Robert C. Slater, 73, director of the Department of Mortuary Science at the University of Minnesota for 40 years and an educational and clergy consultant to the National Funeral Directors Association, died Saturday [January 25, 1997] at his home in Excelsior.
He was born in Isanti, Minn., and earned an associate degree in mortuary science from the University of Minnesota in 1942. He was in the Navy during World War II and received a Purple Heart after being wounded at Guadalcanal.
He worked at the Lee Mortuary in Minneapolis before the war but decided to return to the university for a bachelor’s degree in education. He started teaching full time at the university in 1947 and became a professor and director of the Mortuary Science Department in the early 1960s.
He moved the mortuary science program from an associate degree to one of the first full, four-year bachelor of science degree programs in the nation.
“He took what was a trade and made it into a profession by raising the standards of funeral services throughout the country,” said funeral chapel owner Morris Nilsen, who had known Slater since 1950.
Whether Slater was sharing the finer points of walleye fishing with his grandchildren, guiding his “Mort Sci kids” or educating Federal Trade Commission panelists on guidelines for funeral service, family members said he “taught us all.” They said he could squeeze 50 hours into a day but always found time for his family.
He retired from the university because of health problems in 1988. He was a board trustee at Gustavus Adolphus College and Northwestern Theological Seminary, where he received an honorary doctorate. He also was a member of the Lutheran Church of America’s Minnesota Synod board.
He is survived by his wife of 52 years, Betty; a son, John, of Prior Lake, who is a funeral director for the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel; three daughters, Jane Draheim, of Owatonna, Minn.; Joan Slater, of Mackinac Island, Mich., and Joyce Poppe, of Excelsior, and a sister, Joyce Bloom, of Roseville.
Services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Friday at Mount Calvary Lutheran Church, 301 County Rd. 19, Excelsior. Visitation will be held from 4 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapel, 50th St. and Hwy. 100 in Edina, and one hour before the service at the church. Memorials to the church or the Robert C. Slater Scholarship Fund at the university’s Department of Mortuary Science are suggested.