William ‘Shep’ Sheppard impacted the lives and professions of many
Many of the “great” Marietta professors received a lot of ink in the College’s two history books—In the various branches of useful knowledge and A Pioneer College.
Whether they obtained high degrees from remarkable colleges and universities, wrote extensive articles that were published nationally and internationally in their chosen fields, or whether they inspired monumental gifts from former students, much is written about these classroom giants.
But there are other teachers whose names trigger immediate responses from alumni and former peers, but whose official history with the College is not so well charted. William M. Sheppard is one of those professors.
Some knew him as “Bill,” most students called him “Shep,” and all who knew him counted him as their friend, mentor and confidant.
Sheppard was a veteran of World War II and served with the 99th Infantry Division. A fellow soldier, Joe Thimm, wrote a special tribute to Sheppard and another of their “foxhole buddies” in June 2002, after their deaths. Sheppard, Thimm and Bob Warner met at Camp Maxey in March 1944, where they trained with other members of the 99th Infantry before being shipped out to the war raging throughout Europe. Thimm’s “Sad farewell to two special friends” gave a small glimpse into the enormous sacrifices the soldiers made during the war.
Sheppard reconnected with Thimm by chance when he spotted a car in Marietta College’s parking lot with a 99th Infantry Division sticker. He inquired about its owner and learned that there was an association established by members of that division. He wrote Thimm a letter in 1989 about a specific memory he had about their time in Europe. The men had withstood days of rain and snow and had dug a large trench for shelter.
“After seven or eight days on the line, they finally brought us some dry socks,” Sheppard wrote. “After coming off watch outside our dugout sometime around midnight, I climbed into my bedroll and decided to put on the dry socks before going to sleep. Shortly after taking off my leggings and putting on the socks, my feet started to hurt like crazy—apparently as circulation tried to resume where blood vessels were no longer operable. I’ve always described it as feeling as though someone was hitting my feet with a hammer.”
Like most of his fellow soldiers, Sheppard was suffering from they called “trench foot.”
“I remember trying to keep as quiet about it as possible, thinking I could hang on until daylight” Sheppard wrote. “But when I started hitting my head against the side of the hole to keep from crying out, you (Joe Thimm) had apparently had enough. I remember you saying something like, ‘I can’t stand this anymore. I’m going to get Shep out of here.’ And shortly before dawn, you put me on your back and in the dark carried me on the path to the platoon CP.”
All three men survived the war. Afterward, Sheppard attended Swarthmore College, where he met his future wife, Jeannette “Jenny” Haas Sheppard, who passed away in May 2010. In 1961, he was hired at Marietta College to serve as the advisor to The Marcolian and Mariettana, as well as to teach journalism and writing courses in the Mass Media Department.
Sheppard mentored students about responsible journalism, clean copy and creative approaches to delivering news to readers. In addition to his classroom duties, he oversaw the success of the College’s student newspaper and yearbook, as well as counseled students in his office about their writing abilities and career aspirations.
In the early 1970s, Sheppard became acquainted with the new Vice President for Development at Marietta, Bill Thompson, Jr. ’57. He mentioned to Thompson, who was interested in starting a business, that he should inquire into magazine publishing. From there, the idea of Bird Watcher’s Digest arose.
“We owe a debt to the late William M. Sheppard, a friend and Marietta College professor, who helped launch BWD and edited the first issue…” wrote Bill and Elsa Thompson ’56, who founded the internationally known magazine.
In 1985, Sheppard assisted the late Vernon “Dan” McGrew, who was the secretary of the College, in researching and compiling more than 230 photographs of the College and the community to create Moments in Time: 150 Years of Marietta College in Pictures.
Sheppard was inducted into the National Collegiate Leadership Honorary Omicron Delta Kappa. In 1982, he was presented an Honorary Alumnus Award. In 1984, he received an Outstanding Faculty Award. He was among the first three recipients of the Edward G. Harness Fellowship award. He, Dr. George Banziger, Jr. (psychology), and Dr. William Hohman (chemistry) received the award during the 1985 Commencement ceremony.
Though he retired in 1988, he continued to teach writing courses for the Learning in Retirement program on campus. In 1999, he was inducted into the Mass Media Department’s Hall of Fame as its second inductee, and in 2000, into the Faculty Emeritus Chamber of Andrews Hall.
He died March 7, 2002, at the Marietta Nursing and Rehabilitation Center in Marietta at the age of 77. Tributes to Sheppard poured in from alumni upon hearing of his death. From those very personal memories shared by alumni, it became clear that Sheppard never tried to make duplicates of himself in his students. His intent was not to churn out journalists and writers, his goal was to develop the student and help guide him or her to a career path that best suited their hearts and talents.
“Shep gave a generation of students the inspiration and competence to follow their hearts’ dreams in chosen careers and life interests,” wrote one alumnus to the College. “His personal example as well as his gentle, yet stern insistence to apply at all times professional and ethical standards of critical thinking, investigative insight and fairness will always guide me.”
Another of his former advisees recalled meeting with him during his freshman year fully prepared to quit college.
“Shep patiently listened to all of my angst and eventually said that when he was my age he had a similar impulse to quit school and become a truck driver. But he said that he realized that he was a thinking person and concluded that about the worst fate he could imagine would be to become a thinking truck driver…His efforts and words of wisdom have had an enormous impact on me, not only in guiding me through a successful career in journalism, but in helping me discover the truly important things in life—family, friends, baseball and gardening.”