ZEPHYRHILLS — Ferdinand E. "Ferd" Renninger had several birthdays each year.
All you had to do was ask the students at Woodland Elementary School, which Mr. Renninger ran from its 1978 opening through his 1985 retirement.
"If some child would come up who had to be disciplined, so many times he would talk to them," recalled Kathy Doss, one of the school's original teachers. "He would say, 'You're lucky you picked today to get in trouble, because today's my birthday.' "
Then the principal would send the student off with a warning not to cause problems again. Crisis averted.
"It wasn't really his birthday," Doss said. "He was just a softy."
Doss and other friends reminisced over the weekend and into Monday about their former principal, swapping stories over the phone as the word spread that Mr. Renninger had died Saturday (Feb. 14) after an illness. He was 78.
A Pennsylvania native, Mr. Renninger moved to Florida in 1954, graduating from Florida Southern College in Lakeland three years later.
Soon afterward, he became a teacher in Polk County for five years, rising to serve as president of the Lakeland Classroom Teachers Association, before taking the principal's job at East Zephyrhills Elementary in 1962. He also served in the U.S. Air Force for six years.
Although he remained an administrator throughout his career in Pasco schools, going on to lead West Zephyrhills Elementary and Woodland, he stayed connected to his classroom roots — even as he sat on Pasco's management team for negotiating contracts.
"He was well-respected and well-liked," said Liz Geiger, retired United School Employees of Pasco president, whose children attended Mr. Renninger's schools. "He was one of those principals who had good common sense."
She remembered Mr. Renninger as easy to get along with, evenhanded and fair in his dealings with others.
Doss called him a "natural leader."
"He wasn't overbearing. He wasn't authoritarian. He always included you. He always backed you up," she said. "He was just a principal's principal."
One who considered parents and teachers the backbone of a school, and who saw the positive side of children. "All children are good, and they will blossom under positive education and positive reinforcement," he told the Times in a 1979 interview.
Phil Martin, Mr. Renninger's stepson, called his stepfather a man of "gentle disposition."
"Ferd's personality trademarks instilled in those that knew and loved him the catchphrase, 'Ferd is Ferd!' " Martin wrote in a remembrance.
"This was a best attempt to capture the boundless energy, love of life, inquisitiveness, generosity, wisdom, humor, wit, and integrity that he poured into every day. A morning person, one had to be ready at the breakfast table to hear the exploits exhibited by the cat that Ferd had already witnessed that morning."
Mr. Renninger remained busy even in retirement. He worked as a financial adviser and equities agent. He stayed active in the Rotary Club and Pasco-Hernando Skilled Health Services.
An avid outdoorsman, he also spent much time hunting and fishing in the Northwest.
He lately grew ill, and had spent his waning days in Florida Hospital Zephyrhills. Woodland Elementary teachers received daily updates for the past week as his condition worsened.
"We have all kinds of fond memories," Doss said. "He was just awesome."
Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 909-4614.