International scholar receives honorary degree from RC

StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114789051923799.jpg’, ‘Photo by James Thompson’, ‘Dr. Peter Stanlis receives an honorary degree from President Paul Pribbenow at Rockford College's commencement ceremony.’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114789055223324.jpg’, ”, ‘Dr. Peter Stanlis’);
StoryImage( ‘/Images/Story//Auto-img-114789066623603.jpg’, ‘Photo by Frank Schier’, ‘Attending the luncheon in Rockford College's Regents Hall for the honorary degree recipients are, from left: David Burnett, Russell Stauffer, Angela Lemaire, Dr. Peter J. Stanlis and Joan Clark.’);

One of Rockford’s living treasures—Dr. Peter J. Stanlis—was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree by Rockford College at commencement ceremonies May 14. A Distinguished Rockford College Humanities Professor Emeritus, Dr. Stanlis has achieved international recognition for his scholarship.

The commencement program states: “Dr. Peter J. Stanlis is the most widely published authority on the 18th-century political philosopher and statesman Edmund Burke, and one of the foremost Robert Frost scholars in the world today. After receiving his bachelor of arts at Middlebury College in 1942 and his master of arts at the Bread Loaf School of English in 1944, Dr. Stanlis earned his Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1951. He has taught in various American colleges for more than 40 years and has been a great lecturer in four European universities.”

As noted, 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 about Burke for more than four decades.

“His best-known book, Edmund Burke and the Natural Law, published in 1958 [now in its fourth edition], revolutionized modern scholarship on Burke. With Clara I. Gandy, he co-authored Edmund Burke: A Bibliography of Secondary Studies to 1982, which reviews all scholarship and writings on Burke for the past two centuries. In 1991, he published Edmund Burke: The Enlightenment and Revolution,” said the commencement program. “… In 1969, he along with six others, founded The American Society for Eighteenth-Century Studies. He served on the executive board and as a national treasurer for three years, and organized and served as president of the Midwestern branch of the Society.”

From 1968 to 1988, he was chairman of the English Department at Rockford College.

In 1987, 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. He was “the only American to receive the honor that year, and became a member of the Academic Board of the National Humanities Institute,” said the commencement program.

From 1982 to 1988, Stanlis served on the National Endowment for the Humanities, at the appointment of President Ronald Reagan.

Obviously, government is a known set of phenomena on the historic and practical national and international levels, as well as on the local and state level, to Stanlis.

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

During his undergraduate work at Middlebury College in 1939, Stanlis began a 23-year friendship with Frost at the summer program of the famous Bread Loaf Writers Program in Ripton, Vt. After every meeting with Frost, Stanlis made extensive notes on the conversation.

Stanlis’ understanding of Frost comes from, in part, his long talks and walks with the poet as a student to his arrangement of the poet’s reading in the sports arena of the University of Detroit in 1962, shortly before Frost’s death in 1963. Stanlis was a faculty member at Detroit.

As Stanlis relates, at the University of Detroit reading, Frost looked out into the sports stadium filled with people, who came in by the busloads, and declared, “You’re an avalanche!” Frost received an honorary degree that day. As a dropout at Harvard and Dartmouth, the irony was not lost on Frost, who muttered as Stanlis put the degree hood over the poet’s head, “All my life, I’ve been getting educated by degrees.” Frost had a quilt made out of all the honorary hoods he received.

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, Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher, reveals Frost’s approach to mind, spirit and matter as a major tenet for the understanding of the poet’s work.

This lifework and groundbreaking book about Frost has been sent to the publishers, Intercollegiate Studies Institute in Willmington, Del. Textual editors now have the work.

The 14-chapter book stresses Dualism as “the basis of Frost’s philosophy,” linking the importance of such varied subjects as Darwin, Einstein, Lovejoy, metaphor, education, religion, the individual, politics, and “poetry as revelation.” Sure to revolutionize Frost scholarship, the book will be released later this year.

