Wood

William R. Wood

When William R. Wood became president of the University of Alaska in 1960, the institution’s facilities were valued at about $10.5 million. When Wood retired 13 years later, the estimated value was 10 times that.

Enrollment followed a similar pattern. From fewer than 1,000 students, the university grew to more than 10,000 statewide by the time Wood stepped down.

Wood led the university’s most dramatic period of growth with boundless energy and optimism about Alaska’s future.

“Students and faculty quickly learned that Dr. Wood was irrepressible and nearly inexhaustible; he is still the only president in the history of the university to have done the Equinox Marathon — he walked it twice,” wrote Terrence Cole in his history of the university, “The Cornerstone on College Hill.”

Wood’s wife, Dorothy Jane, worked as an equally energetic partner in boosting the university — she once estimated that they hosted 3,000 to 4,000 guests annually in their campus home.

They never lost that enthusiasm for Alaska and made Fairbanks their lifelong home after leaving the university in 1973.

Wood served as Fairbanks city major from 1978-1980. He then founded the nonprofit organization Festival Fairbanks to promote the community. His advocacy led to construction of Golden Heart Plaza downtown and the Chena River footbridge that today bears his name. He wrote a regular column in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

When Wood left the university, prominent leaders across the state described his personal charm and sense of humor.

That was evident in his inaugural presidential address in 1960, where he delivered this memorable question: “Where but in Alaska could one find a single university with a fur farm, a musk ox herd, a square mile of glacier, several tons of bones of prehistoric animals, an ice station on the polar ice cap 400-odd miles north of land’s end, a world-famous scientist with a special alarm system to awaken him whenever the aurora borealis flashes across our northern skies, two satellite tracking stations, no social fraternities, no sororities, and no losing football team for the alumni to use as an excuse for firing the president?”

Dorothy Jane died in August 2000 and her husband followed a few months later in February 2001.

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