Serving West Michigan Since 1899

Peter J. Schakel

March 20, 2024
Holland, MI



Tuesday, May 7, 2024
3:00 PM EDT
All Saints Episcopal Church
252 Grand Street
Saugatuck, MI 49453

Life Story / Obituary


Peter Schakel was born on August 1, 1941, in Knoxville, Iowa, to Clara and Tunis Schakel. After the family moved to a house outside Pella, Iowa, he attended sixth, seventh, and eighth grade at the Amsterdam school, a one-room schoolhouse down the road. He graduated from Pella Christian High School, and then became the first in his family to attend college, receiving his B.A. from Central College in Pella in 1963.

While at Central he met Karen Snuttjer. They were married on July 3, 1964, and spent forty-five years together. In 1964 he received his M.A. from Southern Illinois University, Carbondale. He and Karen then moved to Madison, Wisconsin, where Peter earned a Ph.D. in English literature from the University of Wisconsin–Madison in 1969.

After teaching at the University of Nebraska for one year, Peter accepted a position at Hope College, where he taught for forty-eight years. He was named the first holder of the Peter C. and Emajean Cook Professor of English in 1984 and held that position until his retirement as Cook professor emeritus in 2017. He chaired the department several times: 1981–1987; 1995–2005; and 2012–2015. His list of publications include: The Poetry of Jonathan Swift: Allusion and the Development of Poetic Style; Reading with the Heart: The Way into Narnia; Reason and Imagination in C. S. Lewis: A Study of “Till We Have Faces”; Imagination and the Arts in C. S. Lewis; The Way into Narnia: A Reader’s Guide; Is Your Lord Large Enough? How C. S. Lewis Expands Our View of God; and several literature anthologies and textbooks which he coauthored with his colleague, Jack Ridl.

Peter and Karen had two children, Jennifer and Jonathan. Peter was a wonderful father, spending time with his kids even when he was very busy with grading. Going to the community swimming pool was a favorite weekly event for the family, even though he never was able to swim much himself. He frequently played ping pong with his children, and he loved to play ping pong in the loft of Lubbers Hall, where faculty members would gather and play in their lunch hours. He and Karen loved to travel, especially to the British Isles, and they spent two half-year sabbaticals in Oxford, England, where Peter did research in the Bodleian Library.

In his many years at Hope, Peter taught or served as advisor for a very large number of students. He loved to work with students and would often attend sporting events, concerts, or dance recitals in which his students were involved. He was awarded the Hope Outstanding Professor Educator Award in 2013.

Peter was particularly devoted to Hope College volleyball and basketball, especially women’s basketball, attending as many games as possible. Even in his final years, he kept up with how the teams were doing.

Peter was quick to help others whenever he could. He did the yard work for elderly neighbors as well as his own, offered to help with painting or cleaning, and frequently helped to transport his grandchildren to practices. He loved to see his grandchildren, attending tennis matches and baseball games, band and orchestra concerts, and playing hours and hours of board games.

He was a member of All Saints’ Episcopal Church in Saugatuck, where he taught adult education classes, served as a lector, and occasionally even sang in the choir.

Peter is survived by daughter Jennifer (Timothy Hoffman) and son Jonathan Schakel (Megan Sharp); grandsons Jonathan (Alyssa Pinkham), Thomas, and Michael Hoffman and Paul Schakel; and sisters Mary (Charles Benson) and Martha (James Hayward). He was preceded in death by his wife Karen (2009) and grandson Alex Hoffman (1997).

A memorial service will be held Tuesday, May 7, at 3:00 pm, at All Saints’ Episcopal Church, 252 Grand Street, Saugatuck, Michigan.

Memorial contributions may be made to Community Action House in Holland or the Schakel Family Scholarship Fund at Hope College.