In 2002, 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, Vt. 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 about the poem. Elinor 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 that the house would become more than a tourist destination have come true. His vision of a cultural and education center focused on literature and the poetry of Robert Frost has been brought into fact by presentations of the nation’s leading Frost scholars. Nationally-known poets, such as Timothy Steele, also have read their poetry there as well.

The commencement program also noted, “In 2003, The Intercollegiate Studies Institute awarded Dr. Stanlis with the prestigious Will Helberg Award for Outstanding Faculty Service in recognition of his work as a cultural conservationist.”

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

Stanlis has certainly helped conserve Rockford College. He was the first faculty member to stand up against the controversial management of Norman Stuart, who promulgated the lease of Regents College in London as Rockford College president. Stuart resigned. The college’s endowment was drained, and finances have been a struggle ever since.

Stanlis also supported every effort of his late wife, Eleanor Stanlis, who founded the renowned Rockford College Music Academy. She was one of the first teachers and teacher trainers of the Suzuki Method in the U.S. Her violin students have also attained local, national and international recognition. Stanlis’ support of the Music Academy continues to this day.

Marty Frantz, Eleanor’s protegé, director of the Music Academy and the college’s UnCommon Lives program, presented Stanlis with his honorary degree. Also present for the luncheon and at the commencement to honor Stanlis were: Eleanor’s son, Hunt Batjer, head of neurosurgery at Northwestern University; Eleanor’s daughter, Margaret Batjer, international concert violin virtuoso, concert mistress of the Los Angeles Chamber and violin instructor at the Music Conservatory

of the University of Southern California; Stanlis’ daughter, Ingrid Stanlis, a regional partner of Peat-Marwick, and her husband, Paul Donnelly of Rochester, N.Y.; Stanlis’ daughter, Ellie Vernetti, and his grandson, Ryan; Joan Clark, former archivist, public service librarian and professor at Rockford College and her children, Russell Stauffer and Marion Momaly; and Stanlis’ family friend, Dr. Richard Copoletti.

Visitors from abroad to honor Stanlis included Angela Lemaire, novelist, poet, artist and printmaker of Jedburgh, Scotland. She specializes in wood engraving, linocut etching, and book illustration for fine press publications. In recent years, she has been associated with the Old Style Press in Wales.

She was accompanied by David Burnett, a retired librarian at England’s Durham University. He has worked primarily with older printed books and manuscripts, with particular interest in fine press publications and older wood engravings. He has also written a good deal of poetry and criticism.

At Stanlis’ behest May 17, Burnett will introduce Lemaire for a presentation of her work at Chicago’s 104-year-old Caxton Club. Devoted entirely to the preservation and collection of books, the club is named after William Caxton, the first English printer. The club consists of more than 300 members from the metropolitan Chicago area, who are collectors, booksellers, college professors, librarians and various professionals in the business world.

Charles L. Colman, chairman of the board of trustees, was also awarded an Honorary Doctor of Human Letters degree at the commencement ceremonies. Also, Nancy Crumlish Bruemmer, M.D., Ph.D., Class of 1949, was recognized with an Honorary Doctor of Science degree. The 2006 commencement speaker was author, professor and entrepreneur Clifton L. Taulbert, president and founder of the Building Community Institute.

Even though he earned a good part of his living from the academic community, Robert Frost was truculent about university study, saying, “Formal education is for people who lack initiative and originality.” His point being that you can be creative without a degree, and some of those who have a degree are not creative. Stanlis said Frost’s recommendation to a doctoral studies program consisted of a snarled, “If you must corrupt yourself, go to Michigan!” Stanlis said Frost’s argued graduate-level studies insist on the scientific method, which applied to the Humanities destroyed them. Frost wrote Stanlis a letter of recommendation, but he had hoped Stanlis would become a poet.

Now that Stanlis has one more degree to “corrupt” him, perhaps he will publish some of the poetry he has written that would make Frost proud.

From the May 17-23, 2006, issue

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