William A. Kneller

from from TSOP Newsletter 19 (3),September 2002

With the headline “Geologist Built University of Toledo Department,” the Toledo (Ohio) Blade newspaper of Sept. 16, 2002, reported the passing of Dr. William A. Kneller on September 13. He had retired in 1989 for health reasons, and died at age 73 of kidney failure arising from diabetes.

According to that report, with information supplied by Dr. Mark Camp, an associate professor of geology at UT and former Kneller graduate student, Dr. Kneller was hired there in 1961 to chair a small geology and geography department. He separated those disciplines, serving a long term as chair of the geology department and starting its master’s degree program in 1966.

Among his accomplishments were setting up extensive laboratories with modern analytical equipment, creation of an endowed Institute for Silicates and Ceramic Research, and a Subsurface Data Center core storage facility. He and his students performed extensive work in coal characterization; his research included organic-inorganic interactions in combustion and synthetic fuel production.

He attended TSOP’s first annual meeting in Virginia in 1984, bringing five of his graduate students to the inaugural meeting of a promising young society. That visit was the start of a productive relationship; he was a TSOP member since then, attending many more annual meetings with his graduate students. Several of his graduate students have become TSOP members and officers.

Kneller held bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Miami University of Ohio and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan, and was a 30-year veteran of the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring with the rank of Colonel. In addition to professional geological societies he belonged to Sigma Gamma Epsilon and Phi Sigma honor societies, and served on the University’s Faculty Senate. He is survived by Olga, his wife of 51 years; four children, three grandchildren, and a sister. Memorial contributions may be made to the American Diabetes Association, the National Kidney Foundation, or the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

Former graduate student Jeff Quick adds: Although many TSOP members are familiar with Bill's work in organic petrology, this was only part of his research interests. Bill was also an expert in silicate science. He published extensively on highway aggregates, concrete petrology, the chemistry and behavior of chert, the beneficial uses of iron and steel slags, the geology of glacial sand and gravel deposits, historic building stones, and ancient mortars and cements. He also published on the use of thermal analysis to evaluate carbon blacks, chert, power plant fly ash, clays, carbonates, and coal. He held a U.S. Patent for beneficiation of cement kiln dusts and was involved with the selective mining and combustion of an Ohio coal to produce a germaniumenriched ash. Many of his graduate students will recall pleasant hours spent studying in the cool quiet of the X-ray lab while tending his instruments to assay raw materials used to make the ceramic tiles on the U.S. space shuttle.

During a visit to Bill Kneller's home a few years ago, I saw a bookshelf with his students’ theses prominently displayed. These forty-seven books were clearly important to him and attest to the importance of teaching in his life. As a former student, I count his ability to instill an enthusiasm and passion for science among his most enduring accomplishments.

Renee Klinger, also a former graduate student, remembers: I looked up to Dr. Kneller and admired him very much. I owe a lot to him; it was not just about learning organic petrology, organic geochemistry, or the coal industry, but about efforts gained from hard work and dedication. Dr. Kneller gave everything to his students, just ask his wife or his daughter. He was gruff on the outside to many, but a big teddy bear to those of us who knew him well. Dr. Kneller truly cared about his students, probably too much. I know that for years after I graduated, when I would go back to see him in his office, I would see a picture of myself and a few of his other past graduate students. I think that pretty well says it all as to how much we mutually cared for and respected him, and how he certainly felt about his students.