Longtime WKU professor Joseph Cangemi dies

Joseph Cangemi was a psychology professor at WKU, and worked at the university for 51 years prior to retirement. He passed away on June 13 at the age of 84.

Joseph Cangemi was a psychology professor at WKU, and worked at the university for 51 years prior to retirement. He passed away on June 13 at the age of 84.

Debra Murray, Digital News Editor

If you were fortunate enough to know Joseph Cangemi, he probably invited you over for a cup of coffee, and offered you something to eat. He was known for being welcoming, and making everyone he came across feel special in some way.

Cangemi was an Emeritus Professor of Psychology, and scholar-in-residence at WKU. He was editor of the International Journal of Leadership and Change. He retired from WKU last year after 51 years working at the university. Cangemi passed away on June 13, at the age 84. 

After graduating from State University of New York-Oswego, he became director of The American School in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. He returned to get his master’s degree at Syracuse University. After graduating, he moved his family to Venezuela to work for the United States Steel Corporation. Then in 1968, Cangemi began his dedicated career at WKU as a psychology professor.

During his career, Cangemi earned multiple teaching awards including The Excellence in Teaching Award from the College of Education and Behavioral Sciences 3 times, Distinguished Public Service Award, and the Excellence in Research and Creativity Award.

Cangemi worked all around the world as an independent management consultant for several Fortune 500 companies which allowed him to use his knowledge of several languages including Spanish, Italian, French and Portuguese. 

Alan Simpson, an attorney and son-in-law of Cangemi, said Cangemi loved to be in the classroom more than anywhere else.

“He always inspired learning,” Simpson said. “He loved sharing his worldly experiences from traveling all over the world, and really working all over the world.”

Simpson met his wife, Micki, in high school. The couple will be married for 35 years this summer. 

I was at Western for a semester and he insisted that I take his class,” Simpson said. “It was a great experience. We laugh about it now, that was the litmus test for me to make sure that I was worthy of his daughter.”

Anytime Cangemi was in a classroom, he was dressed to impress, Simpson said. It was typical to see him wearing a suit or sportcoat while teaching.

While Cangemi was known for being a dedicated professor, he “idolized his daughters Micki and Lisa, and even more so, his wife Amelia,” Simpson said.

In 1969, Ronda Talley, a retired psychology professor and executive director of the Suzanne Vitale Clinical Education Complex, was sitting in Cangemi’s class where she developed her passion for psychology. 


“It’s hard to teach the classes of 70,” Talley said. “He always made it interesting and exciting and made you want to know more and made it be a class that you didn’t want to miss.”


Talley said Cangemi was an attentive listener, and he would always make time for everyone.


“When you were in front of him, and you were talking to him about something, you felt like you were the only one that he was listening to at that moment,” Talley said. “That’s a very rare skill I find these days.”


“I moved back to Western in 2010,” Talley said. “In his office, he would always have a pot of steaming hot coffee brewing, and a little drawer of snacks. He would tell you to pull up a chair that was comfortable and what did you want in your coffee, and let’s talk.”


Cangemi was known for caring greatly about his students, and about teaching, Talley said.


“When I first became a professor, one of the first things I asked was ‘Is Joseph Cangemi still on faculty,” Talley said. 


Another past student of Cangemi who later became his colleague is Aaron Hughey, Professor and Student Affairs Program Coordinator. Hughey took his class while he was a graduate student at WKU.


“He was my instructor, that’s how I first met him, and then we stayed in touch,” Hughey said. “I got involved in some of the same professional development activities that Joe was involved in. Joe was always kind of a good resource for that because Joe had a lot of experience.”


Hughey said he remembers visiting Cangemi’s house to drink coffee and chat.


“It was not unusual for Joe to invite students, you know, over to his house to have coffee and just have conversations,” Hughey said. “I was over there a couple of times. Then in later years, he had an office here and he would invite me up just to drink coffee and talk about things.”


Hughey said Cangemi was a great conversationalist, and was very easy to talk to.


“He could walk into a room and not know anybody, initially, and then an hour later, he’s the life of the party, and he is one of those people that made you feel like you knew him, probably longer than you had.”


Debra Murray can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @debramurrayy