Wendell Nedderman, who was the president of the University of Texas at Arlington for 20 years, died Wednesday. He was 97.
Nedderman, of Frisco, frequently spoke of UT Arlington as a “positive-slope institution.” He began his career at UTA in September 1959, becoming acting dean of the school’s new school of engineering and later vice president of academic affairs from 1968 to 1972.
He became acting president of the university in 1972 and continued as president from 1974 until 1992. After his retirement in 1992, he was named president emeritus.
UTA President Vistasp Karbhari said Nedderman set the foundation and trajectory for the transition form a small college to one of the largest and best-reputed universities in Texas.
“President Nedderman was an inspirational leader, far ahead of his times in his vision for the University of Texas at Arlington, and his passion and dedication to excellence and student success set the standard and bar high for all those who follow him,” Karbhari said in a statement released Thursday by university officials. “Our university is where it is today — a national powerhouse and a leader in teaching, research and outreach — because of the path that he set and the battles he fought for UTA.”
Nedderman called himself an “an old country boy.” His own experiences as an Iowa farm boy turned doctoral student transformed him into a lifelong champion for improving access to a college education for tens of thousands of students, especially for transfer and first-generation college students.
He toured the campus in a wheelchair to experience first-hand the accessibility challenges and mobility issues faced by students. It led to significant modifications across the campus and an award from Texas Gov. Dolph Briscoe Jr. in recognition of the improved campus accessibility for people with disabilities.
“I think there was always an atmosphere of acceptability or friendship or support on the campus at UTA,” Nedderman said in a 2014 interview. “I always took pride in that.”
For years, he didn’t have a reserved parking space, but he eventually got one after an adviser insisted an university president needed a designated spot.
State Sen. Royce West of Dallas said Nedderman was a crucial figure in UTA’s history, according to a UTA news release.
“President Nedderman was a transformative leader for UTA and a mentor, adviser and friend to many of its students,” said West, a UTA alumnus. “I count myself fortunate to have had our paths cross.”
After stepping down as president, Nedderman returned to the classroom, teaching a structure of materials class in the civil engineering department from 1992 to 2004 before he fully retired that year.
Nedderman received numerous awards during his career including Engineer of the Year from the Fort Worth chapter of the Texas Society of Professional Engineers; Citation for Service from the Arlington Chamber of Commerce; Service to the People Award, Texas section, from the American Society of Civil Engineers; and Distinguished Honorary Alumnus from the UTA Alumni Association.
He also served on many North Texas boards such as the North Texas Higher Education Authority, Arlington Kiwanis Club, Metropolitan Tarrant County United Way, Arlington school district and Arlington Memorial Hospital.
Nedderman was born in 1921 in Lovilia, Iowa to Fern Gray and Walter Nedderman. His family also included a young sister. He graduated from Lovilia HIgh School and earned a bachelor of science in civil engineering from Iowa State University in 1943.
After graduation, Nedderman joined the Navy and served as an engineering officer in the Pacific during World War II.
He was discharged and was hired as an instructor of civil engineering at Texas A&M University and also obtained his master’s degree.
In 1947, he met and married Betty Vezey, a graduate of Texas Woman’s University in Denton. Vezey was born and raised in College Station.
Nedderman left A&M in 1951 and returned to Iowa State University, where he obtained his Ph.D. in civil engineering. He then returned to teach at A&M.
In 1959, Nedderman moved his family to Arlington, where he was selected as UTA’s first dean of engineering.
His wife died in 2015.
Survivors include four sons and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“His legacy will be felt for years to come and he will always be remembered as a giant among university leaders,” Karbhari said. “Rest in peace, President Nedderman, your work and legacy lives on in the hearts of the thousands whose lives you touched, the success you enabled in others and in the university you built.”