June 11, 2014

Jack Woolf, retired president of UTA, dies

The former president led the school from a junior college to a four-year university.

Jack R. Woolf, a former president of the University of Texas at Arlington who was described by a colleague as a “founding father” of the institution, died Tuesday. He was 90.

During Mr. Woolf’s administration from 1959 to 1968, the school grew tremendously and he steered its transfer from the Texas A&M system to the UT system.

He was also at the helm when the school admitted its first African-American student.

“He was the founding father, I would say,” said former UTA President Wendell Nedderman. “It was his leadership at critical times at UTA that did well for that institution.

“He epitomized the perfect gentleman in all respects, but he was willing to make decisions that were in the best interest of the university. What more could you ask?”

In 1957, Mr. Woolf, a mechanical engineer, was appointed a dean at what was then known as Arlington State College, then a part of the Texas A&M system.

He was named acting president in 1958 after the sudden death of President E.H. Hereford. The next year, he was named the permanent president.

It was a time of great growth for the school. From 1949 until 1967, the school’s enrollment grew from 1,532 to about 11,000, a university spokeswoman said.

“The college grew faster than he could fund it,” said his son, Charles Woolf. “He used to spend a lot of time drawing plans for buildings.”

In 1959, the school went from junior college status to a four-year, baccalaureate-degree institution.

Three years later, the first black student enrolled, according to Transitions: A Centennial History of The University of Texas at Arlington.

Nedderman, who was recruited by Mr. Woolf to be the dean of the school’s new school of engineering in 1959, said his friend didn’t shy away from the tough decisions. Nedderman was president for 20 years and retired in 1992.

“It was bound to come, and he expedited it. He thought it was the right thing to do,” he said.

In 1965, the school joined the UT system, and Mr. Woolf fostered the school’s first graduate programs as he worked to achieve the accreditation of five engineering baccalaureate programs.

After stepping down as president in 1968, Mr. Woolf remained a professor of mechanical engineering at UTA until he retired in 1989. He continued to teach mechanical engineering courses until 1994, according to the school.

Woolf Hall, the second-largest building in the UT Arlington College of Engineering, bears his name.

“He was pretty unassuming, pretty factual. He was an engineer,” Charles Woolf said. “Anything he did, it was not a big deal. He was very humble and modest, like many of his generation. You didn’t talk about your accomplishments, you just went out and did it.”

As a child in Arlington, Charles Woolf said, people would ask him what his dad did for a living. His father told him to “ ‘tell them I’m an educator,’ even when he was president of UTA.”

“It says a lot about his character. That was the most important thing to him,” he said.

Mr. Woolf was born June 10, 1924, in Trinidad in East Texas.

He entered Texas A&M in 1941 but in 1943 went on active duty in the Army. He became a commissioned officer in the Air Corps. After more than three years’ service, including a year in the Philippines, he re-entered Texas A&M and received bachelor’s and master’s degrees.

In 1948, he married Martha Frazar of Strawn. They moved to Indiana, where he was an instructor and graduate student at Purdue University, where he also earned his doctorate in 1951.

In addition to his son Charles, survivors include son Mark Woolf; two grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren; and a sister, Lila Caraway.

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