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John B. Knoepfler


Posted By: Allamakee co. Coordinator
Date: 3/3/2004 at 14:05:42

Knoepfler, John Baptist, who was Superintendent of Public Instruction in 1892 and 1893, the World's Fair period of city superintendent of schools at Lansing, is a man whose genuine honesty and conscientious work have won for him a state-wide reputation as a thorough scholar and a progressive educator, and all without the sounding of his own trumpet, for modesty is one of his leading characteristics. He has risen to the enviable position he now occupies among Iowa school men, from the humblest beginnings and by his own efforts with little assistance from others.

He was born February 13, 1852, at Neukirch, Wurttemberg, Germany, and is the son of John and Katharine Winkler Knoepfler. His father, a carpenter and farmer, believing that his children would enjoy broader opportunities in free America, immigrated to this country in 1854, locating first in Detroit, when his son John was but two years old. He was unfamiliar with the country and its language and had but little money, but, never shrinking from hard work, he faithfullly supported his family, and in the same year, 1854, moved to Oakland County, Michigan. Here J.B. Knoepfler grew up, gaining discipline and habits of industry by working on a stony, stumpy farm, clearing and breaking the timber land, and haying with a seythe or harvesting with a cradle. He attended school in the winter and at the age of nineteen began teaching and "boarding 'round." Working on the farm during vacations, he saved enough money to give him three years at Milford Union School, where he received training in a normal course under some of Michigan's ablest educators. He then taught two years in the copper mining regions aroung Lake Superior, improving the opportunity for learning all he could about the operation and details of this important industry by "going underground" with the miners occasionally and taking part with them in their various forms of work.

Superintendent Knoepfler came to Iowa in 1876, accepting a position as principal of schools at Fayette, where he entered upon his duties December 11. Here he remained six years, and his earnest work was highly endorsed by every one. He was very popular during this period among the students of Upper Iowa University, as an honorary member of the Philomathean Society. The college boys liked him for his genial disposition and sound judgment, for his skill in debate and for his honesty and unassuming manners. In 1882 Professor Knoepfler was elected superintendent of the city schools at West Union, remaining seven years and receiving much credit for his systematic organization of the schools and for his revision of the course of study. In 1889 he took charge of the schools in Lansing, and here his success was even more pronounced than elsewhere. He was elected to his position at Lansing every time by a unanimous vote of the board. In the spring of 1900 the board of directors of the State Normal School at Cedar Falls, by unanimous vote, elected Superintendent Knoepfler professor of German in that institution, a new department to be organized and opened in September of that year. He accepted, and at once resigned his position at Lansing, to which he had just been unanimously re-elected for the ensuing school year. He has thus twice resigned his position at Lansing, each time to accept a promotion, a higher position, and each time the board has spread on its records highly complimentary resolutions of him, his work and his influence.

For many years he has been an institute instructor in many counties of northeastern Iowa, and in this line of work he has few superiors. His ideas of education are broad, progressive and practical, yet conservative enough to be sound and reliable. He is a close student, having the typical energy and persistence of the German. He is a thorough scholar in his native language and also reads and speaks French. His English is terse and vigorous. His favorite specialty is mathematics.

Superintendent Knoepfler has always been a democrat, but favors sound money, and was identified in 1896 with the national democrats. In 1891 he was nominated for state superintendent, the honor being as little sought as it was richly deserved In his election the office was filled by a democrat for the first time in over a third of a century. The duties here were performed with his characteristic faithfulness and painstaking, winning admiration from all who knew of his work. He was again nominated in 1893, but, with the other democrats of that year, was defeated. In 1897 his name was placed on the democratic ticket for the same office. Upon his retirement in 1894, he resumed his former position at Lansing, which he held untill 1900, being thus the first state superintendent to return at once to the ranks of the teachers, for which he gained many friends and was commended on all sides by his fellow educators.

Suerintendent Knoepfler forms strong attachments for people and places. To break off associations long formed, as sometimes becomes necessary by a change of location, is to him positively painful. His fondness for the picturesque scenery of his Lansing home almost amounts to a passion. The majestic Mississippi, its lagoons and islands, with its opportunities for outdoor recreations; the winding, green valleys, between the eternal bluffs and verdure-covered slopes, with the variety and charms of bird song in these surroundings, -- all these possess for him a fascinaton real and indescribable, stamping him as an ardent lover of nature's charms. His extreme sensitiveness to the pathetic and to the grief of others is but another form of this same sensibility.

The Superintendent is a Knight of Pythias and attends and supports the Presbyterian Church though not a member of it. He was married August 24, 1880, to Miss Emma Louise Gundry of Lake Linden, Muchigan. They have two children: Kathryn C., born June 23, 1881, and Karl J., born April 16, 1890. Other than the foregoing, he has no relatives in America except a brother, Joseph A. Knoepfler, still living in the western part of Oakland County, Michigan.

- source: Biographies and Portraits of the Progressive Men of Iowa, Leaders in Business, Politics and the Professions; 1899, Vol II
- transcribed by S. Ferrall


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