Remembering 'a Consummate Educator' - by Tom Wilson, writer/editor-PCToday.

Dr. Carl

Kenneth E. Carl, Former College President, Dies — PCToday article

Kenneth Carl Collection (PDF) — Personal papers

Kenneth Carl Interviewed by Dan Doyle (MP3) — Dr. Kenneth Carl graduated from the Williamsport High School vocational education program, working as a draftsman at Lycoming Manufacturing Co. (now AVCO) as part of the cooperative program, during his senior year. After receiving a degree from Penn State in 1936 in Industrial Education, he taught drafting at WHS. As a faculty member of WTI, the Vocational Diagnostic Program which he developed in 1951 to acquaint disabled adults with career options served as a model for similar programs across the U.S. He later became Director of WTI, 1952 – 1965, and President of WACC, 1965-1973. Interview recorded 3/16/1999.

With a 36-year career that included a front-row seat for one of Pennsylvania's most enduring successes, Kenneth E. Carl could have been forgiven for acting the role of royalty.

After all, the formation of Williamsport Technical Institute and its rebirth as Williamsport Area Community College - Pennsylvania College of Technology's forerunners - are among the region's key economic developments of the 20th century.He inherited the mantle of George H. Parkes, whose renowned Williamsport Plan pointed out the need to cultivate skilled workers, and he'd gone on to be W.T.I. director and W.A.C.C.'s first president.

When Carl died April 21 at age 94, however, he was remembered for humility that belied his stature, for ardent devotion to the institution he once led and as an amiable advocate for students.

A Williamsport Area Community College graduate accepts the congratulations of Kenneth E. Carl, W.A.C.C. president, at a late-1960s commencement ceremony.

"Dr. Carl demonstrated a person-centered approach to his leadership," said Daniel J. Doyle, a retired history professor. "He combined this with the can-do style that Dr. Parkes and many of the faculty had toward the early development of vocational-technical education. He looked for opportunities when others were more focused on difficulties or threats."

Doyle talked at length with Carl for the Oral History Project, an ongoing initiative to preserve institutional memory through the memories of administrators, faculty, staff and graduates.

"During my interviews, his answer to my question: 'What are you most proud of?' stands out," Doyle recalled. "I anticipated he would say the transformation of W.T.I. into W.A.C.C., as he had been ahead of his time in seeing the potential that community colleges offered." Carl used considerable tact in forming a coalition of 20 area school districts into sponsors of W.A.C.C., leading the college through rapid organizational and curricular change while maintaining the philosophy of hands-on learning that remains a college hallmark.

Carl instead cited his development of a diagnostic, vocational program for persons with disabilities, many of them miners from western Pennsylvania who came to the college for intensive testing, counseling and career exploration.

"(His) answer demonstrated his person-centered approach - in this case, people with challenging needs," Doyle noted. "He eventually received a national award for his pioneering work. He was better known as the head of W.T.I. and W.A.C.C.; those responsibilities and accomplishments took second place in his eyes."

Among his beneficiaries was Bruce J. Wydallis, a miner's hearing-impaired son who enrolled in mechanical drafting and was guided by Carl's gentle hand - even before he knew him. A student in the late 1950s, he recalled he was drafting in the office of instructor Ed West, joined by department head Fred Jones and a third man.

"I had no idea who that gentleman was until Mr. West told me that was Ken Carl. I asked, 'What did I do wrong?' 'Nonsense,' Mr. West said. Mr. Carl was aware that I got my education with the help of the instructors. As time went by, I could see a smile on (his) face when he passed the classroom, and . as I was nervous, (he) shook my hand and said, 'Keep up the good work; you'll do OK.'"

Dr. Carl speaking with Barb Danko, Director of Alumni Relations

Wydallis did more than "OK" in the 50 years since, working in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs and on the Hubble telescope. By the time he retired five years ago, his tools went from drafting implements to computerized design, and his employment encompassed the challenging fields of engineering, electronics, optics, technical illustration and surveying.

With fondest memories of his W.T.I. years, he believes Penn College carries on Carl's vision in "training the best in the skills for tomorrow. If I had a chance today in person, I would thank him for his endeavor."

Another inspired alumnus is Amadou B. Barry, who maintained contact with the retired administrator and his family for years after graduation.

"Dr. Carl was a wonderful human being and a consummate educator," said Barry, who learned of the death from one of Carl's three daughters. "I will miss him, but I shall cherish his memory for as long as I live. To paraphrase the apostle Paul, 'Dr. Carl ran a good race and he finished the course' and finished well.

"At the time I was in Williamsport (1962-66), my Guinean friends and I had a lot of meetings in his office regarding our career choices. He wrote many letters to our embassy in Washington and to the African American Institute (our sponsor). I know other African students from Togo, Cameroon and The Sudan benefited from his counsel and wisdom.

"I know that I will not meet another Dr. Carl in my lifetime."

Penn College's director of alumni relations met the former president at the Diamond 10 Anniversary, a 1998 event marking the institution's 75-year history and its first decade as a special mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University.

"He was so excited and honored to be part of the celebration," Barbara A. Danko said. "I had an opportunity to speak with him and learned he had a collection of papers and items relating to his tenure." Carl was interested in sharing his collection with Penn College, so, a few weeks later, the two met at his home. The collection now resides in the Madigan Library archives, and that meeting set the stage for an abiding relationship between two vibrant college supporters.

"During these visits, several things always stood out: his love for his family, his joy in carving wooden birds, his prize orchids, and his belief in and love of the college," she said. "He would greet guests to his home with a big smile and a 'Come on in. I'm glad you came by.'" 

Until health intervened, Carl attended the annual W.T.I. reunion for five years. The 2007 gathering featured an exhibit of his carvings at the college gallery, where he and his three daughters visited with alumni.

"I will remember Dr. Carl's smile, his pride in the college and his good-natured teasing," Danko said. "Most of all, I will cherish the carved cardinal pin he gave me on one of my visits to his home."

There is much to cherish from this life well-lived, this man who put so many others first. Remembrance and respect resonate throughout tributes from students and colleagues, those fortunate to learn by his side and those who remain inspired by his leadership a generation later.

"Those of us who knew him were touched by his graciousness and his unwavering commitment to the mission of the college," President Davie Jane Gilmour remarked upon his passing. "He believed we had a duty to serve our community and to help those in need. His legacy will long endure."