Passings: Willard W. Piepenburg leaves legacy of teaching, scholarship

University Professor Emeritus Willard Warren Piepenburg leaves a legacy of teaching and scholarship at York, and will be remembered for the foundational contributions he made to the institution for 24 years.

He died on July 26, following a period of complex medical issues.

Piepenburg joined York University in 1964 as chair of the Department of History and also served as the first associate dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science. During his time at York, he was the first Tudor-Stuart specialist in the Department of History, and he also became the first permanent director of the Graduate Program in History. His contributions as both administrator and teacher helped to shape York into the institution it is today.

Professor Emeritus Richard C. Hoffmann remembers his colleague and friend as someone who “could absolutely be counted on to do something, and to do it right.”

He recalls Piepenburg as a brilliant and highly demanding teacher, and an administrator who laid the foundation for the creation of governance and procedure in the Department of History and the Faculty of Arts & Science.

“He was a man who recognized institutional obligations and saw to it that they were carried out,” said Hoffmann. “He instilled in other people a sense of discipline and responsibility.”

Piepenburg was born in Reedsville, Wisconsin, and started studying history at the University of Wisconsin in 1940. He served three years in the Second World War in alternate service, and when the war ended, he returned to his studies to earn his undergraduate and master’s degrees.

In 1949, Piepenburg won a Fulbright Fellowship to do doctoral studies in history at the U.K.’s King’s College, Cambridge University. After graduating in 1951, he taught history at the University of Toronto for 12 years, during which time he also won a Nuffield Fellowship to the U.K. (in 1961-62). He served as undergraduate secretary for the history department at the University of Toronto, and then joined York University in 1964, where he remained until his retirement in 1988.

Piepenburg was an expert in the history of England. He authored various reviews and articles in professional journals and co-authored Twin Heritages (1967) with J. Saywell and J.C. Ricker.

In 1987, York presented him with the title of University Professor, and in 1988 he was appointed a senior scholar. In June of 1999, he was inducted into York’s Founders Honours Society for the influential role he played in the development of the Faculty of Arts.

After his retirement, an undergraduate scholarship award for history students was named after him. The Willard W. Piepenburg Award goes to undergraduate history majors in the Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies. Recipients are selected by the Department of History based on academic merit and financial need.

Piepenburg was a loyal York University supporter and made a generous bequest to support undergraduate students majoring in history through the Willard W. Piepenburg Award.

As a friend, Piepenburg is remembered as providing “wonderfully acerbic” commentary on political and cultural matters, and was “interesting and enjoyable” to be around, said Hoffmann.

The flag on the Keele campus will be lowered in his honour on Saturday, Aug. 19. There will also be a celebration of life at 2pm on Saturday, Aug. 19 at Belmont House, 52 McMurrich St., Toronto.

Memorial donations in his name would be gratefully received by:

1. Belmont House Foundation. This Foundation subsidizes high-quality and dignified elder care for those of modest means. For more information, visit SupportUs.aspx?SID=102; and

2. Willard W Piepenburg Award. Scholarships for undergraduate history majors at York University selected for academic merit and financial need. For more information, visit and select the Willard W. Piepenburg Award in the dropdown menu designating your gift.

Written with files from York University’s Faculty Honours 1959-2009 publication