In Memoriam

S. Elwood (Woody) Bohn
Professor Emeritus of Mathematics

Elwood Bohn passed away at his home in Green Valley, Arizona, on April 16, 2013. He is survived by his wife of sixty years, Dottie Solberg Bohn; children Andrew, Corinn, and Jon Bohn; and four grandchildren. Elwood was born on March 11, 1927, and spent his early years in Mott, a small town in rural, southwest North Dakota. His wife, Dottie, used to refer to it as “Mott, the spot that God forgot.” During his senior year at Bismarck High School, Elwood earned all-state honors in basketball, and he went on to excel in that sport at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He became the first Concordia basketball player to score over 1000 points, and he was inducted into Concordia’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 1997.

After graduating from Concordia in 1949, with degrees in mathematics and economics, Elwood earned a Master’s degree in mathematics and statistics at the University of Nebraska in 1951 and a Ph.D. from that institution in 1961. His thesis, written under the direction of Lloyd Jackson, was on A Sub-function Study of the Dirichlet Problem for a Quasi-linear Differential Equation. In between earning those graduate degrees he taught at the University of Minnesota, Concordia College, and Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa.

Elwood came to Ohio in 1961 as a faculty member at Bowling Green State University. This was a time when many state universities had relatively few Ph.D.s on the faculty, and university presidents wanted to improve the reputations of their institutions. Miami’s Mathematics Department chair at the time, Charles Capel, wanted to recruit Elwood, but he had to be careful about “raiding” faculties of other in-state institutions. In any case, Elwood moved to Miami University three years later and was quickly appointed as department chair – a position in which he would serve, during two separate terms, for a total of 15 years.

Shortly before Elwood became chair, the Dayton Daily News compared the mathematics departments at Wright State and Miami, pointing out that Wright State had a higher percentage of Ph.D. faculty. This favorable publicity for Wright State helped Elwood gain the general support of Dean Karl Limper and President Philip Shriver for enlarging and improving the Department. A first step was to reduce the teaching load for new Ph.D.s from twelve to nine hours per semester with increased responsibilities for publication. Over the next five years Elwood hired more than a dozen new assistant professors, including Miami’s first statisticians. Some of these hires were replacements for faculty who were retiring, but others filled new positions generated by Elwood’s frequent trips to the Dean’s office to plead his case for new positions, more space, and resources. It is likely that the Dean dreaded these meetings, since Elwood’s tenacious nature meant that he would continue until he had convinced the administration that the department’s needs were legitimate and immediate or until some reasonable compromise was achieved.

During Elwood’s second term as department chair, Bachelor Hall was being built, and Elwood made frequent inspections of its progress and often noted flaws that needed to be corrected. After one such “inspection tour,” the architect and the construction supervisor decided to get even. Overnight they erected a square pillar, complete with molding, paint, and an electrical outlet, in the middle of the room that would be the chair’s office. When Elwood came in the next day, they explained that it was a load-bearing column necessary to support the weight of offices on the floor above. It took several days for the fact that this was all a joke to really sink in. Another interesting story involving Elwood and the construction of Bachelor Hall has to do with the Penrose Tiling in the courtyard. The design itself is due to Professor Milton Cox, inspired by an article in Scientific American. The architect selected terrazzo as the medium, and a brass framework was fabricated in the outline of the tiling. Work on pouring the terrazzo began in the summer of 1979, while both Milt and Elwood were on vacation. When they returned, it was discovered that the brass frame had been rotated 90 degrees so that the tiling’s only axis of symmetry was perpendicular to the axis of symmetry of the building. Work was immediately stopped while Elwood conferred with the architect and the contractor. One idea that was quickly rejected was to rotate the building 90 degrees. Fortunately, only about 25% of the tiles had actually been poured, so it was decided to chisel them out and start over, with the frame properly oriented.

Elwood brought strong leadership to the department. During his tenure as chair the curriculum was enriched by many new courses, including ones in game theory, graph theory, a series of courses in statistics, and graduate courses for teachers. A master’s degree program was introduced in statistics, and the name was changed to the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The use of computing was introduced into many courses in the curriculum. An annual conference was established that drew attendance in excess of 100 to Miami’s campus and helped in the recruitment of graduate students to the department. The department also assumed national leadership roles in the undergraduate Putnam Competition in mathematics and the student mathematics honorary organization, Pi Mu Epsilon.

Faculty in the department always felt that Elwood was their strong advocate with the administration. One example was the decision to move the department to the new building, Bachelor Hall, which added substantially to the amount and quality of space available to the department. Another example was his intervention that prevented the Mathematics and Physics Library from being moved to King Library on the opposite end of campus. It remained in Culler Hall until the Brill Science Library was completed.

Elwood served as Chairman of the Ohio Section of the Mathematical Association of America (MAA) in 1971– 72 and on the MAA Board of Governors from 1973 to 1976. As Section Chairman he worked to revitalize standing committees that had been instituted nearly a decade earlier by another Miamian, Charles Capel, and update the Section’s bylaws. His Retiring Chairman’s Address dealt with “Some Generalizations and Applications of Convex Functions.” During the 1970s Elwood also did some work for the National Science Foundation and the Ford Foundation. Not only was Elwood a leader in the MAA, but he also encouraged other members of the department to become active in that organization. Miami’s leadership and participation in the Ohio Section reached a peak in the 1970s and 80s, when more than a half-dozen members would typically attend each semi-annual section meeting, five Miamians held the office of section President, and many more served on Ohio Section committees. Elwood and his family loved to take long summer vacations to Colorado in their camping trailer, and eventually he and Dottie built a cabin in the mountains near Estes Park. They were also active members of Faith Lutheran Church in Oxford. They retired to Arizona in the early 1990s.

Elwood Bohn was an unwavering supporter of the mathematical sciences throughout his long and distinguished career as a teacher and administrator. There is no doubt that, as he left the chair’s position, the department had grown in very positive ways due to his leadership. Upon his retirement in 1992 the Bohn Lecture Series, which occurs during the annual Miami University Mathematics and Statistics Conference, was named in his honor, as was the Bohn Computing Lab (203 C Bachelor Hall).

Respectfully submitted by David Kullman, Charles Holmes, and John Skillings.