Professor Emeritus Joseph Wenzel passed away on December 30, 2021. The department is greatly saddened by this loss. Joe was a respected scholar, teacher, leader, and mentor, and a wonderful member of our community for many decades. And he remained engaged with us throughout his retirement. His obituary, crafted by his family, is shared below.

Joseph W. Wenzel, 88, of Champaign passed away at 2:30 PM on Thursday, (Dec. 30, 2021) from complications following a stroke at Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana.

He was born Nov. 30, 1933 in Elkhart, Ind., the son of Joseph and Katherine (Landers) Wenzel. He married Patricia Gallagher on June 6, 1959 in Chicago, Ill., and she survives in Champaign. Also surviving are two children, Kevin (Laura) of Massachusetts and Eileen (Dick) of Illinois as well as three grandchildren, Vincent, Joseph, and Jane.  

Joe was preceded in death by his parents and four siblings, MaryLou, Atha, Jay, and Ann.

Joe spent his entire career in the field of Speech Communication. He received a BS from University of Illinois, an MS from Northwestern and a PhD from University of Illinois, in 1963. He taught for three years at Hunter College in NYC, where among other achievements he established a debate team. He returned to the University of Illinois in 1963 as an Assistant Professor in the department of Speech and Theater, where he continued to coach debate. 

In 1977 he received the Campus Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching. He also received awards for publications from the Midwest Forensic Association and American Forensic Association, and was a frequent presenter at conferences, including a keynote address at the First International Society for the Study of Argument conference in Amsterdam in 1986. Joe was promoted to Full Professor of Speech Communication in 1993. He served as Associate Department Head and director of graduate studies. He began coaching the undergraduate mock trial team which he continued to do for six years beyond his retirement in 1999. He maintained friendships with many of his students, debaters, his “mock turtles”, and colleagues throughout his lifetime. He also taught at the University of Amsterdam and was involved in national and international professional organization on Argument.

Outside of his academic career he was an avid family man, gardener, and fixer of all broken gadgets. He loved the outdoors and made several trips to Minnesota’s Boundary Waters Canoe Area. Many family vacations, including a grand tour of Europe in 1978, were spent tent camping. In addition to these activities, he enjoyed scouting used books stores and estate sales for unique and classic books.

He is well known for his humor, especially his puns and limericks, his kindness and his dedication to his family and students. 

A memorial service will be arranged at a later date, post pandemic. In lieu of flowers, contributions are encouraged to the Joseph Wenzel Undergraduate Support fund in U of I’s Communication Department, American Stroke Foundation, the American Heart Association, or The Daily Bread Soup Kitchen. 

For information about the Joseph Wenzel Undergraduate Support Fund, see