Poet Inspires Dickinson College Alumna's $1.5 Million Gift

Archive by Erudera News Sep 23, 2005


CARLISLE, Pa., Sept. 23, 2005 – On a May day in 1959, Jean Louise Stellfox, a junior and English major, gathered with other students from Dickinson College for a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with Robert Frost. Hearing him talk about his craft and read his poems so inspired Stellfox that more than 40 years later she would leave the college more than $1 million to ensure that future generations of students would have the opportunity for similar, life-altering encounters with renowned literary figures.

With her gift, Dickinson created The Stellfox Prize and Residency for Literary Excellence, which is funded by the Harold and Ethel L. Stellfox Visiting Scholars and Writers Program, established by Stellfox to honor her parents. British novelist Ian McEwan, author of Atonement, Amsterdam and Saturday, will come to campus Sept. 26-28, 2005, as the first recipient of this annual award of $20,000 and residency.

During his residency, McEwan will visit classes, hold a seminar for aspiring writers, give readings and presentations, and enjoy meals with students and faculty. “What an amazing opportunity for students,” said Dickinson College Associate Professor of English and Writer-in-Residence Susan Perabo. “At a large university, you’re not going to sit in a room with 20 other students and an award-winning writer. You’re not going to have lunch with him. This type of hands-on experience is what really separates Dickinson from other institutions.”

McEwan will do a reading on Wednesday, Sept. 28 at 7:30 p.m. in the Anita Tuvin Schlechter (ATS) Auditorium on the campus of Dickinson College.

Stellfox taught English for 39 years at the high school in Shamokin, Pa., a small town in the coal region of central Pennsylvania. Shortly after her retirement in 2003, she was killed in a hit-and-run accident.

However, before her death, Stellfox had decided to make a gift to Dickinson with the clear wish that students have the same experience she had when the 84-year old poet laureate inspired her to become an English teacher.

With her careful savings and wise investing, her estate was worth over $1.5 million and the never-married Stellfox left most of it to Dickinson. Only Stellfox’s attorney, and former student, was aware of her intentions, when he drafted her will a year prior to her death.

In a tribute article in The New York Times, friends and former students acknowledged Stellfox as a private person and demanding teacher. After hearing about the gift, Stellfox’s close friend and college roommate, Dorothy Henwood recalled “her terrific sense of humor. She was very exacting of herself and others, but she also loved to giggle. Jean Louise, as she always called herself, was probably the gentlest person that I ever knew, although that did not make her a pushover – by any means,” she said.

Knowing this private woman who had a thirst for excellence and talent, Henwood is sure her friend would have approved of Ian McEwan being the first recipient of The Stellfox Prize and Residency in Literary Excellence. “I very much like his style of writing and the way he plays with words – I know Jean would have also,” she said.

An undergraduate college of 2,300 students, Dickinson is known for its innovative curriculum and international education programs. In September 1783, the school became the first college chartered in the newly recognized nation.

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