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A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Bill Stoltzfus
A History of Princeton Day School in 12 Stories: Bill Stoltzfus

This profile of Upper School history and religion teacher Bill Stoltzfus is the eighth in our series on 12 long-serving and much-beloved PDS faculty and staff members who retired in June. (The most recent previous profile is of Lower School music teacher Andrea Schafer, which you can read here.)

As told by Dave Freedholm, Upper School history and religion teacher.

In conversations about teaching with Bill Stoltzfus, a certain phrase cropped up often. This phrase often preceded Bill's observations and went this way – "In my world . . ." To me, this formulation reveals something very essential about Bill as an educator – that is, over his nearly forty years at PDS, he created a unique environment for learning that was completely and essentially his own. I think it is safe to say that there never was or will be a teacher at PDS like Bill Stoltzfus. And, of course, I mean this in the best way possible.

Those students who entered "Bill's world" entered into a space where texts were primary. In Bible class, students immersed themselves deeply in the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament, reading closely with an eye toward history and meaning. In Ethics class, students plowed their way through great thinkers such as Aristotle, Hume, Nietzsche, and Kant. In Ancient Greek Thought, students grappled with historians like Herodotus and philosophers like Plato. As students read these seminal texts, Bill asked them to reflect carefully and personally on their relevance to questions that were at once intellectual and deeply personal. In class, Bill often used Socratic methods of engagement and loved to design exercises that challenged students to see the complex connections between ideas and events. One of the most famous examples of this was the ever-entertaining game he designed called "Blob." Above all, Bill was always a teacher of the utmost principle, as one would expect from a scholar of religion and ethics. To his credit, Bill often stood firmly on his principles in matters of conscience, but was the first to embrace others once disputes or disagreements were settled. As someone who has known him for nearly a quarter of a century, I can say there has been no truer friend to his students and colleagues than Bill. That was an essential part of the world at PBS that Bill created.

Over the years, "Bill's world" would come to include a large variety of activities outside the classroom. In his early time at PDS, Bill was a dean in the Middle School, dealing with the occasional disciplinary issue, a role that he quickly extended to consideration of large-scale issues of justice and honor in the classroom. He was a coach for 27 seasons in a variety of sports from tennis to Middle School softball, once famously reassuring his young (but somewhat naïve) players, who were on the wrong end of a lopsided score, that the reason their opponents weren't stealing bases was because they went to a Catholic school. In recent years, Bill was co-advisor to the Spokesman, providing sage advice to our sometimes muckraking journalists. Bill also chaired the Religion department at PDS, helping to spearhead the effort to bring a wider religious perspective to our class offerings. In a good faith effort to pioneer travel experiences for our students, Bill went with me on the first PDS trip to India. The summer before he and I went by car and foot to the source of the Ganges in the Himalayas, braving high altitude and our inadequate preparations to literally set our toes into the glacial water that springs forth from the glacier. All of the things Bill did at and for PDS were done from the great depth of caring, love, and integrity that was part of his world.

Part of Bill's world too were the many family, friends, and colleagues he had at PBS. Bill's mom, Janet, was also a religion teacher and a leader at PDS. His three sisters (Susan, Rebecca, and Winnie) graduated from PDS and his aunt, Winifred, taught at Miss Fine's. His daughter, Amelia, graduated from PDS in 2016 with a cohort of compatriots known as the "Hopewell girls" who are friends to this day. His wife, Allison, once taught Middle School math at PDS and would go on to be his longtime partner and support. Bill's many colleagues at PBS, especially in the History department, benefitted greatly from his wisdom, support, and compassion.

As we bid him a fond farewell, I think it is safe to say that we all are tremendously grateful for being included in "Bill's world" here at PDS. Bill is sui generis, one of a kind, and these halls won't see his like again.