In Memoriam

  • Display Image
  • Peter O. Wacker

Obituary from the Van Arsdale Funeral Home website

Rutgers University Professor Emeritus Peter O. Wacker of Martinsville passed away on March 24, 2020 at the age of 83. Services were private. Condolences can be posted on the website of the Bruce C. VanArsdale Funeral Home, Somerville

The son of immigrants, Peter grew up in Irvington, graduated from Montclair State College, and earned his PhD from Louisiana State University. Generous with his time for students and the public, Peter thought it was important for people to understand not only world geography but also their own local geography, history and culture.Peter possessed a boundless curiosity about the world, most of which he had visited. He loved travel, fishing, gardening, and a good joke.

He is survived by Arlene, his wife of 57 years; a daughter, Jill (Thomas Corlett) of Philadelphia; a son, Craig (Amy Sprague) of Seattle; and grandchildren Lucy Corlett, Wiley Corlett, Linnea Wacker-Sprague and Corbett Wacker-Sprague.

Donations in his memory can be made to NJ Audubon or any organization working to preserve and protect the natural world.


Peter O. Wacker Memorial written by friend and colleague Maxine Lurie

Professor Wacker received his B.A. from Montclair State University in 1959, an M.A.in 1961 and then Ph.D. in 1966 from Louisiana State University. Except for a brief time at Louisiana, and summer classes at several institutions, his career was centered at Rutgers University from 1964 until he retired in 2002. During that period he served for a time as chair of the Geography Department, and Department of Environment Studies. His main interests were cultural and social geography, and the transfer of ethnic practices in farming and architecture through the Atlantic World. This also led to an interest in historic preservation and service on the New Jersey State Review Board for Historic Sites for forty years, from 1976 to 2016.

The dissertation he wrote “Forest, Forge, and Farm” became The Musconetcong Valley of New Jersey: A Historical  Geography (Rutgers University Press, 1968). His Land and People:  A Cultural  Geography of Preindustrial New Jersey: Origins and Settlement  Patterns (Rutgers  University Press, 1975) is still cited by scholars for the insights it provides on how settlers origins influenced the way land was used, what crops were planted, fences and barns constructed. Land Use  in  Early  New Jersey,  with  Paul  Clemens, (New Jersey  Historical  Society, 1995) used framers diaries, and early account books, to chart and map what was produced and where. Wacker worked with historian Maxine N. Lurie and Rutgers cartographer Michael Siegel to edit Mapping New Jersey: An Evolving Landscape (Rutgers University Press, 2009). The book used historic maps and newly designed ones to explain the changing history of the state. In addition he contributed chapters in books, such as the “Swedish  Settlement in Southern  New Jersey,” in Carol Hoffecker, ed. New Sweden (University of Delaware Press, 1995), as well as articles in New Jersey History and other journals. He also served on the editorial boards of New Jersey History, the Journal of Cultural Geography, and was a member of numerous academic organizations.

Wacker received a number of awards over the course of his career including a Guggenheim Fellowship, repeated research grants from the Rutgers Research Council and the New Jersey Historical Commission. He also was presented with the New Jersey Studies Academic Alliance’s College Teacher of the Year Award (2000), and the New Jersey Historical Commission’s Richard J. Hughes Award (2001) the highest one it gives.

The list of Professor Wacker’s scholarly accomplishments helps illustrate his extensive contributions to the study of the geography and history of New Jersey. Less obvious is the joy with which it was all done, the sense of humor, and fun.


At Peter's retirement dinner, Richard Hunter showed a nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places filled in to illustrate a few highlights from Peter's life, and no one shared in the laughter more than Peter.

POW nomination histreg th  (pdf file)