An Ode to a Beloved USF Education Leader

Dr. William “Bill” Katzenmeyer

New scholarship honors late College of Education Dean William Katzenmeyer and his many contributions

Feb. 28, 2024

If not for some thoughtful high school buddies, and a fateful alphabetical miscue in college, Dr. William “Bill” Katzenmeyer might never have followed a path to the ranks of higher education leadership. But one thing is certain: His blend of Renaissance Man passions and interpersonal skills — whether as a pilot, poet, professor or man with a mastery both of data and people skills — would have led him to make a lasting impact wherever he wound up.

Fortunately, his course led to the University of South Florida as a respected, longtime dean in the College of Education — and later as founding director of the college’s David C. Anchin Center for the Advancement of Teaching, dedicated to working with K-12 teachers to restructure the quality of education. 

At each step in his journey, he worked to elevate the profession and nurture those in the field — all to benefit students.

That is why his passing in October 2022, just two days after his 93rd birthday, was felt so deeply not just by his large family but by friends and former colleagues whom he had uplifted and inspired along the way. And it explains the desire to honor his legacy with a newly endowed Dr. William Katzenmeyer Memorial scholarship fund, designed to aid first-generation college students as he had once been as a math-savvy teen.

“During his time as dean, Bill worked hard to create a caring community in the college,” says his widow, Marilyn Katzenmeyer, MEd '77. “That’s very hard to do because individual professors have their own needs and areas of expertise. But it was always such a high priority for him to develop a supportive culture for people in the college. And Bill was also very committed to working with the school districts; he saw them as the constituency and wanted his professors out in the schools, benefiting students through their research.”

Or consider this from Professor Emeritus Dominic “Dick” Puglisi, ’64 and MA ’69, Life Member, served the college for 54 years, including time as director of its Gus A. Stavros Center.

“When you walk through the halls of the College of Education, there’s nothing that lets people know that Bill Katzenmeyer was the dean for 17 years,” he says. “But you should know that his influence is still felt throughout the college in every way. He built the foundation.”

Katzenmeyer’s life’s work could hardly be anticipated during his boyhood in working-class Akron, Ohio, during the mid-1940s. He had no direction, no distinct ambitions. Then fate intervened — not once, but twice. 

Unexpected Twists

The first came during high school, when Katzenmeyer  earned money as a “soda jerk” in a neighborhood drug store during the World War II years. His father, a buyer for a drug-store chain, helped him land the job, while his mother worked as a homemaker. His older brother had been the first in the family to attend college, enrolling at Purdue. Katzenmeyer imagined he would follow, but didn’t do much to make that happen. Then a math teacher, impressed with the teen’s aptitude with numbers, took him under wing.

“I think Bill was a little bit of a goof-off — he was very smart but didn’t always use his intelligence,” Marilyn says. “So this teacher told him that he needed to try out for a Navy scholarship to prepare people to become officers. Bill agreed to take the test but when the morning to do that arrived, he slept in. Fortunately, several friends who were also taking the test came to his house and got him out of bed, so they could all try for the scholarship together.”

Katzemeyer qualified — the only one in the group to do so. The U.S. Navy sent him to Duke University to earn his bachelor’s degree, and he planned to pursue his love of the written word as an English major. But an array of freshman tests resulted in poor reading scores, and advisors suggested he switch to mathematics, which he’d aced. Katzenmeyer dutifully changed his major to math, with a minor in physics.

Years later he would learn that those reading scores were not, in fact, his own. They belonged to his roommate, whose surname was Kelatorowitz. The two had been designated roommates based on an alphabetical selection system.  Who knows? The man who would later pen a book of poems might have pursued Shakespeare over statistics. 

As Katzenmeyer would later say, “It changed my whole life.”

Propelled by Data and Duke

By the time the switched scores came to his attention, Katzenmeyer had already earned a bachelor’s in mathematics and was serving on a Navy destroyer following the Korean War.

He went on to teach high school math and physics in Michigan, later becoming district supervisor of testing and research. But Duke beckoned again, as Katzenmeyer returned to earn his master’s degree in guidance and counseling, followed by a doctorate in administration/supervision, with a minor in statistics.

He eventually joined the University of Wisconsin as a professor and graduate faculty member and served as director of the Wisconsin Information System for Education. 

That set the stage for a return to the land of the Blue Devils, where Katzenmeyer became a Duke professor of educational research and associate dean of the graduate school. Then, in 1977, he was hired by USF as dean of the College of Education.

