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Faculty Emeritus Tim Rockwell: 1939-2022

Tim O. Rockwell P '80, '86, faculty emeritus and former dean of students and history teacher at Mercersburg Academy, passed away September 12, 2022, at the age of 83.

Rockwell grew up in the town of Mercersburg, PA, and the school was a constant presence in his life. Before arriving at Mercersburg Academy, he earned an undergraduate degree from Shippensburg University and advanced degrees from Pennsylvania State University and George Washington University. He was also a United States Navy veteran.

In 1970, Rockwell joined the Mercersburg faculty as a history teacher; in 1979, he began a 17-year career as dean of students. A trained and experienced historical archeologist, Rockwell participated in field work for the Smithsonian Institute, the National Historic Trust for Historic Preservation, and the National Park Service. He was a fellow in the Explorers Club of New York (which boasts names like Buzz Aldrin, Carl Sagan, and Thor Heyerdahl), and for five years he served as editor and publisher of The Explorers Journal, which gave him the opportunity to lecture on board the Russian icebreaker Kapitan Khlebnikov in 1993. 

Rockwell's most notable adventure was in 1983, when he led a group of faculty and students to the Canadian Arctic. The group was armed with heavy equipment and flags representing the United States, Canada, the National Geographic Society, and Mercersburg Academy. The group traveled in honor of the centennial anniversary of the First International Polar Year and Greely expedition, and in remembrance of Ross Marvin, a Mercersburg math teacher who died on an expedition to the North Pole in 1909. In an interview in the Winter 2010-2011 school magazine, Rockwell was quoted as saying that the expedition changed his life.

As a teacher, Rockwell was known for bringing history to life. He would often act out scenes and moments to give the subject direction and connection. Before he retired as dean of students, he offered his successor, fellow faculty member Tom Rahauser '74, P '05, '07, '12, some advice that was passed down from Bill Howard (dean of students, 1961-1977): "You have to have a sense of humor, you have to have a sense of purpose, and you have to always try to be fair."

In the Summer 2017 school magazine, Rahauser recalled, "Tim Rockwell was just phenomenal in the position at a very difficult time. He [handled] the position in such a sensitive, appropriate, and thoughtful way. I thought I knew what Tim did because I'd watched him for 17 years. The reality was that I knew superficially what Tim did, but actually, I had no idea what he did, which is humorous because it's not until you get into the position that you realize the many various things you will deal with that are challenging and thought-provoking."

Rockwell retired from Mercersburg in 1996 but remained a fixture at the school. He could be relied upon to attend arts performances, sporting events, and reunions. His regular visits across campus to say “hello” to staff and faculty were a welcome occasion by all. 

Rockwell is survived by his wife, Bonnie; their two daughters, Shawn Hardy '80 and Beth Willander '86; and two granddaughters, Electa Willander '18 (Mercersburg’s admission visit coordinator) and Anika Willander '21.

A memorial service has been planned to celebrate the life of Tim Rockwell on Sunday, October 9, at 1:30 p.m. in the Irvine Memorial Chapel. A reception will follow for guests to pay their respects to the Rockwell family. More details can be found here. If you would like to send a card to the family, please mail it to Mercersburg Academy, Attn: Will Whitmore/Rockwell Family, 100 Academy Drive, Mercersburg, PA 17236.