Educator who helped design, run Palatine High School dies at 93

  • William Thiel

    William Thiel courtesy of Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211

Updated 8/6/2020 6:30 PM

William Thiel, who served as an associate principal for Palatine-Schaumburg High School District 211 schools for 16 years and was instrumental in helping design the current Palatine High School building, died this week in a Wisconsin hospital.

He was 93.


Those who worked with Thiel in District 211 described him as a caring educator and a professional administrator.

"Some called him the 'smiling suspender,'" said Don Grossnickle, who was a rookie biology teacher at Palatine High in 1973 when he met Thiel. "If you misbehaved in our school, you got suspended, and he would do his job but always in a very pleasant manner."

Grossnickle and Thiel, who went on to form a lifelong friendship, wrote two books and many articles together on education. Grossnickle said Thiel was a soft-spoken, talented educator who was particularly interested in facility planning.

Jim Sindelar, who was a guidance counselor at Palatine High School, said Thiel was held "in high regard."

Sindelar said many people thought Thiel should have moved up the ranks in the district, but he wasn't the kind of person to engage in administration politics.

"He didn't play games with anybody; you knew where he stood on things," Sindelar said. "He was out for what was in the best interest of the school and the community."

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Sometimes that meant putting the needs of the community above his own health, Grossnickle said. Thiel worked so hard helping plan the new Palatine High School building and leading the transition from the old building that he had a heart attack, Grossnickle said.

Thiel was born in 1927 and grew up during the Great Depression. According to his obituary, Thiel performed as an entertainer in vaudeville shows as a tap dancer, accordionist and vocalist in the Chicago area.

Thiel enlisted in the Navy at 17, earned his bachelor's degree at Eastern Illinois University and went on to receive his master's degree and doctorate at Loyola University in Chicago. Outside his work in District 211, Thiel also served as a part-time professor at many universities.

Thiel earned Eastern Illinois University's Distinguished Educator Award in 2004 and Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015.

Thiel is survived by his wife, Lillian, and his children, Bill and Jill.

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