When Hagerstown, Md., resident Bob Wantz visited Shepherd College as a high school senior in 1951, there was no telling the impact the university would have on him. Or he on it.
His guidance counselor at the old Hagerstown High School had invited students on a field trip to see the college. Wantz agreed to go simply because he wanted to get out of class for the day.
"Frankly, there was a little bit of luck involved. I didn't know what I was getting into," he said.
The visit that spring day included touring the campus, listening to the school choir sing "The White Cliffs of Dover" in front of Reynolds Hall, eating lunch in the old cafeteria behind Snyder Hall and taking in a few innings of Ram baseball.
"I just said to myself, 'I like this place. Why not?'" he said and asked his counselor, Dr. Atlee Kepler, his thoughts, who told the future Ram that he thought colleges were like businesses, in that they were either moving up or going down.
"'Bobby,' he says, 'I feel Shepherd College is on the up.'" Wantz remembered. "Fifty years later we probably have ten times the brick and mortar today than we had then."
And 50-plus years later Shepherd University has named Wantz its Outstanding Alumnus 2012.
"He is a funny, outgoing, dedicated alumnus for Shepherd," said Alexis Reed, director of alumni affairs at Shepherd. "He has a lot of affinity and a big heart."
The annual award recognizes an alum for his or her dedication and volunteer commitments which have significantly enhanced the goals and mission of Shepherd University and the Shepherd University Alumni Association. Recipients have given of themselves for the enrichment of others, the university and the betterment of the community.
Wantz has been a member of Shepherd's Alumni Association board of directors for more than 20 years and frequently represents it and serves on its marketing and membership committee.
"We never have to ask him; he always shows up," said Reed.
He has also been a guest speaker in classes and has worked with the art department, helps raise money for non-revenue sports, has rarely missed a Shepherd football game and was inducted into Shepherd's Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society in 2000.
Bob's close friend Dick Snively, class of 1956, nominated him. They were next-door neighbors and fraternity brothers while at Shepherd and have remained close friends since. He described Wantz as interesting and pleasant with a great laugh and sense of humor. He said that Bob is a loyal friend and devoted to his family, art and Shepherd.
"I think Bob is devoted to Shepherd because that was four of the best years of his life. An avid football fan, he played four years for Shep and loved every minute of it. His studies there prepared him for a career in teaching and administration," Snively said. "He is proud of the growth and progress of the school and wants to stay involved to help further the growth and reputation of Shep."
In addition to playing football on scholarship, the former right halfback was also a record-holding diver on Shepherd's swim team. For his first two years of college he rented an apartment a few blocks from German Street for $3 a week with fellow football player and friend Jack West, then moved into a new dorm on campus for the second two. He was a member of Zeta Sigma fraternity and the Varsity Club. He fondly remembers his time on the football field, hanging out in the student union and a trip to New York City to see a couple live television shows with his speech class.
He graduated in 1955 with a bachelor of science in biology and a bachelor of arts in secondary education in a commencement ceremony held in front of Knutti Hall. He spent his career in Washington County, first teaching in the classroom and on educational TV and then moving into administration. He was vice principal at Williamsport Junior Senior High School and Williamsport Middle School and then principal at Clear Spring Middle School for 16 years until retirement in 1990.
Then with some time on his hands, he joined Shepherd's Alumni Association and said he has served on just about every committee the association has.
"My feeling was the school has always been good to me, and I wanted to pay it back," he said.
Several years ago, Wantz traveled to a school in Pennsylvania to watch the Rams play football and parked in afield.
"There must have been four or five hundred cars in that field, and it cost me $5 to park. I'm going back through the field, and I'm looking at all these cars, and I'm seeing $5," he remembered and thought, "Oh my God, why can't we do something like this at school?"
And so, back at Shepherd, Wantz started the program to charge for premier game-day parking which then gave the proceeds to the golf team.
"That was fun," he said. "It's a good feeling."
In addition to his alumni work, Wantz spends much of his time on his artwork, specifically watercolors. Though his middle and high school art teachers noticed his talent, his painting took a backseat while he was busy with college, military service, starting his career and marrying wife Cassandra (Sandy) and together raising their two children, Susan and Gary.
But when he saw an advertisement in the newspaper for art classes offered at Washington County Museum of Fine Arts (WCMFA) during his first year of teaching he picked up his brushes again.
"I just really loved it," he said.
In 1973 he entered his painting of a seascape in his first art show at Hilltop House in Harpers Ferry and won.
"First show. First prize. First sale," he said. "A bank down there bought it for $100. Boy, a hundred dollars back then was a lot of money."
He was hooked. Since then, he has studied with Mac Fisher, Ray Loos, Tom Nicholas, Zoltan Szabo, Larry Webster, Murray Wentworth and at the Edgar Whitney School. He has won dozens of awards for his art and is a signature member of the Baltimore Watercolor Society. His pieces hang in private collections, businesses and public spaces in the area, including at the state house in Annapolis and most recently at Cornerstone Wealth Management Group in Hagerstown.
Wantz was featured in a one-person showing at WCMFA in 2002. The retrospective included 30 of his paintings representing his 30 years of painting. He favors painting land and seascapes, which he does in his basement studio.
He started teaching the medium in 1987 and still does so at the museum four times a year.And throughout the academic year at Shepherd, the university has been honoring its outstanding alumnus at different events, which began with homecoming in October and will end with commencement in May. A reception was held in his honor at the university Feb. 9.
"I just think it's a wonderful college. I learned a lot there," he said. "And from my studying of biology I springboarded from that to have a very successful and happy life."