Co-Founder of Stadler Poetry Center honored during Homecoming

Caroline Fassett, Assistant News Editor

The University honored author and Professor Emeritus of English John S. “Jack” Wheatcroft ’49 on Oct. 24 in Bucknell Hall. The event was organized and hosted by Gift Planning Officer Lisa Marquette along with many of her colleagues in Development and Alumni Relations. This event recognized Wheatcroft’s profound commitment to liberal arts and to the art of writing through the creation of a scholarship in Wheatcroft’s name, donated by an anonymous member of the Class of 1989.

At 90 years old, Wheatcroft has had an accomplished career. He has published 26 books; several of these works of fiction, poetry, and plays are nationally known and lauded. Wheatcroft established a legacy at the University, acting as an English professor beginning in 1952, earning the distinction of Presidential Professor 20 years into his 44-year tenure, and retiring in 1996.

“He was always in the English Department. Each year, all year round. He started teaching one course as an undergraduate after returning from World War II. He must’ve been in his early 20s,” his wife Katherine Wheatcroft said, whom he met when they worked together at the University.

Katherine expressed her belief that the program couldn’t have been held at a more suitable location, considering that her husband founded the Stadler Center for Poetry at Bucknell Hall in 1988 alongside Jack Stadler ’40.

“Jack Stadler donated a lump sum to bring in artists and create programs for students. Stadler and Jack [Wheatcroft] wanted to start a poetry center, and they wanted it to be designed in such a way that it was correct for that period of time,” Wheatcroft said.

Professor Emeritus of Biology and President Emeritus Gary Sojka, President of the University at the time of the erection of the Stadler Center, not only attended the event honoring Wheatcroft but also read one of his poems, “Hooked Ram,” at the conclusion of the ceremony. Professor of English and Director of the Stadler Center for Poetry Shara McCallum said that all those who spoke at the program chose to read poems by Wheatcroft in order to “honour his work in the way Gary Sojka talked about Jack himself: as emblematic of the ‘teacher-scholar’ model at Bucknell.”

McCallum herself read one of her favorites of Wheatcroft’s poems, “Dropping Out of Time.”

McCallum said that she felt the event was a moving tribute to Wheatcroft’s legacy: in particular, that it was “reflective of his lasting contributions as a teacher and mentor.” McCallum also added that the Stadler Center for Poetry has worked to continually support Wheatcroft’s early vision of the establishment throughout its near 30 years of existence.

“[T]he Center has built upon and expanded upon his initial hope of creating a space and series of programs that would bring attention to contemporary poetry and support poets and writers at all stages of their literary development,” McCallum said.

Though Wheatcroft himself currently suffers from dementia, his wife saying that “sometimes he’s perfectly aware of what he’s doing, other times he’s not,” she said that he had been very alert at the program held in his honor, and that he was altogether very pleased with it.

“It contained an audience full of affection for Jack. Many of his former students, who have become successful writers and professors, had come back just for him. It was a very short, very sweet program,” Katherine said.

Both McCallum and Marquette acknowledged their delight that such a great number of alumni journeyed back to the University to honor Wheatcroft, the latter said that she “was impressed by how many of [Wheatcroft’s] former students traveled great distances to honor him; the affection and reverence by everyone in attendance was palpable. It was a privilege to be a part of this special tribute for Jack.”

While Katherine said that Wheatcroft continues to write in his retirement, she felt that the event honoring him came along at just the right time in his life.

“It was a good time for this to happen. It perfectly capped off his experiences. I want this scholarship left in his name to really help students. I hope it does,” Katherine said.

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