Emeritus Professor Tony J. Lisska, who ascended to prominence in academia without losing his blue-collar roots, died Sept. 18, 2022, at 82.
Lisska spent 52 years as a member of Denison’s faculty, chairing the philosophy department three times, launching the honors program, and winning a national professor of the year award. He was equally proud, however, of his East Columbus heritage, taking university friends on tours of his youthful haunts and treating them to kielbasa from bars owned by family members.
The affable Lisska lived above his father’s pub in high school and retired from Denison in 2021 with an intellectual center renamed in his honor.
“Tony was the kind of intellectual who never forgot where he came from, and who never thought he had to apologize for it either,” said Steve Vogel, a professor emeritus in philosophy. “He was proud of being a kid from East Columbus, and didn’t have much patience for fancy intellectuals who looked down on people from that world.”
A devout Catholic with a quick wit, Lisska nearly went into the priesthood. Five decades of Denison philosophy students were happy Lisska chose higher education as his calling.
His catchphrases were so popular among some students they created a Facebook page called “Good Move, Good Move” to catalog them.
“He was the life of the college for several generations,” Associate Professor and Chair of Philosophy Sam Cowling said.
Lisska arrived on campus in 1969 after earning a Bachelor of Arts from Providence College, a master’s from Saint Stephen’s College, and a doctorate from the Ohio State University. He later received a certificate from the Institute for Educational Management at Harvard University.
In 1994, Lisska earned the Carnegie Foundation Baccalaureate Colleges Professor of the Year, besting a field of 500 nominees. He also gained acclaim for his expertise on St. Thomas Aquinas, publishing extensively on the works of the 13th century philosopher.
“Tony was a great teacher, a scholar, a mentor, a friend,” Vogel said of the professor who also served as dean of the college for several years. “The ethos of the philosophy department was set by him in lots of ways.”
In 2016, the Gilpatrick Center was rededicated as the Lisska Center for Scholarly Engagement, now the Lisska Center for Intellectual Engagement, “to recognize Tony’s focus on the intellectual life of our students,” said Mark Moller, dean of transfer students and associate professor of philosophy. “That was a commitment for which he cared very deeply.”
The Emeritus Maria Theresa Barney Professor of Philosophy loved regional history, authoring books on the subject, serving on the board of the Granville Historical Society, and offering walking tours of the village. On campus, he was a serial gift giver known for plying friends with Polish sausage and whisky. “Tony treated people in an incredibly humane way,” Cowling said. “He was the quintessential colleague.”
On the evening of the funeral, members of the philosophy department came to Vogel’s home to celebrate Lisska’s life. They ate kielbasa and drank single malt scotch.
Lisska is survived by his wife, Marianne, his daughters, Megan and Elin, and his grandchildren, James, Gretel, and Eleanor Antonia.