William Kochnower, an Army veteran who rose from high school math teacher to Commack superintendent of schools, died Sept. 11 of natural causes, his family said.
Kochnower, of Holbrook, was 96.
From 1970 to 1976 Kochnower served as superintendent of the Commack school district — a post that capped off a 30-year career in education.
Kochnower started teaching during World War II, providing Morse code training to Army soldiers, said his wife of nearly 70 years, Helen Kochnower.
After the attack on Pearl Harbor, William Kochnower was eager to trade his teaching post to serve on the front lines of the war, but was initially told by Army officials he could not enlist because his role as a teacher was deemed “essential.”
Unsatisfied with the response, Kochnower wrote a telegram to Army Gen. Lewis Blaine Hershey, who was in charge of the military draft, and made the case that he should be allowed to enlist for active duty, his wife said.
Soon after, he received a telegram from Hershey, telling him to report to New Jersey’s Fort Monmouth for training. His wife still proudly displays the dispatch in a frame.
“He tried so hard, and was desperate to help,” recalled his son, Jeff Kochnower, of Holtsville, who said his father was assigned to be a “code breaker” before an ankle injury from a judo match upended his military career.
After the war, Kochnower was living in Queens when he met his future wife at a friend’s party.
“We spotted each other right away, it was almost like an instant thing,” Helen Kochnower said of the whirlwind romance.
On their third date he proposed, and the couple got married in September 1946, just days before Kochnower was scheduled to start his job as a math teacher at Bayside High School in Queens. The couple moved from Queens to Jericho, where they raised their children Jeff, Janet and Laurie.
Kochnower earned a master’s degree in mathematics and a doctorate in education from Columbia University’s Teacher College and was later named assistant principal of Bayside High, before leaving to become principal of Commack High School North in 1963.
At Commack, he served as assistant superintendent of secondary education before he was named superintendent, and shared a good relationship with teachers and school board members alike, said his daughter Janet Dougherty of Holbrook.
“The teachers adored him,” Dougherty said. “Everyone loved him. He spoke softly. . . . He was always very honest and dedicated to education.”
She said the family has received cards from former Commack students and teachers, recounting his warmth and sense of humor.
One student told the family he was a shy 10th grader, and Kochnower put him at ease and helped him put together his course schedule. The student ended up becoming a teacher in Commack and years later approached Kochnower to thank him for his help all those years ago. He was surprised that the former principal remembered exactly who he was without needing a reminder.
“That was his love — the students,” his wife said. “He was always calm and intelligent. He never lost his temper in dealing with people, and quietly solved problems than anyone might have had.”
Kochnower is also survived by four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. He is buried at New Montefiore Cemetery in West Babylon, next to his daughter Laurie, who died in 1975.