A memorial service to celebrate the life of Robert N. Ganz Jr. of Chilmark will be held at the Grange Hall, 1067 State Road in West Tisbury, on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 2 pm. Friends and community are invited to come share stories and memories of a life well lived.
The service will also be streamed online. Please email email@example.com for a link and more information.
Bob died at home in Chilmark on April 9, 2023, at the age of 97. A World War II veteran and professor emeritus at George Washington University, he had been a seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard since 1938, before moving with his wife, Anne Hotchkiss Ganz, to the island permanently in 2013.
Bob cherished his friends on and off the Island. He loved to entertain with anecdotes, quotations, and enthusiastic opinions on issues of the day, all in the service, he hoped, of making connections. Sometimes his efforts were reciprocated. Two years before she died, Connie Kibler, the longtime office manager in the GWU English department and a dear friend, wrote him, “I have such fond memories of you, Bob. I still remember Geneva McQuatters telling me that you were wearing a raccoon coat the first time she met you. She said you were eccentric. She wasn’t always right in her opinions, but she was right about that. I think you are the most interesting person I have ever met. You are certainly one of the most brilliant, and one of the nicest.”
Born in Boston, Bob grew up in Cambridge, where he graduated from Browne and Nichols School in 1943. He matriculated at Harvard College as a member of the class of 1947. After one semester, he volunteered for the Army, and served as a rifleman with the 10th Mountain Division (“the ski troops”) during WWII. He was wounded in Italy at the age of 19, just two weeks before the German Army’s surrender. He received the Bronze Star, two Battle Stars, and the Purple Heart.
In the afternoon of April 17, 1945, Bob’s platoon came under “machine gun, mortar, and artillery fire” from Nazi German defenses, as they moved toward a fellow company fighting for Mount Serra in Northern Italy (according to George F. Earle’s “History of the 87th Mountain Infantry in Italy 1945”). “They were able,” the account continues, “to keep moving until two or three hundred yards from the houses beyond La Ca. Here a machine gun opened up on the platoon, after allowing the scouts, runner, platoon leader, and four men of the 3rd Squad to go by. The platoon lay flat in the tall grass, unable to move. Only those men without packs were safe, as the bullets mowed across the grass tops. Pfc. Manfred Butler was fatally hit in the neck by machine gun fire, and Pfc. Robert N. Ganz Jr. was wounded as his rifle grenade was detonated.” The rest of his division would break through German defenses that day, and be in position to advance subsequently to the Po River Valley. (Germany would officially surrender in Italy on May 2.)
After the war, Bob returned to Harvard, where he graduated in 1949 with an A.B. in American studies. He stayed on at Harvard to complete his M.A. (in 1951) and Ph.D. (in 1959) in English, studying the poetry of Robert Frost. Bob would go on to write a book in 1968 titled “Robert Frost and the Play of Belief” that was accepted for publication in both the U.S. and the U.K. Cecil Day-Lewis, one of the directors of the London publishing house Chatto & Windus, would write to him that year: “I should have written to you a long time ago about your Frost book. But I have been living in a kind of pandemonium since my appointment two months ago, and am only just beginning to catch up with my work. I thought the book, in its revised form, was one of the very best critical studies I have ever read, and I am more than delighted that we are going to publish it. As I expect you know, we are in touch with your American publishers.”
However, in the end Bob modestly felt his work needed refinement, and pulled it from publication. He would continue to work on revising it for the rest of his life, including on the Island, where he would spend summer days reading in his barn and nights entertaining friends, including another Frost scholar, Stanley Burnshaw.
Bob began teaching as an instructor at Yale before moving on to the University of Virginia, and finally settling at GWU in 1964. He came to GW as an Americanist with a special interest in 20th century American poetry. Having been broadly trained, he also taught the Great Books and European literature as the need arose within his department. He was pleased when a former student, Faye Moskowitz, went on to become the English department chair, and his boss. After 50-plus years of teaching, he retired from GW when he was 86 years old, having taught more than 350 classes, and likely more than 7,000 students.
After many years dividing their time between Washington, D.C., and the family summer home, Anne and Bob moved to Chilmark to live year-round in 2013. Bob had long suspected that his better self lay beneath the leaves on Martha’s Vineyard, as he put it.
Bob was more interested in reading poetry than writing it. However, he once came up with the following verses while replacing windowpanes in his barn in Chilmark: “Puttying is like arguing. /Your touch has got to be soft. /Or else, when you think you’re putting on, /You’re really just putting off.”
A prize for student achievement in the study of American poetry is being established in his honor at George Washington University. For information, please contact his family at firstname.lastname@example.org.