Few professors in the university’s history, if any, can match Bill Mendenhall’s 50-year record in the classroom. Mendenhall began as an engineering instructor in 1955 and, while he officially retired in 1987, he continued to teach classes until 2005.
Throughout those years, he and his wife Nancy also served the university and Fairbanks communities in multiple roles.
Born in Indianapolis, Mendenhall first came to Alaska in 1948, the year before he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Cornell University. In Fairbanks, he worked for Philleo Engineering Service, which did surveying and design work on many of the facilities built during Fairbanks’ post-World War II boom, including the airport, Dixon Apartments and the Polaris and Northward buildings.
Bill married Nancy in 1954, the year after she graduated from UA. He joined the university the next year, while she went to work as an elementary school teacher. They raised three children, two of whom earned engineering degrees at UAF.
Mendenhall earned a master’s at Cornell in 1960. He specialized in surveying and, as a private pilot, conducted mapping flights across Alaska. He helped improve the accuracy of high-latitude maps and the use of photography in making them.
The Mendenhalls dove into public life in Fairbanks. Bill was a founding member of the Greater Fairbanks Community Hospital Foundation in the mid-1960s. As a board trustee, he helped guide the completion of the new hospital in 1972 and its expansion in the decades since. Nancy was elected to the Fairbanks North Star Borough Board of Education and served from 1963-1975. The couple established a travel endowment for students in the College of Engineering and Mines in 2014.
Nancy passed away in 2016. Bill remains active both on campus and in community organizations. He advises the campus chapter of Tau Beta Pi, the national engineering honor society, and he has served on the Fairbanks North Star Borough Platting Board since 2001.
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