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1944 Robert 2023

Robert Gardner

January 22, 1944 — November 27, 2023

St. Peter, MN

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women merely players;

They have their exits and their entrances;

And one man in his time plays many parts…


Robert “Rob” Merritt Gardner, 79, of St. Peter, MN, after playing many parts during his lifetime, made his final exit from life’s stage on Monday, November 27, 2023. He was joined just a few days later by his beloved wife of 37 years, Judith “Judy” M. Gardner.

A celebration of life for Rob and Judy will be held at 1 p.m. on Monday, April 1, 2024 in Christ Chapel on the campus of Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN. A reception and opportunity to share memories and stories will follow. St. Peter Funeral Home is assisting the family with arrangements.

Rob was born on January 22, 1944 in Biloxi, MS to Marion and Elinor (Merritt) Gardner. Although he lived in the deep south for only a brief period, his love of grits and a good southern accent remained. Rob grew up during the 1950’s in Hyattsville, MD with sister Janet and brother Bruce. After graduating from Oberlin College in Ohio in 1966 he married Marcia Murdock (divorced 1980) and moved to Berkeley, California to attend the University of California where he received his M.A. and Ph.D. in Dramatic Arts. In the midst of the political upheaval and social unrest of 1969, Rob and Marcia welcomed their only child Rachel.

In 1971, Rob and family moved to MN to join the faculty of Gustavus Adolphus College (GAC). What Rob believed would be a brief stop along his career path turned into a thirty-six year run as Professor of Theatre during which he directed plays, taught courses in acting, directing and theater history, spending a year as an exchange Professor at Kansai Gaidai University in Hirakata, Japan. During the latter part of his career at GAC, he returned to early passions—acting and Russian theater. He resumed his study of the Russian language and made three trips to Moscow/St. Petersburg where he lived with Russian families and studied at the storied Moscow Art Theatre.
Rob met Judy Sanderson while she was touring Gustavus with her daughter, Kathy. In 1980, they met again when Rob spent a semester with the Rochester Civic Theater directing a production of Summer and Smoke in which Judy played the lead.  They married in 1986.  In the early 90’s Judy joined the nursing faculty at Gustavus.  

Since retiring in 2007, Rob turned his attention to acting, performing with companies in the Twin Cities, Wisconsin, and Iowa. Among his favorite roles were Hector Nations in Foxfire, Roy Cohn in Angels in America, and the title character in King Lear, which he performed twice, most recently as a guest artist at GAC in 2016.

Rob had many interests and was deeply engaged in the St. Peter and Gustavus communities. He loved the annual 4th of July parade, Nobel Conference and Christmas at Christ Chapel. He enjoyed tennis, pickleball, fishing and sharing stories and witticisms with friends and family. Rob and Judy were also avid travelers. A longtime member of the Church of the Holy Communion, he and Judy served in various leadership roles throughout the years.

Rob is survived by his daughter, Rachel (Keith) Bridges of Plymouth, MN; stepchildren, David (Monica) Sanderson of Concord, MA, Kathy (Mark) Andrews of Oxfordshire, England, Bob (Sawako Nishikawa) Sanderson of Osaka, Japan, and Lisa (Joel) Cox of Leawood, KS; grandchildren, Madeleine, Elijah, Cady, Bobby, Celia, Tatum, Cory, Rosey and Andrew; sister, Janet (Jan MacBeth) Gardner of Upton, MA; brother, Bruce (Nancy) Gardner; and niece, Tina (Jeff) Dow of Petaluma, CA. He was preceded in death by his grandson, Josiah Andrews.

In lieu of flowers, gifts in memory of Rob and Judy Gardner may be made to the Gardner Theatre Endowment at Gustavus Adolphus College, either online or by mail. Questions can be directed to or 507-933-7512.



Go to Gustavus Gift Website at

1. Please select One-Time Gift or Sustaining Gift.

2. ⁠Then Donation Comments will appear,

3. ⁠Please mention “The Gardner Theatre Endowment”


By Mail:

Advancement Services

Gustavus Adolphus College

800 West College Avenue

Saint Peter, MN 56082


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