William George Degenhardt was born in Queens, New York on April 16, 1926. Bill's early interest was in insects and birds, then snakes as he discovered various species around vacant lots in Queens. As a kid Bill started buying snakes as he could only find Thamnophis and Storeria in the vacant lots of his hometown Queens. He bought his first snake (a Yellow Rat Snake; Elaphe obsoleta quadrivittata) bought for $1.00 from Ross Allen; 2nd was a Corn Snake(Elaphe guttata) for $2.00; 3rd was Emory Rat Snake (Elaphe emoryi) ca. 5' long which he bought for $5.00 from Snake King in Texas. He met a high school friend who also liked snakes and whose family had a cabin at Candlewood Lake, Connecticut. They would travel to Connecticut to hunt frogs and snakes, especially Pilot Black Snakes (Elaphe obsoleta), Copperheads (Agdristrodon contortix), Timber Rattlesnakes (Crotalus horridus) and Smooth Green Snakes (Opheodrys vernalis). After leaving WWII he started going to the Staten Island Herpetological meetings where he met Carl Kauffeld and other professional herpetologists.
Bill attended Stuyvesant High School when he gradated in 1944. This was a prestigious high school with an empasis on science and math education; the school was named for Peter Stuyvesant who was the mayor of New York City. He got his bachelor degree from Syracuse College; Syracuse, NY. He got his masters from Northeastern University; Boston, MA. He got his PhD from Texas A & M University; College Station, TX.
Bill's first job was as a florist in Queens (NYC); his 2nd job was military service in the Navy. After military service he became a sawyer in a wood/box factory and then an installer for Western Electric, where he installed switch boards and residential circuit boards. College was next at Syracuse University and while there, Bill worked for the Teamsters Union soft drink company; then a Union cement/concrete worker around NYC; then a carpenter for Dissaway/Fisher erecting billboards after a hurricane on Long Island blew down all of the billboards. Bill then attended graduate school at Northeastern University in Boston. He was a teaching fellow and PHY at AMU (research asst, teaching asst, instructor), then UNM. He was one of the founding members of the New Mexico Herpetological Society. He co-authored Amphibians & Reptiles of New Mexico with Charlie Painter and Andrew Price (1996).
Bill married Paula Lou Braden. She encouraged his interest in Herpetology, especially in field studies and classroom teaching. Paula was a constant field companion with Bill. They traveled extensively throughout New Mexico and collected the numerous amphibians and reptiles that were the beginning of the Museum of Southwestern Biology Division of Herpetology. Paula attended numerous professional meetings with Bill and was a gracious hostess to numerous herpetologists during their journeys through New Mexico. Paula was a co-author on numerous of Bill's research papers.
Bill retired from University of New Mexico Department of Biology after teaching for 26 years, from 1960 - 1986/87. and continued to attend meetings until a couple years before passing away. (All of this information was obtained from an interview that Charlie Painter conducted with Bill. Many thanks to Lori Painter for providing this information!)
