Ex-associate dean at UI dies

URBANA – For 35 years, University of Illinois Dean William Alfeld helped train future communicators, all the while fighting technology in his own life.

The associate dean in the College of Communications was an intellectual who graduated from Columbia University, a gourmet cook known for his divinity, a problem-solver for many a mathematically challenged journalist, the keeper of the history of Carrollton, Ill., and the sustaining water source for flowers everywhere.

He was 82 when he died last week at a Springfield hospital. Mr. Alfeld returned to his native Carrollton upon retirement from the UI in 1992, having put in 35 years at the university.

In Carrollton and Urbana, he was a familiar figure on his one-speed bicycle, sometimes spotted watering flowers.

His sister, Jean Caselton of Carrollton, said her brother understood how to drive a car, theoretically.

"He knew how, but he never ever did any driving in his life," she said. "Growing up, he had older brothers who had first chance at the family car. Then he went to Columbia, and he didn't need a car there. So he learned to take the bicycle everywhere, in all kinds of weather."

Though computers became widespread in the communications industry in the late 1970s, Mr. Alfeld never had much use for them, either.

He served on the board of the Carrollton Library. But even as he helped others with genealogy research, a librarian there says, he preferred looking up hard copies of obituaries rather than kowtow to a digital overlord.

Jean McGuire, Carrollton's assistant librarian, said Mr. Alfeld came in twice a week to look up obituaries.

"He was very dedicated to helping people with genealogy. He had attended school here and was very knowledgeable about the area, maybe the most knowledgeable in the area." she said.

But "he didn't care for technology."

"In fact," McGuire said, "when we got our new machine here for microfilms, he complained that he liked the older one better. Sometimes he forgot to turn it on, or he would hit the wrong button and ignore the buzzes and beeps."

Steve Helle, a veteran UI journalism professor, said Mr. Alfeld was a gruff-seeming character who had students' best interests at heart.

Helle flunked a student who had cheated on his final exam. It was a required course and the only course the student needed to graduate.

"Bill agreed, absolutely he should be flunked," Helle recalled in an e-mail. "But perhaps I would consider giving him an oral examination to satisfy an independent study course which Bill would then count toward the requirement, assuming he passed?"

Helle went along, and the student passed, going on to graduate school.

"I learned the meaning of what it meant to have a hard head and a soft heart. Bill was famous throughout the university for knowing all the rules and hewing to them. But he also knew all the exceptions. Countless students graduated who would not have, but for Bill Alfeld's intercession," Helle said.

Born in Livingston on Dec. 28, 1924, he was the son of the late John Stewart and May Alfeld.

Mr. Alfeld was a 1942 graduate of Carrollton High School. He served in the U.S. Army in the South Pacific during World War II and was part of the occupation army in Japan after the war. He received a bachelor's degree in journalism from Ohio University and later received his master's in international affairs from Columbia University. He taught at West Virginia Institute of Technology in Morgantown, W.Va., before joining the UI.

Mr. Alfeld was a member of the Carrollton First Baptist Church, a board member of the Carrollton Public Library and a board member of the Greene County Historical and Genealogical Society. He also was a member of the Carrollton American Legion Post.

He was preceded in death by two brothers and a sister.

Services have already been held. Memorials may be made to Carrollton Public Library or the Greene County Historical and Genealogical Society.

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