WALTER RUNDELL, JR.
Walter Rundell, Jr., (1928-1982) a native of Texas, cultivated a life informed by literature, music, and the arts. Known for dignity and graciousness, Rundell impressed associates with his unflagging work ethic, impeccable integrity, and subtle wit. Born November 2, 1928, Rundell graduated from Lee Junior College in Baytown, Texas. He matriculated at the University of Texas, Austin, where he majored in music and journalism, preparing for a career as a critic of symphonic and operatic performance.
Serving in the military, Rundell discovered his interest in historical research, abandoned his planned future, and undertook graduate studies at The American University in Washington, D.C. On completion of his doctoral degree, he returned to Texas to teach at Del Mar College and Texas Woman’s University.
At this time, Rundell, who emerged as the leading authority on the renowned Texas historian Walter Prescott Webb, launched his vigorous campaign to elevate western history within the larger canon. Each career appointment–executive assistant secretary of the American Historical Association, faculty at the University of Oklahoma, chair of the history departments at Iowa State University and the University of Maryland–gave him an ever-expanding academic platform from which to promote scholarship in western history. He believed in replacing the shopworn fanciful West of popular imagination with an intellectual discipline, fueled by provocative ideas, thoughtful analysis, and fresh insights into race, class, and gender. Rundell, who published on several regional topics, including the Texas oil industry, channeled his growing influence among historians, archivists, and administrators toward that goal.
In 1961, Rundell joined a small committee intent on designing a western history conference. Rundell outlined logistics and finances, working to turn a one-time Santa Fe gathering into an annual event for scholars of the West. Further stabilized when Walter Rundell, the “James Madison of the WHA,” drafted the initial constitution, the organization, known as the Western History Association, quickly claimed a respected place within the academy. For the next two decades, Rundell involved himself as council member, program chair, session organizer, graduate mentor, and advocate for the Western Historical Quarterly, the constitutionally mandated journal of the WHA.
Rundell was elected as the twenty-first president of the Western History Association. He began his presidency in Phoenix, Arizona, on October 22, 1982. Three days later, at his home in College Park, Maryland, Rundell died in his sleep, a week short of his 54th birthday. Walter Rundell, Jr., left a singular imprint on this association; his untimely passing robbed the WHA of an articulate scholar and dedicated educator, a personal and professional role model.
Authored by Anne M. Butler, Trustee Professor of History, Utah State University, Emeritus. Sources: Walter Rundell, Jr. Papers, The Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University Archives; Anne M. Butler, Trustee Professor of History, Utah State University, Emeritus “Walter Rundell Jr.” in John R. Wunder, Historians of the American Frontier (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1988), 558-74.