Dr. Edwin Herr, the 32nd president of the American Counseling Association, passed away April 23 at age 82. He is being remembered as a giant in the field — a scholar and leader who was an example and mentor to many in the profession.
Herr, a professor and associate dean emeritus of the College of Education at Pennsylvania State University, also served terms as president of the Association for Counselor Education and Supervision, the National Career Development Association (NCDA) and Chi Sigma Iota, the international counseling academic and professional honor society. He wrote more than 30 books, 300 journal articles and numerous book chapters throughout his career.
In a 2012 profile of Herr for the Journal of Counseling & Development (JCD), Dennis Engels, a retired professor in the Department of Counseling and Higher Education at the University of North Texas, wrote, “Edwin Herr is without peers in the combination of scholarly productivity, leadership and selfless dedication to the counseling profession and those whom counselors serve … Not only did he inspire, he modeled. He always held the door (literally and figuratively) for the person having some difficulty getting through it; he always worked with consummate humility and respect for others. As someone usually at center stage, he modeled the life of a visionary who remained pragmatically based and in touch with the common person.”
Despite all his titles and accolades, Herr was a caring mentor and teacher who focused on the individual, said Spencer “Skip” Niles, a dean and professor in the School of Education at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, and a former doctoral student of Herr’s. “Ed took mentoring as seriously as anyone I know. When he committed to a student, he was all in. So when I say that he was my mentor for 35 years, I really mean it,” Niles says. “His wise counsel got me through many challenges professionally, and his gentle style of guiding always left me feeling like I was in control of my decisions.”
“Ed never tried to create a person in his own image,” Niles commented. “Rather, he focused on you achieving your potential and becoming the best professional you could be in your own way. Moreover, he was always accessible and always cared about how you were doing.”
Herr steered ACA through a pivotal period of turmoil and change in the early 1980s when factions within the profession were often at odds. He was the last president elected under the association’s original name, the American Personnel and Guidance Association, and was the first to serve as leader of the newly reorganized American Association for Counseling and Development in 1983-1984 (the organization’s name was again changed to the American Counseling Association in 1992).
Herr’s tenure marked a period of growing pains for both the counseling profession and within ACA itself, which led to a restructuring of governance, ACA CEO Richard Yep explained. Herr played a pivotal role in shaping the profession’s trajectory and making ACA what it is today, said Yep, adding that things might have turned out very differently if not for Herr’s unassuming, compassionate and caring style.
“Ed served ACA at a very critical point in our history,” Yep said. “My sense is that Ed had little idea that his presidency would be consumed with as many key issues as it was, but with his keen intellect, his ability to reach consensus and his kind way, our association emerged stronger and better than ever. The fact that ACA went on to thrive and develop is a testament to Ed’s ability to find solutions to difficult challenges.”
Herr testified before Congress several times on behalf of initiatives to further the counseling profession. He served as ACA president-elect and president as states were beginning to adopt laws to license professional counselors across the nation.
“During the time when counseling was growing into new settings and environments, as ACA president, [Herr] was zealous in his call for the profession to remain unified in our diversity — that wherever our knowledge and skill set might take us, we were first and foremost counselors,” said Frank Burtnett, a counselor and ACA fellow who worked with Herr at the Pennsylvania Department of Education. “Many may equal his scholarly and research achievements, but few will match his professional comportment and caring demeanor.”
Mark Pope, a past president of ACA, NCDA and the Association for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Issues in Counseling, remembers Herr’s support and guidance as editor of JCD. Pope submitted a piece to the journal on including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues in the definition of multiculturalism, which Herr accepted and published.
“His mentorship during that process was so important to me, as here was one of the most important leaders of our profession being so supportive of sexual minority issues inclusion in our professional literature” before it was widely accepted, Pope said. “That long-term historic vision was his trademark, and to have his acceptance of both my manuscript and me cemented my decision about our profession and the role that I might play at the nexus of career and multicultural counseling. He is already missed, but his work — scholarship, leadership and mentoring — carries on in all of us whose lives he touched along the way.”
Herr began teaching at Penn State in 1968 and retired in 2003 as distinguished professor emeritus of education (counselor education and counseling psychology) and associate dean emeritus of the College of Education. He also did extensive work overseas throughout his career, serving as a visiting professor and doing research or participating in professional conferences and training workshops in Canada, Europe, Africa and throughout Asia.
Although Herr had a career marked by success and leadership, he never lost touch with his beginnings in labor-intensive professions. Prior to becoming a counselor and professor, he worked in a shoe factory, as a jackhammer operator and construction laborer, as a dishwasher in a college dining hall, as a mail sorter for the U.S. Postal Service and in other labor and service-oriented positions.
Those experiences not only instilled a strong work ethic in Herr but also helped develop his sense of empathy and drive to advocate for unskilled and semiskilled workers throughout his life and career, according to Engels, Niles and others.
Herr also served in the Air National Guard, the U.S. Air Force and the Air Force Reserve throughout the 1950s and 1960s. Outside of his professional life, Herr played the trumpet in several community bands and was an active member of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in State College, Pennsylvania.
Herr passed away at the Foxdale Village retirement community in State College. He is survived by his wife of more than 50 years, Patricia; three children, Amber, Christopher and Alicia, and their respective spouses; and five grandchildren. A funeral was held April 30.
“While I always knew how lucky I was to have Ed as my closest mentor, as of [his death], I have become even more keenly aware of how fortunate I have been for the past three decades. He made all the difference in my career,” said Niles, a past editor of JCD. “I just don’t know yet how I will move forward without being able to rely upon his good counsel and great wisdom. The even more amazing thing about this is that I know that, today, there are many, many others feeling the exact same way.”
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be directed to:
• The Edwin L. Herr Scholarship for the Education of Counselors through the College of Education at Penn State University, Penn State University, c/o College of Education, 247 Chambers Building, University Park, PA 16802
• The Edwin L. Herr Fellowship for Excellence in Counseling Leadership and Scholarship through Chi Sigma Iota, Chi Sigma Iota, P.O. Box 1829, Thomasville, NC 27360
• The Edwin L. Herr Counselor Education Fellowship to Study Abroad at Shippensburg University, 1871 Old Main Drive, Shippensburg, PA 17257
• The Edwin Herr and Edgar Farmer Research Enhancement Fund
College of Education at Penn State University, c/o College of Education, 247 Chambers Building. University Park, PA 16802
If you’d like to share a memory or favorite story about Ed Herr with the Herr family, email Chris Herr at email@example.com
Photo credit: Pennsylvania State University