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Currents: in memoriam

Remembering Peter W. Shanks '98

Kindergarten Teacher, Alumnus, Friend

Peter W. Shanks, a Colby-Sawyer alumnus and well-loved kindergarten teacher at the Windy Hill School, passed away of kidney failure on Aug. 1, 2012, at the Veteran's Hospital in White River Junction, Vt., at age 54.

The Windy Hill community will host a celebration of the life of Peter Shanks at Windy Hill School on Saturday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m. Peter was a member of the U.S. Army 10th Special Forces (Airborne) from 1976 to 1980 and worked for the Claremont Police Department in 1981-1982, returning to the Special Forces in 1982. He retired from the Army in 1994.

His interest in teaching and working with children led Peter to the Child Development Program at Colby-Sawyer College, where he excelled and was awarded the David Winton Baccalaureate Award for the highest grade point average in his class. He graduated in 1998 with a B.S. in Child Development and certification in Early Childhood Education. Since then, Peter has been a wonderfully creative and caring kindergarten teacher at the Windy Hill School, the college's child development laboratory school.

In addition to his teaching responsibilities, Peter volunteered as a teaching assistant in upper-level Child Development courses each semester. He brought great joy and enthusiasm to classes and enriched our college students' understanding and appreciation for the intelligence of children and the value of play in supporting their development.

“Peter was an extraordinary friend, learner, teacher, mentor and collaborator, as well as an advocate for Windy Hill School and Colby-Sawyer College,” says Janet Bliss, director of Windy Hill and associate professor of Social Sciences and Education. “His relationships with young children, co-workers, college students, staff, faculty and community members were characterized by generosity, humor, intelligence, inventiveness and an attitude of 'sure, we can make that work.'

“Peter touched the lives of many in his role of Windy Hill teacher; he was beloved by countless children and college students as well as by his coworkers,” Bliss adds. “One of his greatest strengths was his ability to relate to children … to make them feel special and believe they could accomplish great things.”

Peter was also the technology wizard of Windy Hill School, sharing his infectious fondness for digital gadgetry with everyone around him. His collaboration with co-workers, college students and child development faculty led to regional and national presentations on the school's innovative uses of technology in the education of young children and student teachers. Peter's contributions to the lab school and the Child Development Program were widely recognized as cutting edge among a broad spectrum of professionals, according to Bliss.

“Peter touched many lives and was a celebrity in his own right in New London, recognized by children and parents alike wherever he was in town,” Bliss recalls.

Peter is survived by his wife, Julia Brisbane, and son, Connor, of Elkins; daughter Erica Steeves, her husband, Chris, and grandson Mac of Alaska; daughter Alyssa Shanks of Alaska; and son Brennan Shanks and his wife, Jillian, of Seaside, Calif.

No services will be held. Peter will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to The National Kidney Foundation at

-Kimberly Swick Slover