Frank A. Knittel Passes Away

(Spectrumbot) #1

The Chattanoogan announced today the passing of Frank A. Knittel, an Adventist university administrator, business owner, pastor, and professor, who also served in the United States Army. Knittel, 87, was a resident of Ooltewah, Tennessee near Southern Adventist University, and was a member of the Collegedale Community Church of Seventh-day Adventists. He is survived by his wife, Helen Dean Knittel, his son, Jeff Knittel, his daughter, Sherry Knittel Drew, five grandchildren, and nieces and nephews. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. on Saturday, March 28, at the Collegedale University Seventh-day Adventist Church.

In the 1982 Vol. 13, No. 2 edition of Spectrum Magazine, Joan Marie Cook and Marie Jennings wrote about one of the defining episodes in Knittel's time as president of Southern College. Their article was reprinted on the Spectrum website in June of 2009.

At the time of Knittel's passing, La Sierra University President Emeritus Larry Geraty shared the following remembrance:

I first met Frank Knittel during the ‘60s when I was a Seminary student and he was Vice President for Student Affairs (Dean of Students) at Andrews University. He was thought of as a student advocate, innovative, creative, energetic, and able.

By the time I arrived back on campus to teach in the ‘70s, he was president of what became Southern Adventist University. Several of us were unhappy with some of the decisions being made by the denomination at the time so decided to get together to make common cause. Frank offered to host us in Atlanta so I was part of a group who flew in from Berrien Springs in a small private plane—quite an experience to land on the huge new runway at Hartsfield International Airport with large jets in front of us and behind us! Frank was encouraging and helpful as we came up with the infamous “Atlanta Declaration.”

We went on to have helpful interactions when we were fellow college presidents. By the time I came to La Sierra University, he was a Professor of English and also recruited for the graduate program in English. Having been a seasoned administrator, he was always encouraging and supportive and a never-ending source of wisdom. Upon his retirement, he became Professor Emeritus, and moved to Keene, Texas, where he did a stint as mayor! Having received a medallion of excellence from the Charles Weniger Society back in 1981, when I became president of the Society for a few years, I invited him to come to LLU Church in 2010 to give the Emmerson Address at the annual meeting of the Society. It was a “no-holds-barred” lecture that would have made his teacher, Charles Weniger, proud.

It is, therefore, with a profound sense of loss that I heard about Frank’s passing. He was a role model for any academic administrator. Absolutely loyal to the church, he was an original thinker, with a gift for encouragement. His legacy will live on in the lives of the countless students and friends whose lives are the richer for having been influenced by him.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Worthy Student Fund at Southern Adventist University. Those who wish to share thoughts and remembrances of Frank Knittel may do so online at

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at

(Steve Mga) #2

I was an older student at Southern in 1982 [BSN]. The wife of one of the men later let go was my clinical partner on occasion and I would hear snippets of concern through her. It was a very sad time. President Knittel had a great reputation out in the constituency, at least in SE TN. Southern was deemed the school to attend. I knew of the agitators mentioned in the 2009 Spectrum. [Saw them in action a number of times.] I did not agree with their accusations or their methods. In another Spectrum someone mentioned that a female student taking a religion course did not like it that ONLY the Bible and not Bible-EGW was used. Stated she spoke to McKee at the green house about this. It was unfortunate that One Person can put so much pressure on the doings of a Union of SDA. After the “cleaning out” of the religion dept there was a huge pall regarding that dept. It was a disaster that should have not happened.
Dr Knittel was a great man. Was wrongly judged. Was wrongly treated.
It should be a lesson to us all that 4 or 5 people listened to can bring great harm to SDA institutions, to the SDA church as a whole, and to brilliant and dedicated individuals that can never really be repaired.

PS: at least Normal Gulley survived. I had him as one of my Bible teachers at Madison. His father-in-law was Elder Minchin of the Gen. Conf. Would speak at Madison College church services about the work in the world church somewhat frequently.

