By Wendy Sarubbi | February 18, 2014 3:09 pm

Almost 400 people – a standing room only crowd – gathered Sunday to honor College of Medicine assistant professor William Safranek, Ph.D., who died February 17 in an automobile accident. Many of the attendees were students – undergraduates, graduates and those from nursing, laboratory sciences and medicine – who learned microbiology and much more from the beloved educator.

“It’s not every day you get a teacher who makes you appreciate the world around you,” said one microbiology student who was one of many who spoke at the Celebration of Life at the Fairwinds Alumni Center. “Dr. Safranek inspired us to be better people.”

Students, colleagues and family members talked of a kind, respectful and simple man who skipped down the hallways at the Burnett School of Biomedical Sciences and remarked that he was “high on life.” Dr. Safranek was a painter, woodworker and archery competitor who cherished nature and was passionate about fungi and lichens. “Some men have man caves, my dad had his back yard,” said Dr. Safranek’s daughter Audrey Cox.

Dr. Deborah German, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the College of Medicine, summed up Dr. Safranek’s contribution with the quote, “To teach is to touch lives forever.”

“Sometimes it’s easy for us to forget – or take for granted — the impact of a great teacher,” she said. “I hope that as we celebrate Bill’s life and his service to all of us, we will reflect on the special gifts he had and the impact of those gifts on young people.”

Dorilyn Hitchcock, director of the Burnett school’s Medical Laboratory Sciences program, was a friend of Dr. Safranek’s for over 20 years and convinced him to come teach at UCF. She met him when he was known as the “microbiology guru” at Wuesthoff Health Center in Brevard County, where they both lived.

She told of driving home to Brevard and seeing her friend parked along the side of the road, Concerned, she and her traveling companion pulled over to see if he was safe. A high tree branch had fallen to the ground and was covered with unique lichens that Dr. Safranek had been unable to collect before because he didn’t have a ladder tall enough to reach such a high tree. Dr. Safranek didn’t hear a word from his colleagues concerned about his safety. He was too focused on scientific discovery.

Students laughed and cried as they told stories of “Dr. S.” He had a theme song for his classes – “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and students said the song was appropriate because they spent hours in his labs looking for specific parasites in specimens. He was known for his chuckle – even when his puns were more painful than funny. He didn’t apologize for being corny. He didn’t hide behind his podium, but personally engaged and inspired young people with a love for science and a passion for helping people stay healthy. “Find something you’re passionate about and you’ll make the world a better place,” he told them. “There’s nothing you can’t do. Never give up.”

Students talked about their determination that their teacher’s kindness and spirit of discovery would live on. Said one, “He will live on every day in the patients we help save, in the people we help treat, and the people we will teach one day.”

In accordance with the wishes of Dr. Safranek’s family, the College of Medicine has established an endowed scholarship for undergraduate students in his name. If you wish to make a contribution you may visit and choose the designation “Dr. William Safranek Endowed Scholarship.”

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