Honor a living treasure: Dr. Peter J. Stanlis

Rockford College students and Rockford residents have a rare opportunity to meet and honor one of our living treasures—Dr. Peter J. Stanlis.

On April 23, at 7:30 p.m., in the college’s Grace Roper Lounge, the Friends of the Howard Colman Library will host a program in honor of Stanlis’ many achievements and his scholarship on Edmund Burke and Robert Frost.

Stanlis is the leading authority in the United States on the British statesman and philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-1797). Burke was a reformer and advocate in Parliament and in his writings for the American colonies, religious tolerance, civil liberty and Natural Law. Stanlis has published or edited more than 100 articles and newsletters and seven books on Burke for more than four decades.

In 1968, he co-founded the American Society for 18th Century Studies, which has 2,400 members today.

From 1968 to 1988, he was chairman of the English Department at Rockford College, where he is now Distinguished Professor of Humanities Emeritus.

In 1982, at the nomination of Chicago’s renowned Newberry Library, he was elected as a British Academy Research Fellow, and he researched Burke at Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol, and London universities and the British Museum—a rare honor for an American.

From 1978 to 1982, Stanlis served on the National Endowment for the Humanities, at the appointment of President Ronald Reagan.

Government is a known set of phenomena on the local and state level, as well as the historic and national level, to Stanlis.

From 1955 to 1961, he served as a city councilman in Trenton, Mich.; and at the appointment of Governor G. Mennen Williams, he also served on the seven-person constitutional revision commission that composed the present constitution for Michigan.

Stanlis came to Michigan via the poet Robert Frost’s letter of recommendation to the doctoral program in literature at the University of Michigan. He received his doctorate in 1951.

During his undergraduate work at Middlebury College in Vermont in 1939, Stanlis began a 23-year friendship with Frost at the summer program of the famous Bread Loaf Writers Program. Stanlis received his master’s degree from the Bread Loaf Graduate School of English at Middlebury College in 1944.

Stanlis’ understanding of Frost extends from his long talks and walks with the poet as a student in the Vermont setting, to his hosting the poet’s reading in the sports arena of the University of Detroit as a faculty member, shortly before Frost’s death in 1963. After every meeting with Frost, Stanlis made extensive notes on the conversation.

Stanlis’ subsequent scholarship on the poet has been published in many journals and in Frost anthologies. His book Robert Frost: The Individual and Society came from two lectures at Rockford College.

His essay “Robert Frost’s Masques and the Classic American Tradition” is considered by many Frost scholars as the best exploration of one of the poet’s more complex works.

Just as Stanlis’ Edmund Burke and the Natural Law cast the new light of Natural Law as a major tenet for the understanding of Edmund Burke, Stanlis’ upcoming book with the working title Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosophical Dualist, reveals Frost’s approach to mind, spirit and matter as a major tenet for the understanding of the poet’s work. The book has been accepted for publication by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and will be released in late 2003.

Last year, as the vice-president of The Friends of Robert Frost, Stanlis’ was instrumental in acquiring and creating The Robert Frost Stone House Museum in Shaftesbury, Vermont. The Stone House is where Frost wrote “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” and was the poet’s home from 1920 to 1929. Dedicated Sept. 29, 2002, the museum features Stanlis’ lifetime collection of more than 300 photographs of Frost and people and places associated with him. The room where Frost wrote his famous poem features many aspects and critical writings on the poem. Elanor Wilber, Frost’s granddaughter, was so pleased with the museum that she donated some family memorabilia.

The museum has also received some funding from the Vermont Council for the Humanities, and Stanlis hopes it will become more than a tourist destination. He has a vision of a cultural and education center focused on literature and the poetry of Robert Frost.

As Frost said, and as Stanlis practices: “It takes all sort of in- and outdoor schooling / To get adapted to my kind of fooling.”

To enjoy getting “adapted,” call Cathy Kight at 394-5041, and mark the calendar for April 23, 7:30 p.m., Rockford College’s Grace Roper Lounge.

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