Winthrop University mainstay, weather expert Culp dies at 87

Bill Culp, who died Saturday at age 87, is pictured in September 2005. Culp kept weather statistics for the National Weather Service for many years and was a high school referee for 46 years.
Bill Culp, who died Saturday at age 87, is pictured in September 2005. Culp kept weather statistics for the National Weather Service for many years and was a high school referee for 46 years.

William "Bill" Culp Sr., 87, born at Winthrop University and its buildings director for at least half a century, died Saturday at the Park Pointe Village Health Care Center.

Culp, known to his family as "Pop," as "Mr. Bill" to the Winthrop community for decades, and to the media as the local go-to weather expert, never retired from the university he loved, according to his son, Bill Culp Jr. He reduced his hours to part time in 2001, then fell ill and went from the hospital into nursing care in 2002, his son said. He always hoped to return to Winthrop.

The many hats he wore in his lifetime included refereeing high school football around the state for 46 years, serving on the YMCA board and as a Boy Scout leader and winning the Rotary Club of Rock Hill's Paul Harris Fellow Award for community achievement.

"He liked being around people all the time," his son said. "He always kept in touch with people he had grown up with. He would do anything for anybody anytime."

Being born on the Winthrop campus was "one of his claims to fame," his son said. Many Winthrop employees lived in housing on campus when Culp was born. His father also had been a Winthrop facilities engineer, and the family's home was in the vicinity where the Sims building now is located.

"Winthrop was his playground," said Lee Miller, a Winthrop employee and instructor who is penning a book about Culp's university experiences in conjunction with the family. "It is where he learned to ride a bicycle. He followed his father around as a child."

The book is called "The Times of My Life." Winthrop University President Anthony DiGiorgio encouraged it, in particular to capture Culp's memories about the buildings and their history, Miller said.

"He cherished every brick and mortar ever laid at Winthrop and could tell stories about people and the lighting of the Christmas tree," she said. "He just embraced it all. He was the ambassador to share it with anyone who would listen."

His father had founded the Christmas-tree lighting ceremony, and he continued it. The Withers building, where he was a childhood student at Winthrop Training School, was his favorite, Miller said. Culp played football there and at Presbyterian College until he was drafted into World War II during his senior year. Culp was stationed with the Army Air Corps in England during World War II and retired as a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Air Force Reserves after 20 years.

After the war, he went to work at Winthrop and married Dorothy Ann Sims. He was first physical plant director and later promoted to assistant vice president for campus renovations and special projects. Winthrop's Culp Chiller Plant was named in his honor.

The many Winthrop jobs he performed included cleaning ice buckets in his youthful summers and later pouring lead for the Thurmond Building railing, Miller said. He also served as a surrogate father to the Winthrop student daughters of his childhood, college and Army friends. Culp followed in his father's footsteps of operating the National Weather Service's satellite at Winthrop. Bill Culp Jr. now is the third generation of Culp to shoulder that responsibility.

The family is going through about 200 boxes of memorabilia dating to his childhood, much of it from Winthrop.

"He saved everything," Miller said. "I have some of the plans and renovations of the buildings."

The family will receive friends from 6:30 to 8 tonight at Greene Funeral Home Northwest Chapel. Burial will be at 12:30 p.m. Tuesday at Forest Hills Cemetery followed by the funeral at 1 p.m. at Oakland Avenue Presbyterian Church, where he was a senior elder.

"He always said every person had his talent," Miller recalled. "He found his. He could motivate and inspire. He loved the students, and he loved to entertain the alumni when they came back. He said, 'I sure have a good life.'"