Dr. Walker Gilmer

“To know students and be with them and teach them—that was the career I wished for most.”

This is the story of the charismatic teacher who, for 34 years, had been devoted to his students, to American literature and theatre, to his colleagues and to the University to which he had given his entire career: Walker Gilmer.

That devotion is why Walker’s decision to establish The Peggy and Walker Gilmer Scholarship was no surprise to DePauw. This most generous gift is Walker’s way of thanking the students and University that gave his professorial life such meaning and pleasure. It is also a way to remember and honor his wife and “soulmate,” Peggy, who passed away in June 2010. For many years, she taught at the University, too; strolled with Walker and their students down the sidewalks of New York on their legendary Winter Terms; and with Walker welcomed those students to the Gilmer home on Taylor Place and later on Hilltop Lane.

The Peggy and Walker Gilmer Scholarship allows promising students of greatest need, especially first-generation students, to enjoy the full richness of the DePauw education that the Gilmers contributed to and enjoyed for so many years. It also challenges his former students, colleagues and friends to match him in this gift to future Gilmer Scholars.

As a member of the DePauw English Department for his entire career, Walker had a lifetime of opportunities to serve the University and mentor colleagues. For those who joined him in the English Department and for many across the University, he modeled—as teacher, department chair and member of a variety of University committees—commitment to professional excellence, civil discourse in times of disagreement and openness to change. He was the first to teach a course in African-American literature and one of the first to shift from a lecture to a discussion-centered classroom. As a leader, he insisted upon democratic principles of governance as opposed to privilege and hierarchy. His colleagues recognized his contributions with his appointment to the James Whitcomb Riley Chair in the early 1980s and his selection in 1990 as one of the first three professors to receive the Fred C. Tucker Distinguished Career Award.

But the honors Professor Gilmer is most proud of are the ones given him by students in various forms over the years. Typically, when he was interviewed for a story about his winning the 1976-77 Panhellenic Professor of the Year award, he credited DePauw for his luck. Here, he said, he had “the chance to see and talk to students in class and on campus—an opportunity I would never have had in a larger and more impersonal school. To know students and be with them and teach them—that was the career I wished for most.”

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