I began my first year at the University of South Dakota in late August 1952, a recent graduate of Freeman Public High School in southeastern South Dakota. I was considering a major in chemistry, and Charles R. Estee, chair of the department, was my academic advisor and instructor in general chemistry.
Apparently, Dr. Estee soon discovered that I had an uncommonly strong interest in his discipline. This led him to propose an unusual arrangement. Chuck did not have a graduate student teaching assistant to help with the general chemistry course. He asked if I would be willing to correct and grade the homework assignments he set for the class. Our agreement was that I would submit my solutions to the assigned problems a day or two in advance of their due date. Chuck would correct my answers and we would meet in person and he would explain any errors and answer any questions I might have. It was like having a private tutor. I am still amazed at the confidence he must have had in me, giving me the responsibility of grading the homework of my fellow students, and I endeavored to be worthy of his trust.
In my senior year, Dr. Estee taught me physical chemistry, a course that captivated my interest and led me to devote my professional career to that particular branch of the discipline. I kept all my USD class notes, examinations and laboratory reports, in part because of the perceptiveness of Chuck’s comments. When I started teaching physical chemistry at Macalester College, I dug out those papers. My major response was embarrassment at my performance and my many errors and misunderstandings. What was particularly powerful was the fact that Chuck’s criterion for acceptable performance was my own aptitude and ability, not the performance of any other students in the class. He frequently reminded me that I could do better and was not always working up to my capacity. The best motivator a teacher can provide for a student is that student’s own potential. Estee transferred his high expectations for me to where they belonged—to me myself. That lesson has informed my entire academic and professional career.
Quite obviously, Chuck Estee cared for me as an individual, and my education was for him a high priority. I found that most of his faculty colleagues exhibited the same characteristics. I took a wide range of courses at the university, indulging my varied interests with the broad curriculum available in the College of Arts & Sciences. In addition to my chemistry major, I completed minors in mathematics, biology, history and German. The skills I acquired in these courses proved to be professionally valuable, but even more importantly, were personally and culturally enriching. All of this reinforces my conviction that the liberal arts provide the best vocational education possible. They prepare one to live in a world that does not yet exist.
My undergraduate career consisted of intellectually challenging courses, well taught by capable and committed professors. I was well prepared for post-graduate education, a career and life. Professors Estee, Pardee and others encouraged me to seek a doctorate in chemistry and provided sound advice and many letters of recommendation to advance that goal. They also supported my applications for competitive scholarships. My success in receiving a Rhodes Scholarship for 1956 is to a considerable extent a consequence of the excellent education I received at USD. The university prepared me well for the high standards I encountered at Oxford and subsequently at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where I earned my Ph.D. in physical chemistry in 1963.
But I gained much more than a fine education at USD. I acquired lifelong friends in my classes, extra-curricular activities, clubs and Lambda Chi Alpha. Most importantly, I met Beverly Beatty, a Vermillion native, in freshman English and the USD band. Our relationship deepened over the next four years, and Bev was willing to wait for me during the two years I was off in Oxford and she was teaching in Nevada and Colorado. We were married in 1958 in Vermillion in a ceremony attended by many of our former professors. We have a son and a daughter and four grandchildren.
A college education should be a transformative experience with lifelong consequences, and that has been the case for both Bev and me. Charles Estee and other of my professors have been role models. My first job after finishing my Ph.D. was as a research chemist at the Procter and Gamble Company laboratories in Cincinnati. It was interesting and rewarding, but I often thought that it was not as fulfilling as Estee’s career at USD. After some serious soul-searching, I started looking for an academic position in 1966. I restricted my search to liberal arts colleges with reputations for excellent students, well- qualified faculty, high standards and innovative curricula.
The opportunity to do some research was a consideration, but I was more committed to producing educated men and women than new knowledge. Macalester College in Saint Paul, Minnesota, has provided just such an opportunity. In my teaching, my writing and my entire professional life I been guided by the examples of Charles Estee and his colleagues at the University of South Dakota. I am profoundly grateful.