A Lyons Township High School alumnus who is now a professor emeritus of biochemistry at the University of Missouri has pledged to give $1 million to the high school to foster innovative science teaching there.
Gerald Hazelbauer, a 1962 graduate from LTHS in 1962 is making the bequest in honor of Ruth Wenner, who was his freshman biology teacher during the 1958-59 school year.
LTHS won’t get the full $1 million until after both Hazelbauer and his wife die but Hazelbauer is making an initial donation of $20,000 this year and will continue to donate $20,000 while he is alive.
Hazelbauer, 76, is the Curators Distinguished Professor Emeritus of biochemistry and the former chairman of the biochemistry department at the University of Missouri. He came to LTHS a year after the Soviet Union had launched the Sputnik rocket, a move that started the space race and shocked Americans.
The fear that the United States was falling behind the Soviet Union sparked an emphasis on more rigorous education, particularly in science and math, in American schools.
Hazelbauer, who grew up in Western Springs, was part of a cohort of 25 or so freshmen grouped together for advanced courses in science, math and English. He says Wenner was an innovative and challenging teacher who treated her students like scientists.
She arranged for him to do a summer program at an Illinois Institute of Technology laboratory the summer after his freshman year. Hazelbauer said Wenner was the most influential teacher he ever had at LTHS.
“Everybody remembers Mrs. Wenner,” Hazelbauer said of his cohort. “They don’t necessarily remember all the details about Biology, but they remember the notion that science is basically what humans do. They try to figure out things. How does this work? Whether it ends up being economics or sociology or architecture, I mean, that’s what we do, that’s what our heads have us do, and she made that extraordinarily clear and it sunk in to everybody.”
Hazelbauer called LTHS officials last year to tell them of his intentions. After graduating in 1962, Hazelbauer went to Williams College where he majored in biology.
He earned a master’s degree from Case Western Reserve University and a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin. Hazelbauer was inducted into the LT Hall of Fame in 2007.
He is known for his research into the molecular mechanisms of bacterial sensory system and has published more than 100 articles in scholarly journals.
LTHS officials were surprised and delighted by the unexpected bequest.
“That’s a very generous give back and it’s a testimonial to the experience he had while a student here,” Superintendent Tim Kilrea said.
The first $20,000 will be split next fall among six LTHS science teachers and in subsequent years be open to all LTHS science teachers.