Remarks from social media:
"Bill was a great man & he enjoyed spicy cuisine as much, or maybe even more than me! I remember rapping about the joys of eating Habanero Chiles with him at a NMHS Potluck!!" -Patrick Maher
"Bill was a very fine fellow. I enjoyed our times together and in reading the book he co-authored. Good memories. He was very kind" -Jerry Tuttle
"I first met Bill at the Festival of the Cranes probably 30 years ago when he was working the NMHS table. He is the reason I joined the group. He lived a long, productive life." -Lynn Schuler
"Bill was my herpetology professor at UNM and my friend and mentor for 50 years. He and Paula Degenhardt were fun on field trips and wonderful hosts at their house on Campus Boulevard and the one in Juan Tomas. It was a privilege to know him." -Letitia Peirce
"When I first joined the society, he, Charlie, and Ted got me hooked on New Mexico Herps. I am so honored to have known him and had the privilege of being in the field with him on several society camping trips. My thoughts are with his family and all those whose lives he touched." -Stacey Sekscienski
"Bill was a fine professional and a peach of a man. I feel honored to have known him." -Garth Graves
"I'm so very glad I got to Herp with him. He was legendary. We'll always have our memories of him and his book on our shelves." -Tara Carstensen
"A sad day for NM herpetology, and end of an era. All three authors of 'Amphibians and Reptiles of New Mexico' (Bill Degenhardt, Charlie Painter, and Andy Price) have now passed, in reverse order of age. Their book was an inspiration for many of us. Although I never got to know Bill well, he was always kind and generous with his time when I met with him. I have fond memories of watching him scamper around the Animas Mountains like a teenager, despite being in his 70s! A salute to a life lived well." -Andrew Holycross
"Although Degenhardt had a reputation for being a hard ass, my experience with him was always pleasant. I enjoyed working on the book project, and spent some quality with him at his beautiful home outside of Santa Fe. His wife made a fantastic smoked lengua salad. Bill always wanted to go to Burger King, which he did not consider to be fast food...."you got your bread, your meat, your vegetables..." He usually had coupons too! Sorry to hear of hear of his passing. He must have been close to 100." -Clay Garrett
"The guy was a legend. I used to go sit with him in his office and listen to his stories. He had a huge part in the direction of my herpetological interests and and pursuits. He was strong as an ox. He had standing poker games with the likes of Tony Hillerman. I remember a NM herp society Christmas banquet where he, Dr. Bogert, and Dr. Hobart Smith sat across from me. They talked and laughed like they were still kids. I'll miss him." -Damon Salceies
"Sad indeed. That book raised the bar for regional herpetofauna books. I was so excited to see it come out. All authors have left wonderful legacies in addition to this work." -Randy Babb
"I based my Masters work on Bill's dissertation work. Later Charlie and Geoff introduced Bill and me and he exchanged a bunch of his old data sheets and materials from his dissertation. Really genuine guy and irreplaceable." -Dan Leavitt
"All three great guys, great contributors, and now, all are missed. Knew Charlie the best of the three. Took Charlie, Bill, Jim Dixon and a few others rattlesnake hunting one day years ago (we were doing some meeting with USFWS in Phoenix) and that was a day!! Wow those guys were cutting up. We all laughed so much. RIP Bill..." -Hugh McCrystal
"I remember walking in the East Mountains with Bill and his wife. They had a small cow that thought it was a dog and always went with us. It even hopped like a dog when we found a snake! Miss you, Bill!" -Marianne Salceies
"I had the pleasure of knowing all 3 to various degrees. Bill was always friendly and respectful much in the way of Roger Conant and James Dixon. They will live on in our memories and their works!" -Bruce Christman
"I'd heard Bill Degenhardt passed away this morning. If you ever read Carl Kauffeld's 1969 classic, Snakes: the Keeper and the Kept, then you read about Bill in The Search for Subocularis. A scholar on Trans-Pecos Ratsnakes and their host-specific parasitology among other topics and someone who was kind to me." -Dusty Rhoads
"We lost a great herper and a great man" -Mark Haber
"Got to hear him talk a little in 73,74 at the nmhs meetings. Good long life." -James Higgs
"He was a great man! Spent many hours talking to him back in the early 90's. He will always be a legend to me. First read about him from Carl Kauffeld's books in the mid 80's and was ecstatic to have met him and considered a friend. 'Til we meet again." -Chris Anderson
"Sad news. May he be in the best herping habitat ever!" -Dave Weber
"He was a great guy. He was an important mentor for me." -Donovan Wagner
"Sincere condolences to his family and friends. A huge loss to the herping community. RIP..." -Dawn Carrie
"Bill was at the first NMHS meeting I ever attended. I didn't even know it was him! I had bought the book, but didn't realize that he was there that night. He was always eager to talk about herps. He also attended the first field trip I ever wen on with NMHS. We told him that we had seen a coachwhip in the road that had been hit. His response was 'did you grab it?' It had never crossed my mind to get dead animals to put in the museum. A couple years later I found a dead Lyre snake and saved it for him. I emailed him and he said to bring it to the next meeting. I did, and he graciously took it and gave me proofs of some of the work he did on Trimorphodon in Big Bend. He was always so kind and giving. I am so glad I got to know him!" -Josh Emms