Michael A. Cann (1927 - 2012)

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AMHERST - Michael A. Cann, 84, died on Oct. 28, 2012, at his home in Amherst, with family members by his side, after a long illness.

He was born in the Charlottenburg district of Berlin, Germany, on 27 November 1927. He spent nine years in Berlin with his parents, Henry and Hilda Cann, and his Aunt Hanna, whom he always called his second mother.

Hitler's rise to power was the catalyst for his parents' decision to emigrate from Germany in 1937. They first went to the Netherlands, where Michael suffered a serious bout of typhoid. In 1938, his father, an electrical engineer, came to New York to find work, and in March 1939 Michael and his mother followed.

After graduating from Weequahic High School in Newark, N.J., Michael attended Rutgers University for one semester and then enlisted in the Army. After basic training he was sent back to Germany to use his language skills in the Office of Military Government for Bavaria as part of the Allied Occupation. He returned to many of the sites of his childhood and observed the massive destruction of World War II. He was interested in Berlin for the rest of his life and made many trips there, including ones specifically to introduce his children and grandchildren to the landmarks of his early years.

He attended the University of Chicago on the GI Bill, where he was part of an innovative educational program in which one earned a bachelors degree in two years and a masters degree in an additional three. He participated in the Committee on Human Development, an interdisciplinary cultural psychology program, and found it helped him understand his parents and his upbringing. He joked about the many famous people who attended the University of Chicago that he never knew, but he was friends with 15 year old Richard Rorty, whom he met when both worked on campus bussing tables.

Michael met his future wife Anne when she was introduced to him as "the new Camera C operator" in the microfilm lab in the basement of Swift Hall at the University of Chicago. She was a student at Antioch College in Ohio, and he hitchhiked to Yellow Springs many times to visit her. One time, he got a ride from Woody Guthrie. Michael and Anne married in 1951 in Duxbury.

Michael graduated from the University of Chicago with BA and MA degrees and earned a doctorate in psychology from Boston University in 1961. After brief periods of employment at the University of Vermont and the Holyoke Mental Health Clinic, he spent the rest of his professional career as a counseling psychologist in the Mental Health Service at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He participated in summer orientation programming for parents and conducted outreach to staff in the residence halls, who liked his practical, down-to-earth manner of working with troubled students. While at UMass he also worked closely with Disability Services and the Foreign Students Office.

He consulted at Goodwill Industries in Springfield one day a week for 30 years and worked at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Northampton at both ends of his professional career, 1960-1962 and 1990-1992.

After his retirement Michael participated in many Five College Learning in Retirement seminars. One of his favorites was autobiographical writing, in which he wrote an extensive memoir of his childhood and early adulthood, An Ordinary Life in Extraordinary Times. This illustrated narrative has been included in the collection of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.

Michael felt one of his greatest accomplishments was becoming an American. He felt strongly that immigrants bring "new blood" and enormous vitality to this country and that immigration should be encouraged and supported. He was a fierce defender of free speech after witnessing the terrible consequences of eliminating dissent in Nazi Germany.

He believed in representative town government and participated in it as an elected member of Amherst Town Meeting for 37 years, as well as a member of the Planning Board, Housing Review Board, third Town Hall renovation committee, and Public Works Committee.

Michael had a lifelong interest in toy trains, both European and American, as well as other types of toys and cultural artifacts, particularly those of American origin. He joined the Train Collectors Association in 1957 as one of its earliest members. He was part of a large community of train collectors and enthusiasts and had many long-term friends who shared this passion. He was widely read in many topics and especially interested in science, technology, American history and the immigrant experience.

Michael quietly took on tasks other people avoided and complained about, like vacuuming up water in the basement or making out the summer orientation schedule at work, and then enjoyed doing them in his own way. He was a perpetual "do-it-yourselfer" and referred to himself as a "sophisticated crate builder." He loved working with his hands and enjoyed making things and fixing things, from cars to household repairs to his beloved collection of toy trains. When he and Anne moved to Applewood at Amherst, Michael created a workshop in their basement storage area which was the envy of other residents.

Michael felt his greatest accomplishments were his family, his community service, his encyclopedic knowledge of European and American toy trains, and becoming an American.

He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Anne, of Amherst, and three children: his son Frederic E. Cann of Portland, Ore. and his family, Ellen Thomas, Alexander Cann, and Anthony Zavin, his son Robert A. Cann of Amherst, his wife Catherine Bickford, and his children Adrian Cann, Rebecca Cann, and Madeline Cann, and his daughter Elizabeth Cann, also of Amherst.

He was preceded in death by his parents, his Aunt Hanna, five other aunts and uncles, five cousins and his cat, Buttercup.

Mr. Cann's family and friends are invited to gather to remember him on Saturday, Nov. 17 from 12 to 2 p.m. at the Lord Jeffrey Inn in Amherst. Burial will be private.

Donations may be made to the Train Collector's Association Museum and Library, P.O. Box 248, Strasburg, PA 17579, or the Massachusetts General Hospital Development Office, 165 Cambridge St., Suite 600, Boston, MA 02114, Attn: Sara Kelly for the Cancer Center. Obituary and memorial register at www.douglassfuneral.com.

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Published in Daily Hampshire Gazette on Nov. 9, 2012
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