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Willard “Bill” McCarthy passes away at 94

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Willard J. “Bill” McCarthy, 94, retired associate professor of industrial technology at Illinois State University, died on Friday, February 3, 2017, in Normal.  Most of his students and co-workers at ISU will always remember him as “Mac,” and will fondly recall the whistle he carried to be heard over the din of activity in the metals and machine tool lab. Discipline, order, precision, and procedure were used in his teaching methods. Many of his former students said that he was the ultimate “teacher’s teacher.”

“He fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith.” Leah Kopka

Bill was born March 16, 1922, in Appleton, Wisconsin, to very humble beginnings. He was the first in his family to go to college. He grew up on a dairy farm, which was part of the original homestead established by his Irish grandfather who immigrated about 1850. After high school, McCarthy attended vocational training and became a machining apprentice while taking night classes in welding. At the age of 19, he worked in the Manitowoc, Wisconsin, shipyards welding submarines for the war effort. McCarthy was part of the “Greatest Generation.” He was a World War II veteran who served from 1942 until 1947 as a naval aviator and flight instructor. During his time in the Navy, McCarthy met and married his wife, Lynette Nolen, who had already completed her bachelor’s degree. They celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary before she passed away.

Recognizing the importance of a college education, McCarthy used his GI benefits to earn his bachelor’s degree in industrial education from the University of Wisconsin-Stout. He then went summers to complete a master’s degree in education from the University of Illinois. His teaching career spanned thirty years from teaching at Pulaski High School in Wisconsin, Murray State University in Kentucky, and finally to University High School and Illinois State Normal University (ISNU).  From 1955 until 1980, he was a professor at ISU specializing in industrial metals manufacturing processes and physical metallurgy. He co-authored two textbooks, Machine Tool Technology and Metalwork Technology and Practice. As a respected expert in his field, he was also asked to author a major article for the 15th edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica entitled, “Machine Tools.”

Ken Stier, a former technology professor, admired McCarthy’s textbooks, and McCarthy was one of the people to inspire Stier to revise a textbook which will be published shortly.  During early years at ISNU, everyone was required to teach courses at University High school, as well as, the university. There were many poignant stories of students from the Soldiers and Sailors Children Home who attended his classes. He was later known for teaching graduate level courses on location at various foundries and companies throughout Illinois which allowed continuing teacher and professional education for those who were unable to travel to Illinois State University during the school year.

Stier, who also grew up on a dairy farm in Wisconsin and attended the University of Wisconsin– Stout remembers,

“Bill was always good about making the best of things where he was.” Stier stated, “I was asked to teach some of the machining courses in the early part of my career. That was one of the areas he (Bill) taught. Bill came to Turner Hall several times and showed me how to sharpen the milling cutters and maintain the equipment. He too had a real attention to detail and was known for a well-maintained machine shop.”

He was a past member of the American Vocational Association, National Association of Industrial Technology, Illinois Vocational Association, American Foundrymen’s Society, American Society for Metals, Illinois State University Annuitants Association, and a charter member of Epiphany Catholic Church, Normal.  We are honored that he was part of the Department of Technology family. Our condolences go to his siblings, children, grandchildren and great-grandchild. Memorials may be made to the “Willard McCarthy Engineering Technology Scholarship.” Please mail to: Illinois State University Foundation, 1101 N. Main St., Campus Box 8000, Normal, IL 61761.

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