Memorial Service for Professor Emeritus Paul Mielke '42
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Welcoming (Kathy Mielke Stack)
President White, distinguished guests, cherished friends and beloved family, thank you all for coming here today. Little could we guess that in such a short march of time my Father would follow my Mother. All Dad wanted was to be with Mom. After my Mother’s death and particularly after her memorial service, he would repeatedly say, "I don’t know how to get there from here." On February 3, 2008, Dad was able to join his "Best Girl", Mary Louise.
Perhaps some of you are already familiar with Dad’s time at Wabash. He was here for more than forty years both as a student and a professor. Today we would like to celebrate his life as a man. Let me begin by reading a few of his own comments at his retirement celebration in 1985.
What won me to Wabash were good men. Permit me to use the term generically, for there were good women too, as there are today. Permit me also to use the term "men of grace", meaning men of virtue who had a sense of what is right, and who acted on that sense in lives of service. The room at this moment is full of such men. The very walls. . .speak to us of such men. . . .I feel them all with me now in this transition. I feel buoyed by their love and yours."—Paul Mielke, 1985
As a loving daughter, I say Dad has always been a good man of grace.
You will never be alone, you hear so deep
Teaching, Mathematics and Computing by Paul Mielke Jr.
Both of my parents were the first in their respective families to attend college. It would be fair to say that they were both bitten pretty hard by the education bug which gave them each a lifelong passion for learning and teaching.
My Father’s first hard learning experiences came early in life. He was born in Racine, Wisconsin in September of 1920 into a family that already included 3 older sisters. In the following several years, two more sisters arrived, making my Father the only boy in a family of six children. There were high expectations for the only boy of the family. The timing of his arrival into the world also meant that he was at the impressionable age of 9 when the stock market crashed in 1929, heralding the arrival of the Great Depression. This experience left deep scars on the psyches of both my parents, as it must have done for everyone in their generation. The effects of this experience were never far from the surface.
My Dad’s Father, Gustav Mielke, had come to this country as a child. At the age of 14, he ran away from home and talked his way into a job sweeping floors in a machine shop without finishing high school. By the time he reached adulthood, he had become an expert tool and die maker whose skills where in high demand. My Dad’s passion for beautiful tools and expert craftsmanship was developed at his Father’s elbow. Dad worked part-time and during the summers in his Father’s machine shop and picked up a number of valuable practical skills: he knew his way around a wood shop or machine shop and could fix practically anything. I remember many times watching him revive our washing machine after its latest mechanical breakdown. He finally had to give up when it got so old that he could no longer obtain spare parts. He was also an expert carpenter, building cabinets for several rooms in our house which included real rabbet joints in all the drawers.
Among my Dad’s most prized possessions were tools that his Father had made from scratch in the machine shop, including several exquisite micrometers. We also have samples of the dies that his Father created that enabled the mass production of armatures for the miniature electric motors in the first commercial electric shavers.
In addition to his skills with tools, Dad was a very talented draftsman, producing beautiful drawings using India ink with the stainless steel quills in his drafting set. All these practical skills were complemented by his joy in the abstract beauty of mathematics. He found joy in all aspects of mathematics and taught it all with equal enthusiasm, but his special passion was for the classical subjects of number theory and geometry.
One interesting intersection of my Dad’s practical and mathematical interests was in compass and straightedge constructions. This is an area of geometry that turns out to have particularly beautiful and profound connections to other areas of mathematics, e.g. field theory and Galois theory. As soon as I started taking mechanical drawing in 7th grade, my Dad started showing me extracurricular tricks. The one that impressed me the most was that he could construct three dimensional paper models of the 5 Platonic solids using nothing more than a T-square, a compass, a piece of heavy drafting paper, a pair of scissors and some Elmer’s glue. For my money, the most beautiful of the 5 regular solids is the dodecahedron: it has twelve identical faces, each of which is a regular pentagon.
If you’ll pardon a minor digression, there’s an amusing story associated with this. I had seen my Dad construct a dodecahedron in this fashion and it made a significant impression on me. Later that year, my eighth grade math teacher (I won’t name any names, although there is at least one other person present today who was also a member of that class) made the assertion that it was impossible to construct a regular pentagon using only a compass and straightedge. Having seen my Dad do this, I was pretty sure the teacher was wrong. When I mentioned this claim to Dad, he immediately sat down and wrote out a complete description of the construction and a methodical proof that it was correct. I delivered this epistle to my teacher the next day and, as you can imagine, it occasioned some serious consternation.
