Ken Rockwell (1936-), Professor of Biology

           Ken Rockwell joined the faculty of Juniata College in 1960, retiring after forty years of service that included a long period as chair of the biology department.  His true affiliation with the college began, however, in 1936, the year of his birth. Juniata’s president, Charles Calvert Ellis, had recruited Donald Rockwell, Ken’s father, a chemistry Ph.D. at Yale, during the early years of the Great Depression. The senior Rockwell and his wife Katherine, also a Yale Ph.D. in chemistry, settled in at Juniata and built their homestead on Cold Spring Road where Ken and his wife, Mildred (Millie) – a ’58 graduate of Juniata – still reside.  The Rockwell home is well known to many college folk, brought together in fellowship for social gatherings, notably the fall faculty picnics, begun in the mid 1940s, that for many years heralded the beginning of each academic year.

Donald and Katherine had four children, of which Ken is the eldest.  Which New England prep school did young Rockwell attend?  None: Ken walked every day to the one-room Cold Springs Elementary School and recited his lessons immersed in a group of rural youth in grades one to eight.

         From toddlerhood Rockwell also explored the Juniata campus and grew to know many of its faculty.  The majority of Juniata’s faculty have come to Huntingdon from afar before putting down local roots.  Rockwell, however, was inoculated by both town and gown from birth, giving him a broad and deep perspective unlike that of nearly any other faculty member of his generation.

          Rockwell graduated from Huntingdon Area High School in 1953.  That fall he matriculated and established residence in the dorm (the Lodge) at Juniata College having never considered the choice of another college.  With a cast of mind fascinated by gears, pulleys, and pistons, he began his studies in Juniata’s pre-engineering program, but soon discovered that cold, impersonal equations were not at all congenial.  He turned instead to biology.  Graduating in 1957, Rockwell moved on to complete an MS (biology) degree in 1959 from Brown University in Providence, RI, researching and writing his thesis on the microscopic structure of primate skin nerve endings.  By this time Ken and Millie were married.  With the MS completed they returned to Huntingdon and Rockwell began study for the Ph.D. in Zoology at Penn State. In early 1960, with the imminent birth of their first child and a precarious bank balance limiting their options, Ken returned to Juniata where he joined his former professor, Dr. John Comerford, and life-long mentor and friend Dr. Homer Will as the third member of Juniata’s biology department.

            At Juniata Rockwell taught general biology, comparative anatomy, histology, and embryology, fields in which he kept abreast of new knowledge by continuing coursework at Penn State leading to a Ph.D. diploma in 1967.  Hundreds of students aspiring to careers in the medical sciences have been students under Rockwell’s tutelage and make up a body of alumni who fondly remember those hours bent over odoriferous sharks and dead cats.  Far from a specialist of the scalpel and microscope, Rockwell taught a broad-based brand of biology that went well beyond the memorization of bones and cranial nerves.  Moreover, his interest in practical engineering and the historical unfolding of the industrial age led him to team teach in the Human Existence Historical course, The Nineteenth Century, and later to teach a stand-alone course in the History of Technology.

             The wider Juniata community knew Rockwell principally as an incisive but soft-spoken member of committees and a valued and often-consulted advisor in the cultural, social, financial, and architectural affairs of the college.  Rockwell was extensively involved in the design and construction details of the von Liebig Science Center. His role in the larger community also was and is similar, highlighted by several years as an elected member of the Huntingdon Area Board of Education and by over twenty years as a member of the Board of Trustees of the J.C. Blair Memorial Hospital.

             These tributes paint Ken Rockwell as a “stayer,” not a “mover,” but that leaves a false impression.  Released from teaching and committee duties by sabbatical leaves, Ken and Millie twice hot-footed it to California, first for a year at Stanford University, where Ken attended its program of courses that approached the teaching of the life sciences from a human centered perspective, and second at the University of California at Davis, where he updated his knowledge of modern molecular embryology. Never happier than behind the wheel of a car or camper ¾the resurfacing of that love of gears and pistons ¾ Ken, accompanied by Millie, has visited all fifty states, and they have traveled extensively in Europe.  As of this writing (2013), they’re not done travelling yet.

             Ken Rockwell received the Beachley Distinguished Teaching Award in 1979, once again mirroring his father, an earlier recipient. He retired from Juniata College in 2000.  Ken and Millie have three children, Christie, Peter and Curtis.  Christie, the third generation of Rockwells to wear Ph.D. stripes on her academic robe, presently is Associate Professor of physical anthropology at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Jim Gooch, Emeritus Professor of Biology



Information based on personal interview with the author, April, 2013.