POTSDAM, New York (WWNY) – William H. Cullen, Sr. (Bill) passed away on May 21, 2022 at the Waltonwood/Lake Boone assisted living community in Raleigh, NC. In recent years he has also resided at The Kempton at Brightmore Assisted Living Community in Wilmington, NC. He previously lived in Potsdam and Chateaugay, NY. He was 103 years old. Arrangements are with the Garner Funeral Service. Thoughts, memories, prayers and condolences for the Cullen family can be shared at @www.garnerfh.com.
Bill was born on February 11, 1919 in Brasher Falls, NY to Dr. Born William H. Cullen and Helen (Woods) Cullen. dr William died in 1930 and from then on Bill was raised by his mother who lived mostly in Potsdam. Helen Cullen died in 1975 at the age of 94. Bill had two sisters, Frances (Fran), who died in 2005 at the age of 94, and Jean, who died in 2014 at the age of 106. Longevity was common among the Cullen matriarch and siblings.
Bill graduated from Potsdam Normal School with a teaching diploma in 1939 and returned in 1946 to receive a BS in Elementary Education. He earned an MS in English Education from St. Lawrence University in 1952 and a PhD in English Education from SUNY-Albany in 1975. From 1947 to 1964 he taught high school English at Chateaugay Central School and then English pedagogy methods at SUNY-Potsdam from 1964 until retiring from full-time teaching in 1984. In 2001 he oversaw the founding of the Potsdam Lifelong Learning Group for Retirees, SOAR (Stimulating Opportunities After Retirement), which currently offers approximately 75 courses per year to residents of St. Lawrence and the surrounding counties.
Bill married Margaret Boyer (Peg) at St. Joseph’s Church in Malone, NY in 1943, shortly after he enlisted in the US Army and was enlisted in the Army Air Corps. During World War II, Bill flew cargo planes and troop carriers in the South Pacific, primarily in the Solomon and Marshall Islands area. He was honorably discharged from active duty in October 1945, enlisted in the US Army Air Corps Reserve (which became part of the US Air Force) in 1946, and resigned as Captain in 1955. Peg died in 2003 after over 59 years of marriage. Bill married Alice Serfis in 2004; Alice died in September 2013, at which time Bill moved to Wilmington, NC to be near his son. In addition to his responsibilities as an educator, Bill was active in the communities in which he lived. For eleven years he was Master Scout at Chateaugay and led three young men to the rank of Eagle Scout. In 1953 Bill accompanied five Boy Scouts from Chateaugay and a large group of others from the Adirondack Council (of New York) to the National Jamboree in Irving, CA. Bill and these Boy Scouts enjoyed the overland train rides to and from the Jamboree site south of Los Angeles, California, including stops in Yellowstone National Park and Salt Lake City, UT. Bill was particularly active in the Rotary Club and the Knights of Columbus at Chateaugay. For many years he directed stage shows at Chateaugay Central School to support the Rotary Club’s fundraising activities. A portion of the income from the shows fueled the development of the original recreation park with its (freezing) swimming hole south of Chateaugay.
Dad loved ground beef pies in the fall, strawberry shortcake in the spring, and chocolate ice cream any time of the year. Even at the age of 99, he often expressed his hope of being able to dance again at the Moulin Rouge nightclub in the Montmartre district of Paris. Always the ladies’ man, he waited until all the women were seated at his table before he did, keeping as many chairs free for the women as possible.
Bill harbored a lifelong reluctance to use waiting rooms and the services of nurses, doctors and hospitals. It was good that he was as healthy as a horse. At age 98 his vision became clouded, deteriorating from 20/25 to about 20/400; The problem was a steep growth of cataracts. He was reluctantly dragged to an excellent ophthalmologist; and an operation was planned. When he woke up after the cataracts were removed and a new lens put in his right eye, he remarked, “Well, that wasn’t bad. When can we let the other do it?”
Bill is survived by his son and daughter-in-law Bill, Jr. and Geri, two grandchildren, Dr. Jeff Cullen, the director of student behavior and community standards at Univ. from Maryland – Baltimore County, in Catonsville, MD, and Dr. Deborah Thomas, dentist in Allen, TX. There are four great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.
A Christian funeral service will be held on August 5 at 10:00 am in the Catholic Church of St. Marien in Potsdam. NY. A commemorative donation to SUNY-Potsdam’s Bill and Peg Cullen Scholarship Fund can be made upon request.
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