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Retired UAlbany Professor Celebrates 100 Years of Life, Language and Music

In May, UAlbany’s oldest surviving professor emeritus, Willard E. Skidmore, celebrated 100 colorful years of life. Skidmore joined the faculty of Albany State Teachers College in the fall of 1949 and taught German until his retirement in 1976. Throughout the years, Skidmore has been a translator, a musician and a teacher. He has dabbled in carpentry and became a skilled potter in retirement. However, the German professor knew since the first grade that he wanted to teach.

UAlbany retired professor of German Willard E. Skidmore, at 100.

Willard Skidmore paid his way through college as a bass fiddle player in a swing band.  (Photo by Peter Spader) 

The professor’s lasting connections to former students is inspiring. When the phone rings Saturday mornings at 10 a.m., it’s typically former student, Arthur Young, B.A.’63, calling from Germany. Another former student and longtime UAlbany supporter, Martin Selig, B.A. ’62, remains in touch with Skidmore as well.

"I always tried to do my job to the best of my ability and I must have done something right: My former students and I are now colleagues,” Skidmore once told Joanne MacMillan, who met the professor through her work with the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures.

An early advocate for education, Skidmore’s mother encouraged his desire to teach. When she and her husband disagreed on whether or not to send their two eldest girls to college, it broke up the marriage. To support her family and ensure her children received an education, she worked at a college washing clothes for the football and basketball teams. While scrubbing uniforms, all nine of her children went to college. The baby of the family, Willard Skidmore is the last surviving sibling.

Music has also played a big part of Skidmore’s life. Known to his friends as “Skid,” he played swing music. He put himself through college and grad school playing bass fiddle with a dance band from Illinois to Kansas City.

Skidmore earned his bachelor’s degree and doctorate in Germanic Studies from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. At his graduations he played the processional march, “I got my diploma from the band master after the ceremony—even my Ph.D.,” he said.

After graduation, Skidmore served as a translator in the U.S. Navy. During the Nuremberg Trials, he translated documents for 12 hours a day. After the trials, Skidmore returned to the U.S. and taught at a number of universities.

Listening to Skidmore, it’s apparent that the secret to his longevity may be more George Burns than Dr. Oz. He smoked cigarettes and a pipe until he quit cold turkey in 1962; while he square danced twice a week until he was 92, he doesn’t consider himself an exercise enthusiast; and his favorite food is a bologna and cheese sandwich.

Skidmore and his late wife, Alma Angela Skidmore, were married for more than 50 years. Together they raised three children: Nancy, David, and Judy. Skidmore lost daughter Judy in 1999.

Despite being in a wheelchair since breaking his hip, Professor Skidmore keeps his ambitious attitude going by continually setting new goals for himself. Now at 100 colorful years of age, he continues to inspire his former students and support education.

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