(Kevin Paulson) #3

May the Knittel family, and all their friends and loved ones, be comforted in this painful moment.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #4

Frank was a very able scholar, teacher, administrator who was done wrong, big time, But we must let the dead pass bury its dead. Today, we mark a hero in Israel. Who was true to duty as the needle to the pole. He and Helen sat at our Sabbath dinner table. our daughter was the last child to leave home for college at Southern. the day before she left, the family that purchased her mare came with a horse trailer to pick up her pride and joy. I was standing next to her as she saw the pick up and trailer. I felt her stiffen, but not a tear. that first semester she has to write a paper in Freshman English. she wrote the empty pasture. not about a horse so much as about two parents that now had an empty nest. She got a big A scrolled across the first page.

Today there is an empty place once again across our sky… Tom Z


"In another Spectrum someone mentioned that a female student taking a religion course did not like it that ONLY the Bible and not Bible-EGW was used. Stated she spoke to McKee at the green house about this. It was unfortunate that One Person can put so much pressure on the doings of a Union of SDA."
How can she?
Was she threatening a lawsuit?.
There are always those who gripe from any side.
I remember hearing where an administrative head for Andrews said that when complaints pass 25%, then it is an issue worth investigating since there are always complainers.

(Interested Friend) #6

I knew the religion prof alluded to, Bob Francis, and in my view he was a straight shooter although maybe not as tactful at times as some would have liked. Early on he sounded the alarm over the accommodationist fever that was becoming evident in the church.

Knittel was, and I’m sure remains a controversial figure; each side will have its reasons for its position.

May his family be comforted during this time of sorrow.
In The Grip of Truth

(Drhoads) #7

When I was a kid down in Texas I heard about Frank from people who knew him as a student at Union. At that time he was already becoming known as an “original.” About the time I started teaching at Andrews in the sixties he became Dean of Students. I was always impressed with his energy, his openness and originality, and his “frankness.” I think he was too much of a straight shooter and not sufficiently slick (or slippery) to have an un-troubled career as an administrator in the church. I bless his memory. Don

(Drhoads) #8

Tom, in that post back in 2009 (or whatever) you said “As a member of the Board, I received mail from both the Mckee’s and Vance. I wrote the McKee’'s that if someone had done a compilation entitled Messages to Cooks and Bakers, they would either be out of business or out of the Church. no response. Tom Z.”

That is rich beyond measure. Don

(Thomas J Zwemer) #9

Bob Francis as a retired member of the department of Religion, who was cast in the mould of the current LGT. he was outspoken against several members of the faculty that followed him. so much so that he forced several out in the second purge. seems Dr Bietz has the school on an even keel. Tom Z

(Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:13) #10

You puzzle me. On the report of Herbert Douglass’ passing, you posted several times complaining that it was an inappropriate occasion to mention anything not positive. But, here you’re bringing up the very thing at the time of another person’s death.

(Adventist Scholar, Author and Administrator Herbert E. Douglass Passes Away)

(Ian Cheeseman) #11

I remember being in Frank Knittel’s class studying Chaucer in 1963 at Andrews University. He was a great teacher who knew his subject incredibly well, and he was a great person. I always thought that moving him from the classroom to administration anywhere, was just a waste of someone’s talent as a teacher. May God be with his family at this time.

(Elaine Nelson) #12

I knew him at Keene where he was ahead of his class. I believe he graduated from the academy at 15 and everyone of his classmates and teachers knew he was extremely bright so none of us who knew him were surprised at his moves in academia.

The church often shoots their best and brightest.

I loved the remark about a possible “Messages to Cooks and Bakers.” How very appropriate that Little Debbie’s has always been identified with Adventist who preached healthful eating!

(Aage Rendalen) #13

I was at Southern between 1973-1975. Knittel was a memorable principal with the most evocative eye brows I’ve ever seen. He had a way of tamping down hysteria and fanaticism. “The only difference between brown sugar and white sugar is that brown sugar is dirtier,” I remember him saying at an assembly. (Never won him any friends over at McKee Baking Company). It was not very profound, but who else would have provoked the school health regime critics by saying it? When he came back from the Fall Council of 1973 (might have been 1974), he told students that the place had been nuts (not that he used that word), with voices everywhere calling for all leaders to stand up and confess their sins and their faith so that revival could come to the church. Knittel was not passive-aggressive; he dealt with issues head on. I can imagine that his somewhat blunt style of brutal honesty did not please everybody, and when push came to shove, he had no support from either Conference or Union (as far as I know).

