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Retired Professor Bill Strykowski Plans Gift for Ryerson Physics Students

October 01, 2016
Retired Ryerson professor Bill Strykowski stands by the Devonian pond on a sunny day

Bill Strykowski on campus at Ryerson University

Many Ryerson engineering alumni will remember professor Bill Strykowski. Friendly and open, quick to smile and laugh, Bill, now retired, had great rapport with his students. And the feeling is mutual – in conversation with him, it’s quickly apparent how fond he is of Ryerson and its people. “I really enjoyed the students, and loved the camaraderie and community of the faculty. We were like a gang. Ryerson is a friendlier school. It’s tight.”

And now, Bill’s plan for an extraordinary gift to Ryerson will mean a whole new generation (and more) of students will have excellent cause to remember him as well.

Bill is making this remarkably generous gift through a provision for Ryerson in his will. Planning the gift in this way meant that he could make a larger donation than might otherwise have been possible. According to Bill, it also lets him feel a bit more secure financially – “just in case something unforeseen happens.”

But his rationale for giving speaks to the kind of guy he is: “I figure I got the money from Ryerson; I had a good time here. I thought I’d give them some of their money back…with interest.”

It took time for Ryerson to get Bill on the payroll though. He was first offered a teaching job here in 1954. He turned it down. He’d been working as an engineer and had never considered teaching. So he continued to work in the industry, doing research and development work with titanium, eventually landing in Renfrew, Ontario. But born and raised in Toronto, he didn’t quite take to small-town life, and soon found himself back in the city looking for work. It was 1960, and there was an opening at Ryerson.

An only child and somewhat shy, Bill says he was “worried about standing up in front of all those people, but thought maybe I should give it a try.” He interviewed on a Tuesday, was hired on the Wednesday and told to report for work Monday, ready to teach physics in the department of engineering.

“For the first few months, I was going to quit every day!” he says. “But it was really the best thing that ever happened to me. It showed me that, one, I loved physics and, two, I loved teaching – that I was made for teaching.”

Those were the days when President Howard Kerr, after whom Kerr Hall was named, was walking those very halls. Bill’s students, mostly men, wore jacket and tie to classes each day, and “during exams,” recalls Bill, “if the students had a little stubble on their chins, they were sent home to shave. Our vice-principal kept spare neckties on hand for forgetful students during exam sittings.”

A few years later, Bill was offered the chance to return to a job in the industry. “I told them, ‘if they cut my salary at Ryerson, I would still stay here.’ I loved the job – it didn’t feel like work to me.”

Bill says “the years flew by.” He’d started teaching at the Ryerson Institute of Technology, then it became Ryerson Polytechnical Institute and, when he retired in 1997, it was Ryerson University.

Bill appreciated the friendliness of Ryerson over his 37 years here, and his planned gift will further that encouraging environment, creating a legacy of new financial awards for students in physics. “I like Ryerson students,” he says. “I’d like to help them out.”