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February 10, 2020

by Sue Warrick Doederlein, emeritus professor of English

Rose Marie Burwell

NIU Professor Emeritus Rose Marie Burwell of Rockford, IL, and previously Oak Park, IL, died Sunday, Jan. 26, after a five-year illness of frontotemporal dementia. An internationally recognized scholar, her last years resembled those of Jonathan Swift, who had predicted in the 18th century that “I shall be like that tree,—I shall die at the top.”

NIU Professor Emeritus Rose Marie Burwell

Nothing was more essential about Professor Burwell than her intellectual curiosity and her teaching acumen. A prolific scholar, she wrote on such disparate authors as Joyce Carol Oates, D. H. Lawrence and Ernest Hemingway. Her last book, “Hemingway: The Postwar Years and the Posthumous Novels,” was published by the prestigious Cambridge University Press as part of its series Cambridge Studies in American Literature and Culture.

While raising her six children, who were the essence of her life, Burwell earned her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. Having already taught in both elementary and secondary schools, Burwell accepted a position at NIU in January 1970; she was known as a demanding but fair professor, one who exacted her students’ finest work. For her scholarship she was early recognized as associate professor before retiring in 1990.

Although it was her scholarship and teaching that earned her professional recognition, Burwell was known by her family and her fortunate friends as the perfect hostess, the wisest source of information on childcare and recipes, the kindest colleague.

Only Burwell would lead an international convention of scholars in a rigorous discussion of new ideas on Hemingway and then invite all 25 of them to her home for a fine dinner which she had cooked and would serve herself, mindful as always of dietary and cultural restrictions on food choice. 

No one was more fortunate than her children and her special friends; for them she would do anything, anytime, anywhere.

Burwell is survived by her six children, Keith (Shannon) Burwell, Delphi, IN; Lyle Burwell, Sudbury, CA; Hope Burwell (Baukje Folkertsma), Delft, NL; David Burwell (Gloria Mathews), Beloit, WI; Julia (Dr. Dennis) Norem, Loves Park, IL; and Mary (Jon) McLaughlin, Sonoma, CA; nineteen grandchildren; 14 great-grandchildren; brother, Robert Read, St. James City, FL: and sister, Maureen LaBree, Leesburg, FL She was predeceased by her brother, Chet Read, and her parents.

At her request, no memorial service will be held. Those who wish may make contributions in her memory to Andy’s Books for Kids, 11708 Inverway, Belvidere, Il, 61108.