After my own graduate school experience, I had the distinct opportunity to spend time working with Dad at Wabash. I helped out by grading papers and tutoring some of the Wabash math students. I had the pleasure to watch Dad teach a number of his lecture classes. He took special satisfaction in the design of the new classrooms in Baxter with chalk boards on two or three walls of the room and chairs that rotated in place. I recall several lectures in which he had his presentation carefully planned so that he used all the available chalkboard space and didn’t have to erase anything. He would complete the peroration of his lecture and punctuate the conclusion with his chalk as he completed the last proof at the bottom of the last available panel of the chalkboard. QED, Thwack!
His enthusiasm for teaching was palpable. There was no mistaking the fact that he was passionate about the subject at hand. He was always prepared. I only learned later the kind of dedication that he applied to his preparation for teaching. Whenever I’d visit my folks in the later years of their lives, we’d always spend some time cleaning out the attic or the basement. I vividly recall the time that we excavated a collection of boxes from the attic, which turned out to contain my Father’s class notes and worked problems from all the books he had used at Wabash. For every textbook, he had completely worked out the answer to every problem in every chapter. Every problem was written out, work shown, all the details annotated, just as he would have expected from a perfect student homework paper. Not just the even numbered problems, mind you. Not just the chapters that he was going to cover. Every single problem in the book. I was completely astonished!
We went through several boxes of these notebooks. I saved several of his favorite books (e.g. Johnson and Kiokemeister, the classic first year calculus book) and the corresponding answer sets, but the rest were recycled. It became a ceremony in which I honored the seriousness of his commitment to teaching, and, with that acknowledgement, he could bear to part with the physical manifestation of his efforts, his striving for perfection and his painstaking preparations.
It is evident that many of his students felt the depth of his commitment to teaching. It is remarkable how many of them remained his lifelong friends. He took a genuine interest in their progress, both as math students and as human beings, and they repaid him by keeping in touch throughout his life. When I think back over my own school career, there were only a few teachers who made that kind of impression on me. George Dawson, Martha Cantrell and Alex Lebedeff at CHS are the only teachers with whom I have been fortunate enough to maintain long-term friendships. For my Dad, it was a common occurrence.
Computers and Boeing
After 5 years at Boeing, though, my Father found that he was spending the majority of time on managerial issues and not on the mathematical and computing problems that he found so interesting. His previous mentor Professor Crawford Polley contacted him and persuaded him to return to the Wabash mathematics department. Knowing the affection and respect that my Father had for Professor Polley, it’s no surprise that he was unable to resist that summons.
His experience at Boeing gave him a lifelong interest in computers. He was instrumental in convincing Wabash to purchase its first computer and in setting up the computer lab in the basement of the then-new Baxter Hall. Computer related classes such as Programming and Numerical Analysis were integrated into the math curriculum in the mid-to-late 1960s. Wabash was generous enough to allow Dad to teach a course in programming the new IBM 1620 in Fortran to a group of interested CHS students. Several alumni of those initial classes are present today. The 1620 was a formidable beast: as big as a very large desk and possessed of a total of 4 KB of memory constructed of actual magnetic rings that were visible to the naked eye. Practically everyone here today has vastly more computer power on your wrist or in your pocket, but it was impressive in 1968.
Dad was always eager to learn more, to do more. When I look back at his career, I am amazed by all of his accomplishments and activities. Another aspect that stands out in my Dad’s life is his commitment to education in general and making mathematics interesting and challenging to others. From 1969-1971, he took a leave of absence from Wabash to be the director of the Mathematical Association of America’s Committee on the Undergraduate Program in Mathematics. In this role, he travelled throughout the U.S. working with various academic institutions on the development of undergraduate math programs.
In 1965, he founded "The Friendly Mathematics Competition," a collegiate mathematical problem-solving competition, which has been held annually among teams from schools in Indiana since 1966 and is now known as "The Indiana College Mathematics Competition."
