RIP: Bill Pencak, Emeritus Professor of American History at Penn State University


Bill Pencak and Jason M Kelly in DisneylandWilliam Pencak, professor emeritus of history at Penn State University, died Monday, December 9, 2013 in Atlanta, Georgia, of cardiac failure following heart surgery. Bill was my good friend and mentor. As with so many others, he started me off on my career. He was encouraging and magnanimous to everybody — especially his students. And, he taught us to think creatively and not be confined by traditional expectations.

Not too many undergraduates get to fly out to Santa Barbara with their professors, but when Bill put together a conference panel for two of his students (the other was my TA at the time, Mary Miles) I got to give my first paper at a professional conference. Then, before our session, he stood outside and waived people into the room to attend.

Bill was the model teacher, and it was because of his guidance that I went to UCSB, where I did my graduate work. Bill often visited — once, staying on our couch in a tiny apartment for about a month. One of the best things about Bill: he could jump directly from a conversation about Charles Peirce to an in-depth discussion of pop culture. He was a brilliant man, who knew how to enjoy life in all its variety. Of the many memories that I have of our friendship, one always makes me smile — our trip to Disneyland together. Here’s a picture of us trying on hats. Under that Stormtrooper helmet, I’m smiling just as broadly. I’ll miss you, Bill.