made to the Goellner Foundation Endowment at Johns Hopkins University Press, 2715 N Charles Street, Baltimore, MD 21218; for more information please contact Marla Kanefsky (MarlaK@jhu.edu).

A very special thanks to Jack Holmes for writing this piece.

Photo courtesy of Barbara Lamb.

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