Throughout his career, he served in a variety of roles as Secretary-Treasurer, Vice-Chair and Governor of the Indiana Section of the MAA, and associate editor for American Mathematical Monthly from 1974-78.
Within the math department at Wabash, Dad served as Chairman from 1963-1978.
Upon his retirement from Wabash, he continued to serve the college as class agent for his own class of ‘42 and ultimately inherited the adjacent classes of ’41 and ’43 as well. Only a week before his death did he finally relinquish the role of class agent.
Dad’s proudest moment was when he received the honorary degree Doctor of Science, Honoris Causa, from Wabash in 1998. He felt it was the pinnacle of a long and fulfilling career. The degree represented the recognition and acknowledgement by the college of his many contributions over the years.
Wabash gave him the gift of a wonderful education and he repaid that gift by dedicating his career to advancing mathematics, mathematics education and serving the needs of Wabash and its students.
Made from the Soil of Wabash by Kathy Mielke Stack
On the morning of Saturday, September 29th 2007 (Wabash homecoming), I dropped Dad off on campus and sat in the car watching him make his way across the brick path toward the Scarlet Inn. He looked eagerly into the faces of passersby, greeting each one, his scarlet cap bobbing up and down in affirmation.
I have never seen anyone who was so integrally part of a place. When I looked at Dad, I was reminded of reading Willa Cather’s books in college, O Pioneers, My Antonia and Rolvaag’s Giants in the Earth. Each author described people that were intimately tied to the soil of one particular place. My father could not be happier anywhere else on earth than standing on the ground of Wabash College.
My memories of Dad are woven inextricably with Wabash: holding his hand while walking up the path from Grant Street through the grove of trees, standing next to him in the dining hall of the Lambda Chi’s listening to them sing before we sat down to dinner, watching him tie his bow tie for a Pan Hel dance, finding him in his office in Goodrich or Baxter poring over a problem with a student, walking with him into Center Hall to collect his mail, sitting next to him in Yandes listening to my mother play her flute, watching him take pictures on the sidelines of a Little Giant’s football game, seeing him through the window of the Scarlet Inn drinking coffee and discussing something animatedly with a colleague or student, hearing the sound of his voice rise above the tapping of his chalk on a classroom blackboard while I stood outside the door.
Dad’s commitment to teaching started while he was a student at Wabash. He was nicknamed "Yogi" by his fraternity brothers because of his ability to help them with homework. They would come to him and say, "Yogi, look into your crystal ball and give me the answer."
His ability to teach was further developed as a graduate student at Brown University. His service with the Marine Corps began with his teaching of mathematical equations used by military personnel to triangulate the trajectory of artillery. He did this until he was sent to the front in Okinawa. Again he was in the artillery division calculating the trajectories for heavy field batteries.
During his stay on a hospital ship in the South Pacific, he found a small push cart and filled it full of books that he collected from other men. He started a small library aboard ship and would walk the wards, often stopping to read to a bed-ridden soldier or write letters for them to send to their loved ones. It gave him great satisfaction to help his brothers, to give them comfort, and to teach them hope.
At times it was not so easy to live with the deep love Dad had for his profession and for Wabash. As my brother has already mentioned, Dad would do every single problem in the problem sets at the end of each chapter, whether he had assigned them to his students or not. If he could not solve a problem from the textbook, assigned or not, darkness would fall over his countenance and he would brood for days. We children would have to remain quiet while he wrestled with his Math Demons. It would always be an incredible relief when he would either finally solve the problem or discover that the problem itself was flawed. Nonetheless, it showed how very deeply he cared about teaching and about the student experience in his classroom.
My Dad loved the Wabash students. It was never more apparent than when students from all walks of life and all countries were invited into the bosom of our family. Most every Sunday and holiday, the students of Wabash were welcomed into our home--foreign students, math advisees, Lambda Chi’s, music students, students far from their own homes. Students would occasionally come to live with us—my cousin Dave Bolton was the first and then, Rolf Amsler, the son of a Boeing turbo jet engine specialist from Seattle. After I left for college, Mom and Dad couldn’t bear the empty house, so they invited a Wabash student, Pat Ridgely, who was student teaching at CHS to live with them for a semester. They were all welcomed as members of our extended family. My parents had many, many sons.
