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Published: Monday, 9/16/2002

Geologist built UT department

Dr. William A. Kneller, a retired longtime chairman of the University of Toledo geology department, died Friday in Flower Hospital of kidney failure stemming from diabetes. He was 73.

In 1961, when Dr. Kneller was brought to UT to be chairman, the department was a shoestring operation, explained Dr. Mark Camp, an associate professor of geology at UT who was one of Dr. Kneller's students before becoming a colleague.

“When he arrived, the department was very small and had no graduate program. It combined geology and geography. Bill split them off and built the department. He was instrumental in establishing centers there, such as the Subsurface Data Center, which is a facility for storing cores. He was a great man,” Dr. Camp said.

Over the years, Dr. Kneller attracted millions of dollars in grants and gifts to the department, including the $1.2-million endowment that established the university's Wilhelm Eitel Institute for Silicates and Ceramic Research that is now in the physics department.

He designed and organized the geology department's master's program, which was started in 1966, and its laboratories.

A well-known expert in coal and silicates, Dr. Kneller did extensive research in “coal characterization” - the study of coal to determine geologic history, mineral and trace element content, and chemical and structural properties. Of special interest to him were the ways in which coal's organic and mineral components reacted in combustion and in the process of forming synthetic fuels.

Dr. Kneller retired in 1989 because of weakening health, his daughter, Dr. Karinlee Kneller, said.

“His field was his whole life. Everything was a learning experience and an opportunity to pass on information. He took his students under his wing and he taught them to write and to think. He was a teacher's teacher. Even after he retired he helped out his students,” his daughter explained.

Dr. Kneller grew up in Parma, Ohio, the son of a stonecutter. By becoming a geologist, he “fulfilled an ambition to work in his father's tradition,” Karinlee Kneller explained.

Dr. Kneller graduated from Parma High School and earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. He earned his PhD in geology from the University of Michigan.

Dr. Kneller spent 30 years in the Marine Corps Reserve, retiring in 1981 as a colonel. From 1956 to 1961, he taught geology at Eastern Michigan University, Ypsilanti.

He published scores of scientific articles. His memberships included the Geological Society of America, the Society of Economic Paleontologists and Mineralogists, the Society of Economic Geology, and the Sigma Gamma Epsilon and Phi Sigma honorary societies. He also served on UT's faculty senate.

Surviving are his wife of 51 years, Olga; daughters, Karinlee and Ellen Kneller; sons, Gregory and Kurt; sister, Margarite Grundy, and three grandchildren.

Services will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday in the Reeb Funeral Home, where the body will be after 3 p.m. tomorrow.

The family requests tributes to the American Diabetes Association, the National Kidney Foundation, or the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

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