The Sincerest Form of Flattery


"I want to do what he did!"  So responded Ed Bonach '76, as we enjoyed breakfast in the cafeteria of his company's headquarters in Carmel, IN. 

I had just told Ed about a wonderful out-of-the-blue gift we had received from a 1970s alumnus. The donor, who wished to remain anonymous, had established a science literacy lecture series at Saint John's.  In the process he had also honored one of his favorite professors, Dr. Norman Ford, by attaching his name to the series.

In an instant the news of that gesture grabbed Ed's imagination, and he informed me that he wanted to follow suit. He and his wife Peggy would establish a scholarship fund to support generations of mathematics majors.   That was Ed's major at Saint John's, and he meant to honor his favorite professor in the process.  Within weeks, then, the Dr. Robert Dumonceaux Endowed Mathematics Scholarship was established.  But the public announcement was saved for an end-of-the-year reception that would celebrate Dr. Dumonceaux (Dr. D.) and several other retiring faculty. 

Ed's decision to establish the scholarship may have seemed impetuous at the time, but his reasons for doing so were not.  A year later I asked Ed and Peggy to reflect on why they had been moved to do so, and Ed noted that the study of mathematics provides a grounding in deductive reasoning that can be utilized on many fronts.  They also shared their strong conviction that the United States must strengthen STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) education to ensure the country's competitiveness and future economic prosperity.  Finally, Ed and Peggy firmly believe that linking Benedictine values with a liberal arts education makes for a powerful combination.  They want as many students as possible to have that experience at Saint John's. 

As for the reasons why they chose to name the scholarshp in Dr. Dumonceaux's honor, those were clear and plentiful.  "Dr. D. is a special guy," remarked Ed.  "He combined passion and zeal for learning with practical perspectives and applications.  He cared about his students -- well beyond grades and graduation.  He helped form my belief that if you don't have a passion for what you do, then find something else to do." 

At the announcement of the scholarship, Ed offered this tribute to his teacher.  "Dr. D., you embody a zest for both life and learning that is contagious.  Thank you for infecting me and for being instrumental in my development as a student, professional and person.  This modest gift in your honor is intended to perpetuate your enthusiasm for making mathematics matter and to prove the theorem that 'Dr. D. + SJU = a better world!'" 

So Saint John's is doubly indebted -- first to the donor whose generous gift served to inspire Ed Bonach, and then to Ed and Peggy for so boldly following in his footsteps.  Imitation truly is the sincerest form of flattery. 

[Editor's note:  On Tuesday evening, September 29, Dr. Michael Osterholm of the University of Minnesota will deliver the inaugural lecture of the Norman L. Ford Science Literacy Lecture Series.  Dr. Osterholm is the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy.  For details on the founding of that series, read Brad Neary's blog entry of April 28, 2015.]