Educator and icon Robert Panara, the first deaf faculty member of Rochester Institute of Technology’s National Technical Institute for the Deaf, is being honored by the U.S. Postal Service with a stamp.
The 16th stamp in the Distinguished Americans series features Panara, an influential professor and pioneer in the field of Deaf Studies and one of the founders of the National Theatre of the Deaf.
“I’m very proud to see my dad honored and Deaf culture recognized in this way, and I want to thank the personnel at the USPS Stamp Development Office for all their work in the design process,” said Panara’s son, John, himself a faculty member at RIT/NTID.
The stamp features a photograph of Panara signing the word “respect” taken by RIT/NTID photographer Mark Benjamin and was designed by USPS art director Ethel Kessler.
During his teaching career, Panara inspired generations of students, and his powerful use of American Sign Language to convey Shakespeare and other works of literature made him much beloved and respected by students and colleagues alike.
Panara was born hearing in Bronx, N.Y. At age 10, he contracted spinal meningitis, which left him profoundly deaf. He attended mainstream public schools and often relied on classmates to take notes for him or mouth words so he could lipread.
He graduated from DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City, learned sign language at the American School for the Deaf in Hartford, Conn., and then earned a bachelor’s degree at Gallaudet College (now University) in 1940, where he wrote several papers that established him as a leader in the field of deaf education. “The Significance of the Reading Problem” expressed his belief that “what the world needs today is more teaching that comes from the heart and soul and not of the coldly conservative and somewhat reticent mind.” This insight would form his teaching style.
Panara’s love of drama and theater made his classes some of the most sought after by both deaf and hearing students.
In 1965, he was invited by U.S. Secretary of Education John Gardner to serve on a national advisory board for the establishment of NTID. He began his career at NTID in 1967 and became its first deaf professor. He also established the English department at NTID where his son, John, currently teaches. Throughout the years, Panara won a number of awards and distinctions including the RIT Founders Award, the NTID Student Association Outstanding Staff Award and the RIT Eisenhart Award for Outstanding Teaching. He also holds honorary degrees from Gallaudet University and MacMurray College.
He founded the NTID Drama Club and was a founding member of the National Theatre of the Deaf, and has been honored by the World Federation of the Deaf for his contributions to education and culture.
Panara, who passed away in July 2014 at the age of 94, was an avid poet, lover of Shakespeare and theater, and fan of baseball and the Rochester Red Wings.
“Bob Panara’s contributions to the field of Deaf Studies, theater and education are indeed worthy of celebrating,” said Gerard Buckley, NTID president and RIT vice president and dean. “RIT/NTID and the entire deaf community is justifiably proud that Bob is being honored in such a meaningful way.”
The formal Date of Issue will take place at a ceremony to be announced at a later date in Rochester, N.Y., home to RIT/NTID where Panara taught for 20 years.