Stanley was born in 1915 in Tangent, Oregon, during the time his father was teaching school there. He had poor health as a boy. His mother, however, took special pains not to baby him, due to her bad experience with the way her parents raised her kid brother. As a result, he could not remember his mother ever kissing him or showing physical affection.
Stanley attended the University of Oregon where in 1940 he met Alice Mueller. At the U of O he met professor Leavitt Q Wright, an instructor in Spanish, whose inspiration caused him to change his major from journalism to Spanish. Stanley was ambitious to continue his academic career and did not plan to marry right away.
He was a graduate teaching assistant in Spanish at the University of Chicago in the fall of 1941 when the United States entered World War II. Stanley was drafted and sent to Camp Lewis in Washington State, then down to Fort Hood, Texas. He waited for weeks at Fort Hood while all the other draftees were sent out. Finally he got an order to report to a certain address in Washington, D.C. Here he was told that he was to join the Office of Strategic Services and report for duty in the Panama Canal Zone. He was issued an ID card, a revolver and a cyanide pill.
He despised having to tail people in Panama and snoop into their business. Once he was assigned to two Russians. He followed them to the market in Panama City, saw them buy a watermelon and strike up a conversation with a pretty girl. He followed them to their hotel and then took the room next to theirs so he could report on them. In the morning he duly reported that the watermelon rinds were in the garbage.
He also took dugout canoes up rivers into rural Panama where he interviewed local police chiefs and inmates in local jails. His notes on their dialects became the material for his first monograph, "The Spanish of Rural Panama." He collected some San Blas molas (reverse applique folk art) and a necklace of monkey teeth.
In Panama he was in the same unit with Charles Berlitz, who later dreamed up the "Bermuda Triangle." The difficulty in communicating to his recent bride, after having married in 1943 while on leave, made him depressed. He would begin letters he would never finish, knowing he could not include any detail due to the top secret nature of his service. He put on weight, however, and came home sporting a gold rim on his front tooth, gold being what a Panamanian dentist had to work with. At the war's end he was invited to become a charter member of the Latin American division of the CIA, and never regretted turning it down.
The G. I. Bill allowed Stanley to continue his graduate work. Stanley and Alice moved into graduate student housing at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. It was wartime surplus and they shared their living space with other couples who would walk through their living room to the bathroom.
In 1947 Stanley made his first research trip to Mexico. He and Alice lived in Yahualica, Jalisco. Although Alice spoke no Spanish, she adapted and continued making art on Mexican themes. She even baked a Thanksgiving turkey in a brick oven. In Mexico, Stanley was the first folklore researcher to use a mechanical recording device. The old Soundscriber machine used green acetate discs and was enormous and heavy. A photo from the period shows an informant speaking into a hand-held microphone while his audience looks bemusedly on. This research became part of his dissertation and later was turned into Folktales from the Los Altos Highlands, Jalisco.
Having finished his Ph.D., Stanley attended the Modern Language Association convention in search of a tenure-track university position. It came down to a choice between the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana) and the University of California, Los Angeles. UCLA was chosen because it was on the west coast, closer to family,
The Robe family was to make Los Angeles their permanent home. In 1949 Stanley and Alice moved into more war surplus housing, on Gayley avenue on the west side of campus. Later they moved to an apartment nearby on Landfair Avenue, where they were living when their first child, Robert, was born. In about 1953 they bought a house at 980 Amherst Avenue in Brentwood.
In 1961 Stanley had the opportunity to teach for six months at the Instituto Caro y Cuervo in Bogota, Colombia. By now the Robes had two children. It was decided that the whole family should make the move for the six-month stay. The children attended one semester at the Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogota. This decision to have the children live in Latin America was a great benefit to them.
Returned home, the Robe family moved in March 1963 a short distance to a home at 979 South Bundy Drive in Brentwood. Quiet streets no more. Bundy Drive is a busy artery in West Los Angeles. The family attended Brentwood Presbyterian Church at the corner of Bundy and San Vicente Boulevard and the children enrolled in Brentwood Elementary School.
In 1965 the whole family once again came to Mexico for the entire summer while Stanley did field research in the state of Veracruz. The city of Jalapa was to be their home base for excursions into the coastal jungle, the highlands near Perote, and the mountains near Orizaba. Stanley went into small towns to collect folk tales, making contact first with the local priest or barber, and then collecting a crowd who waited for a chance to tell stories or "see and say" words prompted by a book of pictures. By this time Stanley was using a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder. He transcribed the tales and then classified them using Stith Thompson & Aanti Arne's "The Types of the Folktale." This work became the basis of "Hispanic Folktales from Veracruz." 1966 was the last year the whole family came down to Mexico. That year Stanley taught summer school at the University of Guadalajara.
In the late 1960s Stanley served as Chairman of the UCLA Department of Spanish and Portuguese. He spent part of 1968 on his own in Caceres, Spain.
Stanley had the ability to imitate many Spanish dialects, from the Castilian lisp, to the rapid fire of Cuba, to the shibboleth of Argentina.
One of his major publications was "Azuela and the Mexican Underdogs," in hardcover, published by the University of California Press with illustrations by his son, Bob. This was a critical work on "Los de Abajo," the novel of the Mexican Revolution by Mariano Azuela, first published in serialized form in a newspaper in El Paso, Texas. A graduate student discovered in a Mexico City archive a complete run of the novel, which was photocopied and transcribed and then the manuscript typed (on an IBM Selectric) and a jacket photo taken at home. In the process of researching the Mexican Revolution he acquired a collection of engravings by Jose Guadalupe Posada which he donated to the UCLA library. At this time he was an advisor for many graduate students in Spanish, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, and other interdisciplinary programs. One of his graduate students eventually herself became Department Chairman. He and Alice began traveling again and attended conferences all over the world.
When his wife Alice died suddenly in 1984 it was a hard blow to Stanley. It was a colleague of his, Professor Frederick Crescitelli, who introduced him to his second wife, Maria Pia (David) Lubonia. He and Maria Pia were married in the late 1980s. This brought out the romantic side of Stanley that had been hidden for many years. He grew a pencil mustache, had his teeth capped (losing the gold) and moved to Sherman Oaks in the San Fernando Valley. He also seemed to lose interest in keeping up with UCLA and the people who knew him, outside of a very small circle. The 1994 Northridge earthquake damaged their townhouse and for a time they resided in Laguna Beach, where Maria Pia died in 2000.
He passed away in 2010 at San Gabriel, California, in a care facility near the home of his son Bob. At that time he was suffering from dementia and his mind would function in Spanish. Once, when I addressed him in Spanish, it was as if a switch flipped and suddenly he was speaking English and he was able to recognize and respond to me.
1940 Census, Eugene City, Eugene Precinct 31, Supervisor's District 4, Enumeration District 20-85B, sheet 1A, enumerated by Thelma C. Warlick on April 15, 1940. Line 1, 2343 Columbia Street, household 1, owns; value of home $4600; not a farm.
"United States Social Security Death Index," database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:JBN3-34C : 20 May 2014), Stanley L Robe, 17 Aug 2010; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).