As a young girl, I found myself jealous of the Wabash students--they often got the most attention from Dad or got the best he had to offer. But then he would come home, buoyed by a positive interaction with a student, or a particularly satisfying lecture. All would be well. Dad would be with us, at last, in mind, spirit and body.
The garden itself was an exercise in mathematics--the geometry of plants--how to plant the perfect rows of corn, the delight he took in weighing his tomatoes and recording his activities in his yearly journals.
At summer picnics, my mother knew better than to use a cloth on the table--paper was best. More often than not, Dad would get carried away while talking with other mathematicians and start writing equations on the table’s surface. The paper table cloths or napkins were often torn apart and saved and turned into classroom math problems or, perhaps, the beginnings of a journal paper.
During the summers my Dad couldn’t stay away from teaching. He would purposefully take summer positions in the West--Oregon State in Corvallis was a favorite. We would camp and explore our way across country. We were adventurers, outdoors people. He offered us the beautiful vistas of the United States and Canada through his eyes and through his camera lens: Yellowstone, Michigan, Wisconsin, the Badlands, Glacier National Park, Dinosaur National Monument, Jasper, Banff, Vancouver, British Columbia, Oregon, California, and Washington.
These trips allowed him to indulge in another lifelong passion--photography. My brother, sister and I used to think we saw nearly every inch of every highway across the US and Canada. We could swear Dad stopped the car every 50 feet to get out his camera and tripod for a picture. If Dad wasn’t in the classroom or his office, you could bet that he was down in the photo lab he built in our basement developing a roll of film.
He took great delight in photographing the beautiful faces of the people that crossed our paths. What a world I have seen through his eyes!
William Stafford, in one of my Dad’s favorite poems, Father’s Voice, says:
And always that was his gift,
World, I am your slow guest,
His path was determined by his first step—when he set foot on the Wabash College campus. His love of Wabash sustained him even after the death of our beloved Mother. I tried to encourage him to move to Rockford, Illinois, with me and my husband, Jeff Stack, Wabash class of ‘84. After three weeks away from Crawfordsville, Dad asked to be brought home. I knew he had done the right thing to return home when I received his first cheerful call; one of his favorite Wabash sons, Dave McAfee, class of ‘61 and one of his favorite colleagues and his spouse, Vic and Marion Powell, had come to see him. He said, "How could anyone be depressed in the presence of the jollity of these Wabash folks?" He could not be long away from Wabash and its loyal men.
Wabash gave Dad a legion of brothers that nature had denied him. Nothing was better to him than the knowledge that he had given nearly every ounce of himself to his profession, to his college, and to the nurture of generations of young men.
Husband, brother, father, grandfather, great grandfather, teacher, Marine, mathematician, civil rights activist, photographer, picture framer, carpenter, gardener, outdoorsman, dancer, drummer with a drum and bugle corps, guitarist, tenor and glee club member, biblical scholar, class agent, romantic, raconteur, writer, friend and loyal son of Wabash.
Giants in the Earth is an appropriate title for a book about pioneers, but it also describes my Dad. He was a true Little Giant made from this soil of Wabash College.
Life with Grandpa
Grandfathers and grandsons have a special place in their hearts for one another. The grandfathers remember the fun and sometimes foolish activities they did as a boy and hope to provide an outlet for their grandsons to have equally fun and foolish antics without mishap or too many scoldings from their parents. And the grandsons know if they play their cards right, grandpas won’t ride them too hard or rat on them to their mother for some minor rule infraction.
Obviously education was very important to Grandpa, and he put his money where his mouth was. On those many winter trips to California both grandma and grandpa volunteered in our elementary school classrooms. Grandpa would come several times a week to help out when we had math lab and computer lab. He always took the time to work with the child who had the most trouble with the exercises, but he also reveled in the speed and accuracy of the smartest ones. His patience must have been tried countless times, being an accomplished math professor tutoring 12 year olds on simple multiplication, but this showed his unwavering dedication to his field. For parents who volunteered, once a week was the normal schedule, but nobody but us had a grandparent who volunteered, let alone one who came several times a week.
Grandpa wasn’t only helping us learn in school, he also wanted us to learn about working with the soil and the satisfaction that it gave. He showed us how to plant carrots, tomatoes and corn. And we have favorite pictures of both Scott and me as small children pulling carrots out of the ground. The joyful look of glee was on our faces as well as grandpa’s.
