Gary L. Collison, professor emeritus of American studies and English at Penn State York, died Sept. 19, after a lengthy illness. During his more than 30-year career at the campus he taught courses in American studies, American literature, humanities and writing, as well as honors courses. He provided students with unique learning opportunities and encouraged them to play an active role in the community through volunteer work. He initiated a program to recognize students for their community service, which is now a part of the campus' annual awards program.
Throughout his career, Collison has received numerous research grants and has incorporated his research interests into classroom experiences for students. It was not unusual to find Collison and his students visiting a local cemetery to study the gravestones. His research projects include early German-American gravestones -- identifying, photographing and interpreting pre-1850 decorated vernacular stones in southcentral Pennsylvania. He published numerous articles and papers and made presentations throughout the United States and Canada.
In 1997 Collison published his first book, "Shadrach Minkins: from Fugitive Slave to Citizen," a work that earned him a Pulitzer Prize nomination. Published by Harvard University Press, the book tells the story of the life of a fugitive and was the culmination of more than 10 years of research done by Collison. His work also earned the Gustavus Myers Award, which recognized his book as one of 14 outstanding American books published in 1997 from among 300 nominations. The Myers Center identifies and reviews outstanding books written each year about discrimination and bigotry, and about ways to develop equitable future communities and societies.
Collison earned a doctoral degree in English from Penn State in 1979 and to complete his doctorate work, transcribed, introduced and annotated part of the letters of Theodore Parker, a 19th-century leader in the New England abolition movement. Collison earned a master's degree in English from Bucknell University and a bachelor's degree in English from Lehigh University.
A funeral service will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 22, at the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of York, 925 S. George Street, York. A viewing will be from 10 a.m. until the time of the service Saturday at the church. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Gary Collison Scholarship Fund, Penn State York, 1031 Edgecomb Ave., York, PA 17403.