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Panara both inspired and popularized deaf culture

By James Goodman
summarized by Joelle Chasse, staff writer

Robert Panara became deaf at ten years old from spinal meningitis. Shortly after, his parents had their son taken to a New York Yankees game in hopes that his hearing would return with the excitement of meeting Babe Ruth.

Despite meeting Babe Ruth and remaining deaf, Mr. Panara was not discouraged. He eventually became one of the founders of the Rochester Institute of Technology for the Deaf, as well as a motivating teacher, bringing awareness about deaf culture to the general public.

Mr. Panara died at the age of 94 this past Sunday. He will be remembered as a teacher beyond RIT’s scope. “He was one of the founders of deaf studies—the study of deaf culture, the community and lives of deaf people,” stated Harry Lang, a professor at RIT.

Mr. Panara was the first deaf member of faculty at RIT, where he educated for twenty years until he retired in 1987. He contributed to the development of the curriculum for the National Institute for the Deaf and also established its English Department.

Additionally, Mr. Panara founded NTID’s Drama Club, helping to bring literature and poetry to life for his students. NTID named its performing arts theater in Panara’s name when he retired.

“What made him special is that he made all things possible. He wanted everybody included,” said Luane Haggerty, a senior lecturer in NTID’s Performing Arts Program.

Mr. Panara is the author of Great Deaf Americans and a collection of poems, On His Deafness and Other Melodies Unheard. His poem “On His Deafness” (1946) has been reprinted multiple times and was awarded first prize in the 1988 World of Poetry contest.

“In the field of deaf education and the world of deaf culture, my dad was in a league of his own,” stated Panara’s son, John, who is an English teacher at NTID. “He was a teacher with passion and the students at the end of class would always be engaged and entertained.”

In a statement on Monday, NTID President Gerard Buckley said that his “legacy is indeed vast. Thousands of students and graduates have been influenced by his genuine love of teaching and his generous sharing of his beliefs, values and knowledge.”

For more about Robert Panara’s life and legacy, and for the full article here.

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