In Memoriam: Dr. Peter J. Stanlis, 1919-2011

By the Rev. Joan Surrey Clark
Rockford College Professor Emeritus

Dr. Peter John Stanlis, 91, distinguished professor of humanities emeritus of Rockford College, died peacefully in his sleep in his Rockford home July 18.

Stanlis was born Aug. 12, 1919, to Lithuanian immigrant parents in Newark, N.J. His education included graduation from Nutley (N.J.) High School in 1937, a 1942 bachelor of arts degree from Middlebury College (Vermont), a 1944 master of arts degree from Middlebury’s Bread Loaf Graduate School of English, and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1951.

He was a faculty member at Rockford College for more than 20 years, including a term as Chairman of the English Department. Rockford College awarded him an Honorary Ph.D. in Humanities after his retirement.

Robert Frost (left) and Peter Stanlis (right) at the University of Detroit in 1962 on the occasion of Frost receiving an honorary degree. Stanlis arranged a poetry reading on this occasion in the sports arena of the university. It was attended by 10,000 people, coming in by the busload. Upon taking the stage, Frost declared to the crowd, "You're an avalanche!" This was Frost's last major public reading before his death Jan. 29, 1963. Stanlis was very proud of this event.

Dr. Stanlis was the world’s authority on the British statesman Edmund Burke, having written more publications about Burke than anyone living or dead. In addition, he wrote several books and many articles about his friend and mentor, the poet Robert Frost.

Dr. Stanlis lectured at prestigious academic gatherings both in the U.S. and abroad, and translations of his works have appeared in Swedish, French, German, Italian and Japanese.

His two most influential books are Edmund Burke and the Natural Law, now in its fifth edition, and Robert Frost: The Poet as Philosopher.

He served as President Ronald Reagan’s appointee for six years on The National Endowment for the Humanities beginning in 1982. In 1987, he was appointed a British Academy Research Fellow.

Stanlis was a member of Holy Family Catholic Church, Rotary, the Board of the Rockford Institute, Adviser to The Russell Kirk Center for Cultural Renewal (in Mecosta, Mich.), founding member of The American Society for 18th Century Studies, Distinguished Member of The Philadelphia Society, member of The Caxton Club of Chicago, co-founder of The Robert Frost Stone House Museum near Bennington, Vt., and its Friends of Frost; member of the Conference on British Studies, perennial member of the Frost Scholars Annual Gatherings, to only mention a few of his many honors and activities.

His wife, Eleanor Stanlis (eminent violinist and founder of The Rockford College Music Academy/The Music Academy of Rockford) and his daughter Ellie preceded him in death. Survivors include his daughter Ingrid (Paul Donnelly); stepchildren Margaret Batjer McNeeley (Joel), Dr. Hunt Batjer, and Peter Batjer; and Rockford College Professor Emeritus Joan Surrey Clark.

A funeral service for Stanlis will be Monday, Aug. 1, at Holy Family Church, 4401 Highcrest Rd at 1 p.m. A reception will follow the service.

From the July 20-26, 2011, issue

One thought on “In Memoriam: Dr. Peter J. Stanlis, 1919-2011

  • Oct 9, 2012 at 3:36 pm

    I had the distinct honor of taking 2 graduate courses with Dr. Stanlis at the U of Detroit during the mid 60s. More than anybody, he endeared literature to me . His knowledge of Burke was sweeping and his general erudition was truly amazing. This sounds silly, but unique people like Dr. stanlis should live forever. God bless his soul.

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