WILMINGTON — Wilmington College lost a true original with the passing of Larry Gara Saturday.
Dr. Gara, 97, emeritus professor of history, taught at WC from 1962 through 1992, after which he continued part-time until around 2002.
Lenna Mae, his wife of 72 years and two children, Brian and Robin, survive him. Memorial arrangements are pending.
A Quaker, he was an outspoken advocate for peace and social justice who believed — as the sign he carried during years of protests and peace vigils indicated — “War is not the answer.”
Even persons whose political views might have been diametrically opposite to Gara’s respected him as one who not only talked the talk, but also walked the walk.
Gara is the author of what is considered as the definitive history of the Underground Railroad titled “The Liberty Line: The Legend of the Underground Railroad.” His book so impressed President John F. Kennedy that he included it in the White House’s permanent library collection.
Not only a teacher and researcher of history, Gara also was a part of American history.
He went to federal prison for resisting the military draft during World War II and became part of a movement to racially integrate correctional institutions. In the 1950s, the court case that involved his allegedly counseling a college student not to register for the draft went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court and was featured in TIME magazine.
Upon his arrival at Wilmington College in the early 1960s, Gara initially kept a low profile with regard to politics and protests, but the Vietnam War and Civil Rights Movement were such flashpoints that he became a natural point of gravitation for socially conscious students. He marched alongside students protesting the Kent State shootings as they demonstrated at the state capital.
He continued exercising his right to peacefully protest instances of injustice and violence into his 90s. Implicit in his demonstrations was an insistence of nonviolence.
In addition to “The Liberty Line”, Gara’s other books include “The Presidency of Franklin Pierce” and “Westernized Yankee.” He was most proud of the book he and Lenna Mae co-edited in 1999, “A Few Small Candles: War Resisters of World War II Tell Their Stories.” A subsequent symposium was held at WC featuring many of the book’s contributors, an event that was covered by C-Span Network.
He had a lifelong affinity for jazz music and was an avid bird-watcher. Gara continued as an active member of the College community until only recently when his health began failing.
“One thing I always liked about Wilmington College was there were a lot of points of view on the campus, but all were friendly,” Gara said in an interview for WC’s The LINK in 2008 after the College conferred upon him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree at that year’s Commencement.
“Over the years, there have been a lot of wonderful, interesting people here on campus, good friends,” he added. “I found Wilmington College to be about the best place anyone could teach — it’s a special place. It’s been just amazing!”