Robert F. Knouss '66, Christopher D. Knouss, Martha Schlenker Knouss '68 and Rebecca E. Knouss '00 at Christopher's wedding in 2006.


A Legacy of Love

Martha Schlenker Knouss ’68, P'00 Establishes First Legacy Scholarship in Memory of Husband Robert F. Knouss ’66, P'00

September 25, 2008

Martha Schlenker Knouss ’68, P'00, of Adelphi, Md., recently established a scholarship in honor of her late husband, Rear Admiral Robert F. Knouss ’66, P'00 former assistant surgeon general in the United States Public Health Service, who passed away in July, 2007. The gift has the distinction of being the first in the new Legacy Scholarship program and one of the first established during the public phase of the College’s comprehensive campaign, The Talents Entrusted to Our Care.

“Shortly before his death, he and I were talking about ways for our family to be able to remember him,” says Martha. “I said, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to set up a scholarship at Muhlenberg?’ And he said, ‘Fantastic!’

“The day after his death, our daughter Becca (’00) called Muhlenberg to inquire about creating a scholarship,” says Martha. “At the time, we didn’t know about the public health program.”

Robert Knouss, known to friends and family as Bob, devoted his life to public health and to improving the lives of people all over the world. He served 34 years with the United States Public Health Service in a variety of capacities. As director of the Office of Emergency Preparedness, he directed the National Disaster Medical System and led the federal health response to the attack on the World Trade Centers and the anthrax attack on the Senate office building. In the five years prior to his death, he led the Department of Health and Human Services effort to transform the U.S.P.H.S. commissioned corps to a cadre of public health professionals ready to respond to urgent public health and medical emergencies and to increase the size of active duty officers.

Bob’s career also included appointments as deputy director of the Pan American Health Organization the regional office of the Americas of the World Health Organization (1985-1995); as director of the Office of Refugee Health (1981-1985); and as the first director of the Division of Medicine, Bureau of Health Manpower (1974-1978). From 1979-1981, he served as a professional staff member on the Senate Subcommittee on Health, where he developed legislation establishing national health policies.

But it all started at Muhlenberg College where Bob majored and excelled in chemistry and was one of only 12 American college and university students to win the American Chemical Society national merit award in 1966. As a student, he was named to Who’s Who Among Students in American Universities and Colleges, served as president of the Student Council in his senior year and graduated summa cum laude as valedictorian.

It was at Muhlenberg that Bob met Martha (although according to Bob’s father, Francis Knouss ’37, the two actually met in 1947. Martha was still in a stroller, and the Knouss and Schlenker families met at a chance encounter while picnicking at the Kutztown Park). She remembers their first date on Parents’ Weekend fondly, “Nothing like meeting your date’s parents on the first date!” They married shortly after Martha graduated in 1968. “It was Muhlenberg that changed the course of Bob’s life,” she says. “He had planned to become a doctor, but his exposure to a liberal arts education propelled him toward public health and activism.” Martha herself traveled to Nicaragua with Bob early in their marriage to set up vaccination clinics and conduct water contamination studies in Miskito Indian villages along the east coast.

When the Knouss family learned of Muhlenberg’s new Public Health Minor last year, they thought it would be a perfect fit to honor Bob’s life. The Robert F. Knouss ’66 Memorial Scholarship, once fully funded, will be given to one student each year who is interested in pursuing the minor.

Muhlenberg launched the Public Health Minor in fall 2006. An interdisciplinary minor that focuses on the protection and improvement of health for individuals, communities and populations at risk for injury and disease, it is the first of its kind in the Lehigh Valley. The curriculum extends across the natural sciences, mathematics, social sciences and humanities to educate and empower students about health related issues from varying points of view.

Professor Chrysan Cronin serves as director of the program, which prepares students for post-graduate work and pre-professional careers in public health. Students in the program are encouraged to participate in public health-related experiences through independent research study, service learning, internships or other experiential learning options.

To date, 115 classmates, family members, colleagues, friends and neighbors have made gifts to the scholarship in memory of Bob. With a strong lineage of Mule alumni, the Knouss family has a true legacy at Muhlenberg. Bob’s father, Francis is an alumnus from the Class of 1937 (he is 93 this year); Martha and Bob’s daughter, Rebecca ’00, is a graduate, as are Martha’s paternal grandfather, father, two sisters and brother.

This family legacy makes the Knouss family’s Legacy Scholarship all the more meaningful since it is the first one established at the College. Muhlenberg’s new Legacy Scholarship program aims to increase the number of endowed scholarships that Muhlenberg offers to deserving students each year. Alumni, parents and friends who wish to participate in the Legacy Scholarship program are asked to make a four-year commitment of at least $1,500 per year to a general named scholarship, and a commitment to establish an endowed scholarship fund with either a current or deferred gift.

Through the Legacy Scholarship program, the Knouss family’s gift of an endowed scholarship will continue to ensure that Muhlenberg remains within reach of capable students, regardless of their ability to pay. Increasing the endowment is the first and highest priority of The Campaign for Muhlenberg College.

“Bob loved to talk with students about his passion for public health and share with them the diversity of opportunities he had been given to serve around the world. He felt truly blessed,” says Martha. “We, as a family, are very excited to hear the dreams and hopes of the students who will be receiving his scholarship in the coming years.”

For more information on how you can contribute to The Robert F. Knouss ’66 Scholarship, or for information on establishing your own Legacy Scholarship, please contact the Office of Development & Alumni Relations at 484-664-3247 or

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