Remembering Wannamaker


Duke will receive approximately $4.5 million for research from the estate of William Hane Wannamaker Jr. of Wyndmoor, Pennsylvania, a retired engineer and son of one of Duke’s most prominent leaders. Wannamaker died last January. His bequest, among Duke’s largest, is the residual of his estate, and will benefit equally research efforts at the university’s Pratt School of Engineering and the Duke Eye Center.

The bequest will establish a memorial endowment in honor of Wannamaker’s parents, Isabel Stringfellow Wannamaker and William Hane Wannamaker, who served Duke for more than fifty years as a professor, dean of the college, vice president in the division of education, dean of the university, and finally vice chancellor.

Endowment income will be directed to the Pratt School’s department of electrical engineering in its work on solid-state physics and computers, and eye center research, preferably in retinitis pigmentosa, a condition from which Bill Wannamaker and several family members suffered.

The senior Wannamaker oversaw the recruitment of many of Duke’s leading faculty from 1926 to 1942. The new endowment will help provide significant support for faculty members and their research, an important aspect of what is termed “faculty deepening” in Duke’s recently adopted strategic plan.

With President William Preston Few and Robert Flowers, who was vice president and treasurer, Wannamaker, as vice president and dean, was a member of the “triumvirate” that guided Duke in its formative years. The university’s Wannamaker Residence Hall and adjacent drive bear the family’s name.

The senior Wannamaker earned a degree from Wofford College in 1895, having studied there under John C. Kilgo and William Preston Few. Kilgo was named president of Trinity College in Durham in 1894. Few joined the Trinity faculty as professor of English in 1896 and succeeded Kilgo as president in 1910. Wannamaker arrived at Duke in 1900 at Few’s invitation to pursue graduate work and to teach freshman English. He also did graduate work at Harvard as well as the universities of Berlin, Tübingen, Leipzig, and Bonn before accepting a post of professor of Germanic language and literature at Trinity in 1905.

Starting in 1910, Wannamaker became increasingly involved in the administration of the college, and at various times in the next four decades was responsible for the curriculum, student life, faculty recruitment, and development. He was not only instrumental in the significant expansion of the faculty, but also recruited legendary football coach Wallace Wade in 1931. Wannamaker headed the university’s faculty committee on athletics, and he was largely responsible for the growth and success of Duke’s intercollegiate sports program, even as he stressed the pre-eminence of academics.

The senior Wannamaker was also active in civic affairs in Durham. He served on both the Durham county and city boards of education, and was chairman of the city board for twenty-two years. He was also a trustee of Durham’s Watts Hospital and an active Rotarian.

His son, Bill Wannamaker Jr., attended Duke’s School of Engineering before transferring to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where he earned an electronics engineering degree. He was employed by several companies, including Brown Instrument division of Honeywell of Philadelphia and Sun Oil. He later entered private practice as an electronics engineering consultant with clients nationwide. He was married to the late Nancy R. Cross; he is survived by a sister, Harriet W. Moorhead ’34 of Durham, who is the last surviving child of William and Isabel Wannamaker, as well as two nephews, four nieces, and three of his late wife’s nephews. William Kennon of Durham is the family executor of his uncle’s estate.

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