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Obituary of Nancy M. Tischler


Nancy Marie Patterson Tischler died Thursday, September 19, 2019, at home of natural causes. She was born in DeQueen, Arkansas on March 20, 1932, to Charles Edward Paterson and Allene Steel Patterson, owners of a peach orchard and descendants of pioneers in the region. She had one brother, James Milton Patterson II, who predeceased her. The Depression and the great drought hit small farming communities especially hard: the family lost their orchard and their home. They moved to St. Louis briefly and then to Little Rock for several years, and finally, when World War II began, they took a train to Washington, D.C. By then, they were a family of three, supported by a single mother, who managed to settle into a clerical job at the War Department and guide both children to good educations and eventful lives. Allene used the war and the events of those years—the final term of Roosevelt, the inauguration of Truman, the return of all the heroes, who had parades down Pennsylvania Avenue-- to teach the children about modern American history. She did the paperwork to win both of them scholarships and cheered them on to graduate studies. Both became professors., though she was disappointed they did not follow the family tradition to become lawyers.

Nancy was also a natural teacher, like Chaucer's Clerk, eager to learn and eager to teach. She loved libraries and reading, enjoyed school and made good grades. The family had found an apartment in the Foggy Bottom section of Washington, near the White House, and went to Western High School—one of the best schools in Washington at the time. Weekends, she worked in the checkroom of the National Gallery of Art. Nancy won a scholarship to Wilson Teachers' College, and planned to teach art and English, but the happy offer of a Fulbright Grant to study literature in England for a year determined her choice of English. Jim, in the meantime, won a scholarship to Kings Point Merchant Marine Academy, just in time to have his basic training before the War was over.

While studying abroad, Nancy visited all the cathedral cities in England and the homes of her favorite British writers. She also managed to stretch her scholarship money to allow her several trips to London, one to witness the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, travels around the British Isles, and a tour of seven European countries. When she returned, she was offered a graduate teaching assistantship at the University of Arkansas, where she earned her master's degree and later her PhD and became a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society. Returning to Washington to write her dissertation—the first critical study of Tennessee Williams's works—she became an assistant professor at The George Washington University. In Williams' The Glass Menagerie, she discovered a dramatic presentation of her family's story in those dark days in St. Louis. She recognized his love of the South and sensitivity to the role of women in that culture and loved his authentic dramatization of the dynamics of a family in transition.

She completed her dissertation, turned her findings into the first book-long study of Williams and undertook a lifetime study of this man's work, ending with her becoming co-editor of his collected letters.

She also met Merle Tischler, a young law student at GWU. Both of them went to the small stone Presbyterian Church in the middle of campus. They married, the beginning of a sixty-year journey through life together as devoted partners. They were planning to settle in Virginia, but the death of Merle's father pressed them to move to Pennsylvania, near Merle's family, where Nancy found a teaching position at Susquehanna University.

After a few years in Selinsgrove, they moved yet again, to Elizabethtown, in Lancaster County. They adopted two boys and discovered the region ideal for raising children and dogs. Nancy found a new campus of Penn State ready to open. She was one of the first faculty hired at the old Olmstead Air Force Base. One of the most exciting times in her teaching career came at Capitol Campus, where she was encouraged to design her own courses. She served as department head and then as division head. Encouraged by Penn State to publish, she began a series of books, mostly on Southern literature. Eventually, she turned to the intersection between religion and literature, writing about Dorothy L. Sayers, and other Christian authors. She became the president of the national Conference on Christianity and Literature for two years, gave speeches at numerous conferences, as far away as England, China, and Australia, and enjoyed a wider role in bringing literature to larger groups of people. She published numerous articles and 20 books—six of them after her retirement.

She also found herself tempted by administrative roles. She was elected by the University Faculty Senate as its chairman, and then selected at the new Director of Summer Sessions, which caused the family to move to the State College area. She was president of both national Summer Sessions associations and did some writing describing programs designed at Penn State.

When she retired in 1997, she had worked at Penn State for over 30 years. And, even when she was an administrator, she took time to teach classes. Even in her retirement, she taught classes for O.L.L.I.E and had sessions for home-schoolers in high school. She also hosted an evening group sharing Christian Classics and cheesecake at her home.

But, it was not the books or the classes or the awards or offices that were her proudest achievements. She found most of her joy in her long marriage to Merle and in watching her two sons grow into men of strong character who are loving, generous, and thoughtful: Grant, after twenty years in the Navy, is a prison guard at Rockview, happily married to Sherry Patton Tischler, the father of three daughters (Christina, Stacie, and Katie) and grandfather of three boys.---Gage, Mason, and Aiden. He and most of his family live in Spring Mills, where he is a Gregg Township volunteer firefighter. Eric, who served in the Marines during the Beirut catastrophe, now lives in Boalsburg. He has his own firewood business, generously giving his time and loving attention to both of his parents as they grew older. Without his support, they would have missed the laughter provided by their large and unruly dogs, the companionship of meals on the porch and arguments with the TV pundits. With the help of Sharon, the housekeeper, he has filled the yard with flowers.

Their extended family, including the children of Merle's brother and sister, and the children and grandchildren of Jim Patterson, Nancy's brother, try to visit as often as they can. The good old stories and bad old jokes make these reunions a great delight.

Nancy also found comfort and companionship in her church family. Nancy and Merle discovered a church home at Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, and wanted to thank the pastors and members who have ministered to them over the years.

Visitation will be from 10 until 11 a.m., on Thursday, October 3, 2019 at Koch Funeral Home, 2401 South Atherton Street, State College. Funeral service will follow at the funeral home at 11 a.m. with the Reverend David Hanson officiating.

Nancy will be buried at the Boalsburg Cemetery, next to Merle.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church, 370 Airport Rd, State College, PA 16801 or to the Pregnancy Resource Clinic, 423 S. Pugh St, State College, PA 16801.

Arrangements are under the care of Koch Funeral Home, State College. Online condolences and signing of the guest book may be entered at or visit us on Facebook.

Name of Deceased

Nancy M. Tischler

Date of Death


Date of Birth


Funeral Home

Koch Funeral Home

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