Edward J. Knipper, 90, a war hero, New Jersey native and winner of Waco Independent School District’s first Outstanding Teacher Award, died Tuesday in Waco.
Knipper became a legendary teacher at Richfield High School, often leading his German students on summertime trips to Europe.
He also felt at home in the dugout, coaching the Richfield Rams’ baseball team with a rulebook stuffed in his back pocket for support if he disagreed with a call.
Knipper was a demanding teacher, but students clamored to take his classes, said Mary Henderson Senter, a public relations specialist for WISD who attended Richfield High, “where Mr. Knipper was considered a legend.”
“He was passionate, had an infectious enthusiasm and challenged people to do their very best,” Senter said.
Knipper received the first WISD Outstanding Teacher Award and the first Waco Education Foundation Distinguished Retired Teacher Award.
Teaching took him to West Junior High, the old Waco High and to Richfield until his retirement in 1985, after which he taught at Vanguard College Preparatory School until 1992.
Knipper was known for his varied interests. Each summer for more than a decade, he served as a counselor and horseback-riding instructor at Camp Stewart and Camp Rio Vista in the Texas Hill Country.
He also was among 14 charter members who founded the Waco Calligraphy Guild in 1988.
“He was an outstanding person in every phase of his life — school, church, whatever,” said Kay Metz, a former teacher at Richfield who later served as WISD’s director of development and community partnerships.
“He was a gentleman, scholar and friend who inspired others and believed in people in every part of his life. He probably influenced more children in the history of the WISD, so there was no doubt he would receive the first Outstanding Teacher Award.”
Dr. Joe Knipper, a Waco dermatologist, said he never had the opportunity to take a class under his father and envied those who did.
“I was going to Waco High when he was at Richfield,” Knipper said. “But I heard about how much fun his students had, and the connection he had with them. But he was tough. If you made an ‘A’ under him, it was because you earned it. His mantra was: Never be satisfied with anything less than the very best.”
As a coach, Knipper was very competitive, “but he was also a stickler for playing by the rules,” his son said. “He always had a rulebook in his pocket so if something happened on the field, he could pull it out and confront the umpires with, (saying) ‘This is what the rulebook says.’ ”
“I count myself blessed to have him as a dad,” Knipper said. “He did a lot of things for people no one ever knew about because he refused to toot his own horn.”
Knipper was born in Bloomfield, N.J., on April 17, 1923, and moved to New York City in 1938. He worked a year and a half in the mailroom of Time Inc., but in 1941 enrolled at Baylor University. His studies were interrupted by World War II, and he enlisted in the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program.
He flew combat missions to Japan from bases in Guam and Saipan. Upon cessation of hostilities, he helped air-drop food, clothing and medical supplies to Allied prisoner of war camps in Japan. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross and Air Medal with clusters.
After the war, he completed his master’s degree at Baylor, where he taught German and oversaw Kokernot Hall with his wife, Mary Blanche Hooker, whom he married in 1949.
During his retirement, Knipper enjoyed traveling extensively throughout the world, gardening and attending Baylor sporting events.
“He was a sweet guy and very faithful,” said the Rev. Matt Snowden, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Waco, where Knipper for more than 50 years was a member of the Abner McCall Sunday School Class, named for the longtime president of Baylor.
Services for Knipper are scheduled for 2 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church. He has designated the Baylor Bear Foundation Scholarship Fund for memorials, and honorary pallbearers are former members of his Richfield High School baseball teams.