Last updateWed, 18 Oct 2017 10am


Walter Lohnes: Stanford professor, pioneer in German education

Walter F. W. Lohnes, Stanford professor emeritus of German studies, died on his 87th birthday, Feb. 8, after a long illness. Mr. Lohnes was a Los Altos resident for more than 50 years.

Born in Frankfurt, Germany, Mr. Lohnes was drafted into the German army when he was 17 and served on the Eastern Front until shortly before the end of World War II, when he was transferred to Italy just as that front was collapsing.
When the war ended, he taught beginning German to U.S. Army officers, his first experience in teaching. He also secured a job at the Rothschild Library Collecting Point, a project designed to repatriate valuable books and manuscripts that the Nazis had removed from private collections and libraries across Europe. In fall of 1946, when the University of Frankfurt reopened, he began studies in medieval history and German literature and folklore.
His contacts at the Rothschild Library positioned Mr. Lohnes as one of the first of 15 German students invited to the U.S. after the war. He spent a year at Ohio Wesleyan University, where he perfected his English by speaking with resident GIs. Interested in seeing more of the United States, he accepted an instructorship at the University of Missouri. In 1951, Phillips Academy, Andover, hired him to head their German department, where he developed one of the most successful and nationally recognized secondary-school language programs in the U.S.
During his career, Mr. Lohnes had a formative influence on the teaching of German in the United States.
He pioneered the development of Advanced Placement exams, which raised the standards of secondary teaching. His introductory course to German literature for fourth-year students became the precursor to the AP German course throughout the country.
Stanford hired Mr. Lohnes in 1961 to supervise its German language program. He began by teaching at Stanford’s National Defense Education Act Institute in Bad Boll, Germany.
The institute offered intense training in language and culture for American high school German teachers.
Mr. Lohnes taught courses in literature, language and style, applied linguistics, culture studies and methods of teaching German during his 34 years at Stanford.
Mr. Lohnes was an early proponent of changing the traditional focus of the department.
Because of his influence, the German department not only broadened its curriculum, adding cultural studies to the traditional concentration on literature and language, but also its name – to the department of German studies. The expanded curriculum offered four options for undergraduate majors: language, literature, German thought or German Studies in many disciplines.
During his time as department chairman, from 1973 to 1979, German studies ranked as the largest foreign language department at Stanford, teaching more than 1,500 students a year. It produced more doctorates in German than any other university in the United States. Mr. Lohnes retired from Stanford in 1995.
In recognition of his efforts in promoting German language and culture in the U.S., Germany awarded him the Bundesverdienstkreuz (Federal Cross of Merit), and and the American Association of German Teachers recognized his work with its Outstanding German Educator Award.
The many students Mr. Lohnes mentored throughout his career remember his warmth, understanding and marvelous sense of humor. They said his unfailingly easy-going temperament never diminished his insistence on high standards for himself as well as for them.
He appreciated art, architecture and music.
Mr. Lohnes is survived by his wife, Claire (Shane) Lohnes of Los Altos; daughters Kristen Johnson of Palo Alto and Claudia Lohnes of Cupertino; son Peter Lohnes of Seattle; six grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
A memorial service was held May 12 at the Stanford Faculty Club.

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