Dr. William “Bill” Katzenmeyer

During his 17 years on the job, he substantially increased student enrollment and launched several respected programs and institutes for teacher education — first and foremost, the Anchin Center and the Suncoast Area Teacher Training (SCATT) program. After retiring as the college’s longest-serving dean, he worked as a faculty member in the Department of Educational Measurement and as director of the Anchin Center until retiring in 2004.

“When Bill was appointed dean, I was a very young professor and really didn’t know much about anything,” Puglisi says. “He wasn’t the kind of leader who pounded the desk. You watched him and I learned so much from him.” 

Puglisi has a favorite story that illustrates Katzenmeyer’s quiet, powerful leadership from the outset of his tenure. The newly hired dean was informed by the provost that he was far above budget and needed to find a way to massively increase productivity by the next year or eliminate 40 positions. 

“Well, Bill mobilized the college in such a way that by the end of the first year, not only did we not lose any positions, but we gained a few,” Puglisi adds. “He got in his car and drove to all these little Florida counties we serve, developed relationships with the [school district] superintendents by the strength of his charisma, and started offering programs in these districts that simply skyrocketed.”

“He Lived Life Until the Last Minute”

Retirement 20 years ago included some consulting and mentoring, but mostly it gave Katzenmeyer time to savor life with Marilyn and his family, enriched by four children, eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

“My father rarely brought work issues home,” says his son, David. “He loved the good things in life and did not let past stressors degrade his enjoyment of the present. He saw no reason to postpone relishing a bowl of fresh berries and cream whenever and wherever possible.

“Technically, I suppose he could be labeled an academic, but he was all about friends and family. He loved learning, food, music, the wonders of nature, playing games and sharing that enthusiasm with all of us.”

Katzenmeyer and his wife met in 1985, when she worked as director of Human Resource Development in Broward County and he was recently divorced. They occasionally saw one another at meetings, and a USF colleague of Katzenmeyer’s, Rex Toothman, told him, “When you’re ready to date, I’m going to help you.”

Toothman, who died in 2017, eventually made a list of single women and presented it to his friend. When Katzenmeyer read Marilyn’s name, Toothman said, “She’s the one.” The dean put his pilot’s license to use and, in the months that followed, flew his small plane to Fort Lauderdale for dates. The relationship grew serious in short order and Bill and Marilyn married on Sept. 7, 1985, in Toothman’s front yard. 

Dr. William “Bill” Katzenmeyer

Marilyn left behind a job she loved in South Florida and went to work as director of the West Central Regional Management Training Network — a consortium of 13 school districts and the College of Education. She retired after 11 years and started her own business developing instructional and training materials.

The couple enjoyed a rich life. In his late 80s, Katzenmeyer became active in a church choir. He and Marilyn loved spending time in their second home in the Smoky Mountains. They also worked out religiously, even doing online training with an instructor via Zoom during the pandemic. Post-COVID, the retired educator worked out into his 90s three times a week, including swimming with a trainer at home in the pool.

“I hired a triathlete to be in the water with him, just to look after him if something went wrong,” Marilyn says. “At 93, Bill was still trying to improve his strokes.”

Two days after his 93rd birthday, he climbed out of the pool and complained of feeling a bit dizzy. The swimming aide’s father, a physician, recommended they take Katzenmeyer to the hospital. “He didn’t make it — it was congestive heart failure, though he never had any signs of it,” Marilyn says softly. “You know, Bill was swimming and he loved it. He lived life until the last minute.”

That life is memorialized in the office of his Tampa home, where Marilyn points out just a sample of plaques and honors on the walls. 

There’s a photo with former Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent Walter Sickles, showcasing Katzenmeyer’s mission of “Improving the Schools of Today — Inventing the Schools of Tomorrow,” which resulted in building an elementary school on USF’s campus. There’s a framed note and original poem from a new professor expressing gratitude for welcoming her to the college so warmly.

There’s a letter from USF Special Education leadership sent upon his retirement in 1994: “A Dean of Education who had the wisdom to see the needs, the vision to see the possibilities, and the quality of caring to transform that vision into a program of national significance for preparing leaders in the field of special ed.”

And an inscription from professors in the Executive Leaders Network program summed up his lasting impact:

“You taught us well. We know when making a difficult decision to always go after the highest possible good. Thanks for being the best.”


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