Charles Vahlkamp

Published 4:33 pm Friday, March 29, 2024

Charles Gustav Vahlkamp died peacefully on March 23, 2024 at home in Danville, Kentucky. He was born on July 28, 1935 in Paducah, Kentucky to Alfred Edwin Emil Vahlkamp Sr. and Marie Lowry Vahlkamp. He is survived by his wife of 61 years, Sarah McLaurin Vahlkamp, daughter Jane Vahlkamp Andrus, son Charles Gustav “Gus” Vahlkamp Jr., and grandsons Mark Robert (Lindsay Henges) Boswell, Jonathan Charles Boswell, and Daniel Richard Andrus. He is also survived by nieces and nephew Gretchen Vahlkamp Danly, Ingrid Vahlkamp Stassi, and Alfred Edwin Emil “Win” Vahlkamp, and their spouses and children; as well as first cousins Charles Lowry and Sara Lowry Page and their families, sister-in-law Mary McLaurin, sister-in-law Merle Vahlkamp, and a host of other cousins and relatives. He was predeceased by his parents, brother Alfred Edwin Emil Vahlkamp Jr., and brother-in-law Michael Arnold. Family was very important to Charles, and he enjoyed spending time with his children and grandchildren up until shortly before his death.

Charles was an Eagle Scout and a graduate of Tilghman High School in Paducah, where he was a member of the basketball team that went to the state finals in 1953. He was awarded a basketball scholarship to Western Kentucky University where he played on the 1954 NIT finalist team under Coach E. A. Diddle. He transferred to Vanderbilt University in 1954 and graduated in 1957 with a degree in business. After working in the hotel industry for three years, he returned to Vanderbilt in 1960 to attend graduate school. He was a National Defense Education Act Fellow for three years while at Vanderbilt. He earned his Ph.D. in French literature in 1970 and wrote his dissertation on Voltaire and 18th-century French literature. As a teaching assistant at Vanderbilt in 1964, he and Sarah made their first trip to France as administrators of Vanderbilt in France, an education abroad program for college students.

In 1967, Charles started teaching at Centre College in Danville, Kentucky, where he spent his entire academic career. His passion was teaching, and he enjoyed introducing generations of students to French language, culture, and literature, both in the classroom and on numerous trips to France with student groups. He became interested in film studies after attending a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Seminar on Film Criticism at Rutgers University in 1978 and taught both French and film studies at Centre until he retired as the Hazelrigg Professor of Humanities in 2001. While at Centre, he served as the Faculty Marshal from 1969-94 and as one of eight members of the NCAA Division III Faculty Athletics Representatives Association from 1977-94. He and Sarah were Directors of Centre-in-Europe in Strasbourg, France in 1994-95 and 2000. He was the founder and organizer of a long-running film series at Centre from 1970-94. In 2005, the film theatre in Centre’s Doherty Library was renamed the Charles G. Vahlkamp Theatre in his honor.

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After Charles’ retirement from Centre and Sarah’s retirement from the Danville Public Schools, they embarked on a second career as guides and lecturers in the Road Scholars Educational Travel program. For ten years, they led groups on the RiverBarge Explorer along the Mississippi River to cities from Memphis to New Orleans. Also, Charles served on the board of the Natchez Literary and Cinema Celebration in Natchez, MS, often giving lectures on films.

An accomplished athlete, Charles was a lifelong player and coach in several sports. From 1969-73, he was an assistant basketball coach at Centre, and he served as the Chief Statistician for the team from 1973-94. He was a member of many faculty intramural teams in volleyball, basketball, and softball. He was a skilled coach and coached Gus in every youth league he played in, including basketball, baseball, and soccer. He was a founding member of the Bluegrass Youth Soccer League in the late 1970s and served as the Chief Referee in the league for many years.

Charles was active in the Danville community and served as an Elder and a Deacon in The Presbyterian Church of Danville. In 1982-83, he was president of The Danville KY Rotary Club and was a Paul Harris Fellow and Chair of the Rotary Youth Exchange Program, which awards scholarships for high school students to study abroad. He was a founding member of the Advisory Board of the Danville Child Development Center (now the Wilderness Trace Child Development Center). He was active in the Friends of the Boyle County Library and ran a popular film series at the library for many years. He also served as a Boy Scout Troop Committee member.

His father having grown up in St. Louis, MO, Charles was a third-generation St. Louis Cardinals fan. He rarely missed a chance to attend a Cardinals game and enjoyed sharing those experiences with his children and grandchildren. He was a lifelong birder, with a life list of 238 birds seen across the United States and Europe. Highlights of his birding hobby were spotting a Scissortailed Flycatcher in Texas, a Hoopoe in Italy, and puffins in Maine. For many years, he participated in the Audubon Bird Count in Boyle County. Charles also had a deep love for cats. Many cats over the years captured his heart, and he passed that love along to his children and grandchildren.

The family would like to thank Dr. Brian Ellis and the staff of Danville Family Physicians, Dr. Jeremy Tarter, Dr. Zain Guduru and the University of Kentucky Neurological Institute, the staff at Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, and Heritage Hospice. Deepest thanks also to Charles’ many wonderful friends and colleagues who were a great source of happiness throughout his life and career.

A Celebration of Life ceremony will be held on Thursday, April 4, 2024, at 11:00 am at The Presbyterian Church of Danville. Visitation to follow in the Fellowship Hall at the church.

In lieu of flowers, donations in Charles’ memory can be made to: the Centre College Voltaire Fund, which provides scholarships for students to study in France (Centre Development & Alumni Office, 600 W. Walnut St., Danville, KY 40422, 859.238.5500,; Friends of the Boyle County Library (307 W. Broadway, Danville, KY 40422,; or the Deacon’s Aid Fund at The Presbyterian Church of Danville (500 West Main St., Danville, KY 40422, To share memories or messages of condolences, please visit