To a highly educated and brilliant man it must have been galling to see his life-work in Collegedale come to naught at the hands of a bunch of yahoos, some of them straight out of Duck Dynasty. I was there again in 1981-82 when every day brought new fliers from the Ooltawah swamp, and all the time a crazy-eyed harridan would either be spying on professors behind accordion walls or stand on campus to declare Southern a cesspool of theological iniquity. Tyler, Texas would barely have been able to hold its own back in those days.

It was a mercy that Knittel was able to escape to the West Coast.

(Psychometrics) #14

As an older student, I was there from 82-86. I well remember the Duck Dynasty twins and the woman you refer to.

(George Tichy) #15

It was a blessing to the West Coast that Frank escaped from the East Coast.

(Elaine Nelson) #16

Anyone with bright, critical thinking skills cannot fit too well in much of the Bible Belt, whether SdA or Baptist.

Almost daily I read of the antics of judges and legislators in that area and cringe, thinking what a misfit for many here to live in such a fetid swamp.

(Bill Garber) #17

As a first year member of the faculty when Dr. Knittel was introduced as the next president of Southern at a board banquet for the faculty, I remember Charles Fleming, general manager for finance and development at the college, as asked to introduced Dr. Knittel to the banquet guests. Mr. Fleming shared some personal observations of the new president, having already worked with him as Dean of the college for several years.

“I think of Frank as like a drop of cold water on a hot griddle,” is a memorable line from that introduction. There is no doubt he was in near constant motion, if only his eyebrows. “I’ve found that Frank is sometimes right … and he’s sometimes wrong, … but he is never in doubt.” Head back, eyebrows reaching for the ceiling and a smile almost as wide as his shoulders, Dr. Knittel was obviously enjoying Mr. Fleming’s confession. Of course, after the never-in-doubt observation, Mr. Fleming immediately noted, “The good thing about Frank is that he is always open to the other side of a matter, and when called for by reason of new information, Frank is quick to correct an original position.”

What a grand evening it was. What a grand memory nearly 45 years on.

The rumble with fundamentalism a decade later on campus, was already a matter within the McKee family. On the way to Collegedale to begin as a new teacher, I had my car serviced and learned the in the process that the man I was speaking with was a nephew of the Little Debbie founder. Learning I was moving to Southern, he volunteered a tidbit from inside the McKee family. With a smile, he described his mother telling her brother that his bakery was not in line with the health message of the church. “The Lord is blessing. Our business is doing very well,” was his reply, as reported mischievously by his nephew, to set up his mother’s quick answer, “And so are the distilleries in Louisville!” The bakery continues to grow until this day, and so has Southern. And it was with considerable interest that I learned Dr. Knittel had returned to Southern recently. Perhaps he was intending to die there. I would not be surprised.

(Thomas J Zwemer) #19

if one is interested in the aftermath of the initial purge at Southern, one should read Jerry Gladson’s authobiography entitled A Theologian’s Journey: Life Assurance Ministry Publish. Also Edwin Zackerson is in the process of writing his history.He is serializing it on Facebook. both are good reads. Having two children attend Southern and having served on the Board for two terms, I can relate to their story. Tom Z

(Kent Hansen) #20

Frank was an original. I was his business attorney for a number of years. He was a very successful businessman. We had many talks. He was not bitter about anything in the past. He always looked forward to new adventures.

Frank was without fear or favor. He did what he thought was the right thing to do regardless.
Yet, he was unfailingly warm and kind with a wonderful laugh. I told him once, “Frank, you are a renaissance man for our times–a Chaucer scholar, pastor and motorcycle dealer.” He took great joy in living and serving. It was a pleasure to know and work with him.

(Elmer Cupino) #21

No way, Jose!

Anything south of Philly is not East Coast. That’s Bible Belt.