Bill Ergle, RC Legend

by minton on February 23, 2021

One of Roanoke College’s greats passed away last Friday (2/19/21). Bill Ergle, long-time faculty member and chair of the MCSP department, was 81 and living in Atlanta near his beloved children, Christi and Mike.

Roanoke College got to know Bill quite well over his 44 years of teaching and service. He was chair of what is now the MCSP department for 15 years. Under his leadership, the size and prestige of the department increased dramatically. One of his most important contributions to the department was the culture of everybody being able to teach all courses, a principle that has kept the department’s teaching fresh and innovative. He was instrumental in the creation of the first computer science course taught at the college, and was an early director of the Computing Center. For many years, he taught all of the upper-level statistics courses, preparing an impressive number of students for graduate school in statistics despite the lack of a statistics major. Bill had an important voice in all campus wide discussions. One of my first impressions of the college was that even in intense discussions of policy or curriculum, there was laughter and (mostly) good will. This is one of Bill’s influences on his colleagues.

I got to know Bill when he hired me in 1986. He had just taken over as chair of the department after the sudden passing of Ron Walpole. He was a great mentor, always available for counsel or just listening to young-faculty complaints. I trusted his judgment and valued his friendship. In those early years, I used to take a free Tuesday and drive to Augusta, Georgia, for a practice round of the Masters golf tournament. Bill was delighted when I started listing the “International Conference on Applied Projectile Motion” in my annual report, and would comment on the importance of the conference. There are publications of faculty activities that list my ICAPM attendance. There was almost always mischief brewing on the second floor of Trexler with Bill around. He and his wife Joy often had the faculty over to their house in Roanoke and later their place at Smith Mountain Lake for some good fun.

In his 44 years teaching at Roanoke, thousands of students got to know Bill’s great sense of humor and on occasion his impatience with laziness. As a Ph.D. statistician, you might think that teaching Stat 101 year after year would get old, but Bill always enjoyed (most of) the students. He wrote an introductory stat book that we used for years. Students could always get help from Bill, but they quickly found out that he did in fact lock the door when class started.

For many confused and increasingly uncomfortable recent students, the name Ergle has presented a puzzle. The door labelled “William David Ergle Lavatory” looks like it might lead to a restroom, but is there time to Google “lavatory” to make sure? Bill enjoyed the “honor” of that sign, which was completely a show of affection from the department. It’s too bad that these students never got to know the man behind the legend. I am still not clear if the publishers of the Roanoke College Magazine article (see below) at his retirement ever took a good look at the image on the coffee mug in the foreground.

Bill with Kelly Minton

Bill was an old school man of principle and great loyalty. In a Facebook post his daughter Christi listed his loyalties to God, family, education (Roanoke College, Roanoke County School Board, and others), and Clemson (his alma mater and eternal rooting interest). You could joke with him about Clemson, but you were not going to get away with messing with the other three. We talked about family often, especially his pride in and concern for his two children. He took a great interest in my kids and passed on helpful lessons he had learned, usually wrapped in his trademark sense of humor.

Bill was fun. At a retirement dinner for him, the department faculty took turns reciting poems and limericks written for Bill (not to be repeated here), sang a song written for him (“There’s No One Like Bill” to the tune of Roger Miller’s “King of the Road”), and put various outfits on the Flat Bill that we made with Joy’s help. Very silly and quite wonderful.

For those who got to know Bill, the world was a better and more enjoyable place. We thank him for giving us that, perhaps the greatest gift any of us can give. A toast to you, Bill Ergle.

 

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Adam February 23, 2021 at 11:49 am

Great tribute Roland!

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2 Christi O'Neal February 23, 2021 at 12:20 pm

Thank you so much, Roland, for this wonderful tribute! It made me laugh and cry. I always respected and envied how much Dad loved his job teaching, and had so much fun with everyone at Roanoke College! He was very proud of that school and he spoke so often of all of you, his colleagues. He missed everyone these last years after moving South. All our best to you all! And hey, does anyone still have Flat Bill? That was a story I didn’t know. All my best, Christi Ergle O’Neal and Go Tigers!

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3 Lou Trogdon Stacy February 25, 2021 at 1:06 pm

Christi, I grew up in the Spartanburg County neighborhood with Bill. I’m Bob Trogdon’s sister. As young children, Bill was always a part of the group playing somewhere — hide and seek around the Ergle house – cowboys and Indians on both sides of “Dead Man’s Canyon,” a big cut through the Southern Railway tracks – flattening coins on the tracks as trains rolled by – making a raft to put on Lawson’s Fork Creek that sank when we put the dogs on to test it! We had a wonderful childhood!

All of us were partly brought up by Bill’s Mom, Evelyn. She was a second mother to me. I remember her especially fondly. We had lunch with Bill and Joy once when we visited Bob in Atlanta.
We had also visited them in Roanoke on our way to see our sons at VA Tech.

We are so sorry to learn of your dad’s death. He was a special
person in my young life and later. Lou

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4 Heidi Bocianowski March 10, 2021 at 9:20 am

Just wanted to pass along my sincere condolences. Like so many others, I was so blessed to have been one of his students at Roanoke College. I’ll be keeping his entire family in prayer.

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5 Paul Capp March 10, 2021 at 11:12 am

This is what Roanoke College has been,is today and will be——–ALL About

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6 Lori Byrd March 11, 2021 at 9:18 pm

Thank you for this tribute, Dr. Minton. Dr. Ergle became my math advisor when I decided to add a math major in addition to my physics major. He was so great about making the schedule work for me and helping me get all of my classes in and graduate on time. Twenty-five years later, I’m still “inflicting” math and physics knowledge on secondary students. I’m very grateful for the education and direction I received from Dr. E.

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7 Janice Saunders March 22, 2021 at 7:36 am

Bill was my pal, one of my favorite people at Roanoke College. Decades ago, when the faculty room was above the cafeteria, Bill, along with six or eight of us others, including Eberle Smith, Jan Lynch, Ben Huddle, etc, often ate our packed lunches there. We delighted in merry times together. I always enjoyed Bill’s great sense of humor and contagious, ready laugh. As bright as he was, I never saw him behave in a condescending manner towards anyone–sometimes a trait in highly intelligent folks!

Years ago, when Roanoke College offered a short-term program in Luxembourg, Bill was one of the professors in our group. As part of the learning process, each weekend professors and students traveled together to other European cities, such as Paris, Rome, and Amsterdam. The weekend we traveled to Paris, Bill proved to be my hero. When I attempted at dinner one evening to speak French to the server, she responded quite rudely to my inferior French accent. Bill, who happened to be sitting near me, quickly let the server know that while I was at least trying not to be the ugly American, she had reacted as a distinctly haughty,”ugly Frenchman”. I have never forgotten the incident.

Bill is surely missed by me and many, many others.

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8 Beth Groombridge (Johnson) March 26, 2021 at 4:01 am

What an amazing human! I was so inspired by him during my years at RC. I was in his Computer Friend or Foe class, as well as many stats courses. He helped me maintain motivation and excel in his classes.
Thank you for the experience. Dr. Ergle.

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9 Frank Munley March 27, 2021 at 12:23 pm

I’m so sorry to hear about Bill. He was a great guy, funny and friendly and always helpful. Roland, thank you for your remembrance.

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