William B. Kory

1939 - 2022

Photo of William B Kory

With a very heavy heart, we announce that Dr. William B. Kory, professor emeritus of geography at the University of Pittsburgh–Johnstown, passed away on Saturday, April 2, 2022 in his Florida home. Our dear friend, colleague, and mentor had been diagnosed with leukemia. He retired only last year, and we are grateful for his more than half-century of service to the discipline and his 83 years of joyful life.

Dr. Kory was unrelentingly committed to his students’ success at Pitt-Johnstown. He joined the campus as an instructor in 1971, only two years into his doctoral training at the University of Pittsburgh, where he specialized in demography and geopolitics. When the Department of Geography in Pittsburgh disbanded like so many others during the 1980s, Dr. Kory reestablished the University’s undergraduate major in Johnstown. He also believed a global education was crucial for even the most practical vocations. His experience as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia, as a Fulbright Scholar in Egypt, and as a Russian speaker since birth, all informed his educational mission. As more employers sought geospatial specialists, Dr. Kory chaired the initiative to establish a GIS certificate program. Dr. Kory had generous office hours – when he taught, he kept the door ajar for students – and he’d encourage students to chat with him for hours between classes. Even if one of his buddies in the state legislature or local chamber of commerce stopped by on business, Dr. Kory would make a personal introduction and insist with a welcoming grin that his students kept their seats around the desk. He wanted students to participate in all aspects of campus and the Johnstown community.

Photo of William B Kory with some of his studentsThroughout his tenure at Pitt-Johnstown, Dr. Kory made a home for students in the Geography Club. His office was filled with scrapbooks spanning five decades of raffle-ticket fundraisers, environmental field trips and creek clean-ups, conferences with the Pennsylvania Geographical Society (PGS), and the seemingly thousands of photographs students sent him after they graduated. The club met monthly at Bigdogz Grill, his favorite dive, for a Coors yellowbelly and ham sandwich. Every new internship and conference paper got a toast. Under Dr. Kory’s leadership and individual generosity, the Geography Club financed undergraduate travel to the AAG in New York, Tampa, and Washington, D.C., among many other national meetings. He also brought guest lecturers like his friend Harm de Blij to campus and hosted a week-long program of speakers for every Geography Awareness Week. At the annual department banquet or bi-annual induction ceremony to Gamma Theta Upsilon, Dr. Kory gave out a half-dozen prizes for student success, including the beloved “K” Award. Above almost anything else, Dr. Kory believed in his students, and he created opportunities to support and celebrate everybody in the department.

In his own words, one of Dr. Kory’s proudest achievements was that he had sent 200 students to graduate schools during his time at Pitt-Johnstown. Further, he was always quick to add that all his students that had attended graduate schools were successful completing their degrees. “Some may have found Jesus or a wife, and dropped out of school, but no one ever failed,” he would often say. Dozens of universities where he helped send students to graduate schools were highlighted on a customized map Dr. Kory proudly displayed from his office door. Dr. Kory used his numerous connections to tirelessly work for funding packages for all his students interested in attending graduate school. This achievement, too, should not be overshadowed as he made the process navigable and achievable for so many. He was part of the graduate school process for his students every step of the way. Dr. Kory would follow-up with his students during their graduate studies offering support and encouragement. Graduate school has the potential to change one’s life course, and he is personally responsible for changing the lives of many in a significant way.

Dr. Kory instilled the fiercest confidence in his students. He believed in his students’ potential,  sometimes before they believed in themselves, and that is a remarkable and truly special value he held. Dr. Kory had a unique talent of making his students feel valued and recognized. He bragged about his current and former students as often as he was able, and he considered the Pitt-Johnstown Geography Department his family. Dr. Kory and his wife, Mary Ann, would welcome students and colleagues into their home for meals and friendship. For those of us lucky enough to know Dr. Kory, we felt his love and support every step of the way in our personal and professional accomplishments.

Dr. Kory’s professional contribution primarily lay in his dedication to the Pennsylvania Geographical Society. He was an active member of the organization for much of his academic life. In fact, he received PGS’s lifetime achievement award last year, in recognition of his retirement. It is hard to imagine an award that was more appropriate. In particular, his “baby” was the society’s journal, The Pennsylvania Geographer, which he was instrumental in guiding to become a peer-reviewed journal. Dr. Kory tirelessly devoted much of his time to the editorial duties.

Not only was Dr. Kory a cheerleader for his students, but also an effective department head. His enthusiasm in the classroom meant that there were always students who wanted to major in geography. For a small undergraduate department, that’s our bread and butter. The tight-knit environment that Dr. Kory created meant that Pitt-Johnstown geography was a place that faculty wanted to stay. While there may be more prestigious institutions elsewhere, our geography faculty learned this truism first-hand: the grass is not greener on the other side. In fact, some left the department only to return a few years later, missing the collegiality at Pitt-Johnstown.

The impact of Dr. Kory’s efforts to lead, promote geography, and educate and enrich his students radiates far beyond Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Throughout his career Dr. Kory built a department, coalition of graduate students, and a family that stretches around the world. He is fondly remembered for immeasurable dedication to the discipline of geography, his colleagues, and his students’ success and happiness.

Compiled by:

Jacob R. Wolff, Ph.D. student, Temple University

J.T. Bandzuh, Ph.D. candidate, Florida State University; Instructor, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown

Ola Johansson, Professor of Geography, University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown