By Emma Welsh-Huggins
For the greater part of 40 years, Professor Emeritus of Classics William “Bill” McCulloh taught the Greek language and translations of its literature to generations of Kenyon students. A Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford, published author and former advisor to the Collegian, he is a long-standing pillar of the community. Even after his retirement in 1999, he has continued to be involved in the Classics department, tutoring students in Sanskrit every week.
Currently, James Karlin ’15, Benjamin Marakowitz-Svig ’17 and Daniel Schlather ’17 make their way to the McCullohs’ Gambier home on Wednesday evenings for these lessons. “Because it’s such a small class, he’s able to really bounce off the languages we all know,” Schlather said. “He’s able to play off our prior knowledge since we are in such a small environment.”
In an email to the Collegian, Karlin explained his interest in Sanskrit. “I wanted to learn Sanskrit because I had read some great translations of ancient Indian poetry and philosophy, and knew that the best way to appreciate and understand these texts would be to read them in their original language,” Karlin wrote. “Professor McCulloh is quite knowledgable about the language, and actually made studying grammar seem fun and exciting by, in one instance, comparing reviewing case endings to gazing through a kaleidoscope.”
McCulloh and his wife Pat McCulloh, a retired professor of art, first came to the Hill in 1961 — the year he started teaching. Before coming to Kenyon, McCulloh earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Ohio Wesleyan University, followed by a Doctorate of Philosophy from Yale University.
When he first began teaching, only six students enrolled in his introductory Greek course. This made for a relatively easy adjustment into academia, but the next semester brought with it a challenge: the enrollment of the beloved, now retired, English professor Perry Lentz ’64 in McCulloh’s Greek literature lecture course. “He sat right in the middle of that class, and he paid such close attention to me that I knew that I had to avoid saying nonsense … because he was a challenge to me there,” McCulloh said. “He was always very polite, but … I always say he helped to whip me into shape as a lecturer, [with] just his presence.” The next year, the Collegian’s own advisor and Lentz’s friend, Writer in Residence P.F. Kluge ’64, enrolled in a lecture course on Greek literature.
“[Kluge] was always ready to ask a question and challenge something that I had said,” McCulloh said. In fact, McCulloh was so nervous about his first forays into teaching that he developed a habit of chain smoking during his lectures, ensuring that he would have time to pause and take a pull on his cigarette while gathering his next thought. But young as he was, Kluge was not one to back down from a challenge, and as McCulloh remembered, “Here [Kluge] and I were, dueling back and forth, he with his cigar and me with a whole pack of cigarettes. And at the end of that year, I quit cold turkey, because I knew I would die.”
In 1971, the McCullohs moved off campus to their current home. When telling stories about life on the Hill, Mr. and Mrs. McCulloh intertwined their two narratives into one. They both spoke fondly of past students with whom they are still in touch.
Lentz remembered a particular encounter with his former professor. “We went to [McCulloh] and complained about the amount of reading,” he said. “He looked at us in that sweet sort of surprised way he had and said, ‘Well, I assigned this at Amherst [College] and they didn’t have any trouble.’ And, of course, for Kenyon students, that’s exactly what you need to say.”
Kluge also expressed his respect for his former professor. “I think of [McCulloh] as indespensable, and I know cemeteries are filled with indespensable people,” he said. “That’s the way things go. But I can’t imagine anyone quite like him coming in today and staying the way he has. It’s been a great gift to Kenyon.”