PROFESSIONAL MEMORIAL OF ROBERTO SÁNCHEZ'S CAREER
Roberto Garza Sánchez was born in San Antonio, Texas, on Sept. 24, 1922. Professor Sánchez’s family, having emigrated from México to the US, valued education as an important component in their son’s cultural and life experience. Professor Sánchez graduated from Corpus Christi High School in Texas in 1940, after which he enrolled in Corpus Christi Junior College for his first two years of post-secondary education. Professor Sánchez was a first-generation born in the US and first-generation college student, transferring to the University of Texas after junior college, to earn a BA in 1943 and then a MA the following year, in 1944, from that same institution. He then came the University of Wisconsin-Madison to complete his doctoral studies in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, with a minor in French. His intention was to specialize in Latin American literature, but he became interested in Peninsular Spanish authors, especially in theater, and defended his dissertation on The Theatre of Federico García Lorca, under the direction of Professor Edward R. Mulvihill, in 1949. Upon completion of his Ph.D., Professor Sánchez was awarded the University of Wisconsin-Madison post-doctoral Markham Fellowship, which allowed him to pursue research in Spain during the academic year 1949-50. After which, Professor Sánchez joined the faculty of the UW-Madison as an Assistant Professor in 1950, and subsequently received tenure in 1955 and later was promoted to the rank of Full Professor in 1963. Among his many contributions as a UW faculty member, of particular note was his work on the University Task Force on Minority Student Retention. His professional achievements include two scholarly books and over 27 articles on Spanish literature, on authors such as Federico García Lorca, Benito Pérez Galdós, Leopoldo Alas (Clarín), among others. He also published four extremely successful classroom editions of modern Spanish literary texts, co-edited with Professor Mulvihill, some of which are still used in classes today. In addition to other various professional societies, Professor Sánchez was elected as a standing member of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. He retired from the UW-Madison in 1984 and moved to Santa Barbara, California in 2002.
Among Professor Sánchez’s greatest life achievements, beyond his scholarly works, was the dramatic tradition he cultivated in the Department of Spanish and Portuguese. Professor Sánchez directed and produced a play each and every year that he held a faculty position in residence at the UW–Madison over his 34-year career. His legacy of working with faculty, staff, and students to make the annual Spanish play a reality is still acknowledged and held in high regard today. His plays were attended by high-school Spanish classes from around the region as well as UW faculty and students. Of special note, in 1974, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese celebrated 25 years of plays in Spanish, with a special production of Celestina to mark the event. Professor Sánchez and the department dedicated the performance that year to Professors Lloyd Kasten and Eduardo Neale-Silva, two great Hispanists teaching at the UW, who were retiring that year and the next. Based on his work on that production, Professor Sánchez published an article in the academic journal Estreno, describing the intricacies of staging the late 15th-century text, through which publication Professor Sánchez’s talent as a literary critic and stage director was clearly articulated. After retirement, Professor Sánchez continued to be active in UW student theater and in 1985 directed a play in the Spanish department (Benito Pérez Galdós’ La de San Quintín) as well as one in the Department of French and Italian (the Italian work, La Giara). Indeed, Professor Sánchez’s love of theater continued throughout his retirement. In 2010 he wrote and directed two original one-act plays for the residential community in which he resided in Santa Barbara, California entitled Charlemagne and Marmalade and Dog Named Bernie.
Yet, even more important to Roberto Sánchez, beyond all the professional accolades, was education. He was a teacher. Everything he did, he did with passion, and that was evident in the classroom. His excellence in teaching was recognized officially in 1979 when he was awarded the UW Emil H. Steiger Teaching Award. He also directed some 15 doctoral dissertations and supervised generations of teaching assistants, who went on to be productive, well-respected scholars and teachers in the field as a result of his tutelage. Even in retirement Professor Sánchez’s passion for education and helping others continued through volunteer work with the Madison area public schools, S. Mary’s Hospital, and, most importantly, through his legacy of philanthropy supporting Hispanic students in public education. From his earliest years, Professor Sánchez’s family inculcated in him the value and importance of an education. He, in turn, wanted to provide that educational experience to others of a similar background: encouraging Hispanic students in K-12 public education and first-generation college students in two-year colleges and those transferring into the UW-Madison to continue in their studies. With that goal in mind, he established scholarship funds at Del Mar College in Corpus Christi, the Madison School District, Madison College, and UW-Madison, to promote academic excellence and honor his family’s Hispanic heritage. To date, nearly 90 students have benefited from his generous support: six at UW-Madison, 21 at Madison College, and 60 from Madison high schools.
In his retirement Roberto Sánchez enjoyed travel, tennis, his dachshunds Quico and Paco, reading, plays, and most of all people, and helping those around him. He will be remembered fondly by all of us who knew him, and his legacy of giving will benefit the Madison-area public education, both at the secondary and college/university level, long into the future.
Died August 15, 2016, in Santa Barbara, California, at the age of 93. He will be sorely missed and fondly remembered.