Wilmington College learned Monday that its 14th president, Robert E. Hinshaw, of Kansas City, Mo., died March 3, 2020, in Guatemala at the age of 86. He served as president from 1971 to 1975.
His passing leaves only two, living former presidents of Wilmington College, Dan DiBiasio (1995-2011), president of Ohio Northern University, and Jim Reynolds (2011-2020), president of Millikin University.
Hinshaw, a Quaker, was a cultural anthropologist, author and professor who conducted anthropological work with indigenous Maya communities for seven years prior to coming to Wilmington College. His WC presidency, with then-wife, Ardith, coincided with a tumultuous period in the nation’s history as the Vietnam War, Civil Rights Movement, Watergate scandal and Women’s Liberation Movement converged during that time frame.
Indeed, his inauguration in spring 1971 was held against the backdrop of a drama being played out when African American students occupied College Hall after presenting the administration with a list of demands designed to make education more accessible to black students.
Hinshaw led the College through a peaceful resolution to the memorable conflict, during which many of the occupiers were invited to take time out from the demonstration to attend campus meals and inaugural activities.
With a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of Chicago, Hinshaw also held faculty positions at Illinois State University, Beloit College and the University of Denver. He served as academic dean of Bethel College and executive secretary of the Associated Colleges of Central Kansas.
While at Beloit, in 1978, he led its first cultural anthropology field school in Panajachel in Guatemala, the locale where he had conducted fieldwork for his doctoral dissertation in the mid-1960s that led to his book, Panajachel: A Guatemala Town in Thirty-Year Perspective (1975).
He also is the author of a biography of geographer Gilbert White, Living with Nature’s Extremes: The Life of Gilbert Fowler White (2006), and two novels set in the Panajachel region on the shores of Lake Atitlan: My Lake at the Center of the World (2007) and The Rape of Hope (2008).
He met his second wife, Linda, in Nicaragua in 1990 while they served as official international election observers with Witness for Peace. They led delegations to Chiapas, Mexico, and Guatemala as the 30-year civil war in that country came to a close. They also were election observers in Guatemala in 2003 for the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission.
Hinshaw enjoyed leading tours to Guatemala, Peru, Four Corners, U.S., Sweden, Finland, Russia and Nova Scotia, which allowed him to continue his first love of teaching cultures while also leading to many lasting friendships.
Survivors include his wife, Linda, three children, two step-children, three sisters, 12 grandchildren and 8 great-grandchildren.