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Nation's ‘premier Cather scholar' dies

Nation's ‘premier Cather scholar' dies

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Sue Rosowski chose her own epitaph.

The words came from a short story, her husband Jim said Tuesday. "Neighbour Rosicky," by Willa Cather, 1928.

"It was a nice graveyard … a big sweep all around it. A man could lie down in the long grass and see the complete arch of the sky over him."

Rosowski, a pre-eminent Cather scholar, was buried Tuesday afternoon at the old Germantown Cemetery near Garland. Her husband of 41 years built her casket. And along with their sons, Scott and David, he carried her to her grave.

Rosowski died Tuesday morning, three years after being diagnosed with cancer for the second time.

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln English professor was 62.

She wrote hundreds of articles, authored two major books on Cather, edited and advised on many others.

"She was undoubtably the premier Cather scholar in the country," said Joe Urgo, chair of the English Department at the University of Mississippi.

"Her work has continued to inspire a new generation of scholars."

Urgo met Rosowski in 1991 when he presented a Cather paper  in Washington. After his presentation, a petite, soft-spoken woman approached him.

"You must do more with Willa Cather," she told him.

That was Rosowski. Always encouraging.

She was a rarity in academia, Urgo said. She didn't hoard Cather; she shared her research and urged others to do the same.

"She had a generous spirit. She shared everything she knew."

Rosowski taught for several years at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and was a visiting instructor at UNL before coming to teach in Lincoln for good in 1982.

She discovered Cather while working on her thesis, her husband said. She'd write about the British Romantics and then take a break, reading the works of the woman from Red Cloud.

"She found out after a while it was really Willa Cather she loved."

Rosowski worked tirelessly on her scholarship, giving talks and papers at conferences and organizing academics.

But she did more than that.

"She always delighted in talking about Cather to ordinary people," said Betty Kort, executive director of the Willa Cather Foundation in Red Cloud.

"She loved Cather and she brought others to love Cather."

New Yorker staff writer Joan Acocella was one of those inspired by the Nebraska scholar.

She met Rosowski in 1994 and later discovered she had lost an eye to ocular melanoma in 1973 — the cancer that would resurface elsewhere in her body in 2001.

"When I think about what she read and what she did with one eye compared to what I accomplish with two," said Acocella.

"She was really the dean of Cather studies in the U.S. … I think it was a real, serious love and she gave her life to it."

She also had a great love for teaching.

At the start of every semester, she photographed all the students in her classes. Before the first week ended she knew all their names.

And she kept the photos. Years later, when students returned to visit, they'd laugh over the old pictures.

"She was completely dedicated as a teacher and completely dedicated to holding me to the highest standards," said Andy Jewell.

Jewell was the last of many of Ph.D. candidates Rosowski mentored over the years.

In his own research, he read dozens of books on Cather.

"Almost every one of the authors  thanked Susan Rosowski in the acknowledgements," he said.

"Her loss to the English Department is enormous," said department chair Linda Pratt.

"She made UNL the place to go to do Cather work."

At the Faculty Senate meeting Tuesday, Chancellor Harvey Perlman called Rosowski's passing a "deep loss for all of us."

In February, Rosowski was awarded the Outstanding Research and Creative Activity Award, the university's top research honor.

Jim Rosowski is a biology professor at UNL. He met his future wife at a dance at Whittier College in California.

She was a freshman; he was a graduate student.

He fell in love with her intellect and her wit and her strong sense of values.

"She was very good at sorting out what was important in life — that it was basically people that mattered not things."

Among her proudest accomplishments, he said, were their two sons.

"She devoted the same attention to our children as she did to her scholarship."

Reach Cindy Lange-Kubick at 473-7218 or


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