We could always count on Grandpa for something fun--such as a bike, a pair of roller blades or skis. I can still vividly remember the day when Grandpa gave me my first pair of roller blades, skating around the elementary school playground as fast as I could until I could skate no longer. He knew that if we were in motion, we’d be having fun. He was always generous in that way. He probably remembered his own memories as a boy in the Depression without those luxuries but still having a grand time.
And similarly, when I studied World War II, the fact that my grandpa fought in the battle of Okinawa put a sobering view on that terrible event. The stories he told of the conditions on the troop ship, the hardships of the other men, the wounds and killings of soldiers again personalized the war and imprinted on me a personal connection to the war. Grandpa first functioned as a private in the Marines - just another guy climbing out of a landing craft being bombarded by Japanese fire. But then a Colonel learned that he was a mathematician and transferred him to the artillery regiment where he used his math knowledge to calculate artillery trajectories. Knowing that my grandpa fought in this battle and managed to pull through the war, instilled a great sense of pride within me. I can’t help but think what would have happened if he didn’t make it through the war. None of us would be here today. It is a scary thought, but grandpa had to have the mental fortitude to put the fear of death out of his mind during the war. I have always envisioned him as one of the most mentally strong people I have ever known. He pushed himself to get into college, being the first one in his family to pursue education. I don’t know if this is true but I like to think that he could do whatever he put his mind to. He has had an exceptional life—complete with a loving wife, three amazing children, grandchildren, and even a great granddaughter. With all this, in my opinion, you can’t ask for much more. It sounds clich™d when I say this, but he was truly a great man.
Where My Voice Comes From by Elizabeth Andrews Roberts
It is very hard not to be here today. Very hard. I thank my sister, Jess, for lending her voice to my words and wonder what she sees when she looks up from the page and out into the faces looking back at her. I imagine there are many people, some of whom I know, but many of whom I don’t, all of whom loved my grandfather in countless ways.
It seems fitting that what keeps me from being with you today is singing. As I sit in my dressing room at the Washington National Opera, occupying myself with a singer’s last minute concerns: looking over my score again, making sure there’s enough special glue to hold my moustache and goatee on (I’m a boy tonight), and making sure I remember how to run backwards without tripping over my cape, I will chuckle to myself that it was those tidbits that my grandfather loved best. The weird little things. He liked to know in advance so he could watch for them during the show.
We lost my grandma and grandpa in quick succession. I say "lost" because I knew that they were growing older and someday would die, but it never actually occurred to me that there would come a time when they wouldn’t be there at the other end of the phone line (usually both of them at the same time).
I worried that I wouldn’t be able to find my grandpa in my own life, and that if I couldn’t find him there, he would die in my memory. It made me feel very lonely. I decided that what I needed to do was to go looking for him, to go hunting for him.
I found him. I found him in my mind’s eye, in growing things, and in my voice.
The memories I have of my grandfather exist as photographs… as snapshots… which I suppose is appropriate. I sit looking at the backs of my eyelids, and I can imagine myself bodily in that place with him.
Behind their house at 308 E. Jefferson Street, the alley was lined with buckeye trees, and about half of their back yard was a garden. There were flower beds close to the house, but the garden in the back grew food things. Eating things. Things that lived and that we pulled out of the dirt and used. I remember walking between the corn rows with my grandpa, feeling like I was in some vast wilderness, trying to keep my balance on the weather-warped slats. I remember him telling me to make sure to "Look carefully" under the leaves to see if any zucchini were hiding. I found a giant zucchini under a big, lazy, warm leaf once. I remember him kneeling next to me in the sun, both of us squinting and sweating. I wondered how he knew it was there.
I remember picking the beans that crawled up the fence near the alley and feeling the little roots that fed the carrots snap as I pulled them gently from the earth (so as not to tear the greens, he reminded me). I remember getting dirty. It seemed novel to me that you could grow the same corn in dirt that grew in the grocery store. I wondered why it tasted better. I wondered how he knew which green things to pull on—which green things had carrots underneath. He seemed like a magician.
Many of your voices will sound about my gramp today. You wi