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Gone But Far From Forgotten: The University Loses Three of Its Best

During the past few months the University has mourned the passing of three remarkable individuals who epitomized the best a university has to offer.

Reuben Benjamin Sandin, 1897–1991

Reuben Benjamin Sandin, whose active association with the University spanned an incredible 75 years, passed away in Edmonton on the last day of February 1991.

The University of Alberta has had its share, and more, of teachers who have achieved legendary status among their former students, but no professor has inspired greater loyalty among his or her students than did Sandin, who taught chemistry at the University from 1922 until 1965 and continued to remain active in the Department of Chemistry as an emeritus professor until 1988. In 1965 the Canadian Journal of Chemistry devoted an entire issue to Sandin on the occasion of his 68th birthday. All 44 papers in the journal were written by his friends, colleagues, and former students, among whom are many of the finest chemists Canada has produced.

Sandin was born in Minnesota in 1897, and shortly afterwards his family moved to a homestead in the Usona district of central Alberta. He completed high school in Wetaskiwin and went on to the University in 1913. An extremely shy student, he was inspired to a career in chemistry when he was made to feel at ease by his first chemistry professor.

The April 1916 graduation issue of Gateway makes reference to Sandin's self-effacement (‘He was so shy that it took us two years to discover his hidden qualities.’) and his brilliance. In the grandiloquent phrasing of which its editors were so fond, the publication reports that ‘...he is indeed the senior of the seniors, for he floats at the top of the class like a foam cap on a billow.’

The Gateway item finishes, with the observation, ‘He is one man in whom the 'ego' is completely subservient.’ This would remain true for the remainder of his life. When Sandin had the opportunity to receive an honorary degree from the University he was greatly moved, but he turned it down. When the Chemistry Department inaugurated the Reuben Benjamin Sandin Lecture Series, he asked that the name be changed (it wasn't), and he repeated the request almost every time he had occasion to correspond about the Lectures.

Sandin earned his BA degree in chemistry with high distinction and then completed his master's degree at the U of A in 1919, winning the Governor General's Gold Medal. He went on to the University of Chicago, where he was awarded his PhD in 1924 and won renown and the coveted Sigma Psi key of the honorary scientific fraternity.

A pioneer in the field of positive halogenorganic chemistry, Sandin was well known and respected throughout his profession, even though he never travelled to professional society meetings. His reputation was spread by his incisive publications (he published his last paper, which appeared in the prestigious Journal of Medicinal Chemistry, at age 84) and through his influence on students who went on to graduate schools throughout North America. Before his retirement in 1965, more than 200 of his students had taken the PhD degree in chemistry.

‘He did his research well and his teaching superbly,’ says Robert Crawford, '52 BSc, '54 MSc. A former chair of the Chemistry Department and now an associate dean with the University's Faculty of Science, Crawford earned his master's degree under Sandin's direction and later knew the outstanding chemistry professor as a teaching colleague. ‘He was a giant with his classes,’ says Crawford.

So popular were Sandin's lectures that when a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship took him to Harvard University for a sabbatical leave in 1939-40, his absence was keenly felt by students who had looked forward to his legendary Chemistry 42 (later 250) lectures and felt themselves to be missing a high-point of the University experience.

During his career, Sandin won many honors — he was the first Canadian to win the Outstanding College Chemistry Teacher Award sponsored by the Manufacturing Chemists' Association, Washington, D.C.; in 1958 he was elected a fellow of the Chemical Institute of Canada; he received a special citation in organic chemistry from the CIC in 1960; and he won its inaugural Chemical Education Award in 1962 — but he never felt comfortable when he was receiving attention. ‘Put the spotlight on the student, not on yourself,’ was the theme of his address on the occasion of his receiving the CIC Education Award.

A commemorative service for the legendary chemistry professor who unfailingly put the spotlight on his students was held on campus on 5 April. It was attended by many former colleagues and students, one who made the trip from Montreal just to be there. They spoke about ‘Rube’ with the genuine affection that is contained in Bob Crawford's remark eulogizing his former teacher and friend: ‘This is someone who is very special, a benevolent individual who is part of the history of this institution in a very distinct way.’

An undergraduate scholarship in Dr. Sandin's honor has been established. Donations to the RB Sandin Scholarship Fund can be sent to the Department of Chemistry, University of Alberta, Edmonton T6G 2G2.

Henry Kreisel, 1923-1991

Henry Kreisel, author, university professor, former ‘enemy alien,’ and officer of the Order of Canada, died in Edmonton on 22 April at the age of 68. He had been diagnosed as suffering from pancreatic cancer in March and had been hospitalized early in April.

An inspiring lecturer, he taught generations of students to love and talk about literature. And as one of the first modern Canadian novelists to write about the immigrant experience, he also contributed to making Canadian literature worth talking about.

‘I have tried to bridge the two worlds — the European world and the Canadian world. It is a natural thing for me to do — it reflects my experience;’ he explained in an interview a decade ago.

As a writer, Kreisel was best known for his two novels, The Rich Man (1948), recently adapted into a successful play, and The Betrayal (1961). His well-regarded short stories include ‘The Broken Globe,’ which has been widely anthologized and translated and adapted into a moving stage play, and the comedic ‘The Travelling Nude,’ which won the University of Western Ontario President's Medal as the best short story published in Canada in 1960.

Kreisel was born in Vienna in 1923. His father was a salesman, frequently unemployed, who took little interest in things artistic or literary. His mother, however, encouraged her two sons to take advantage of the cultural opportunities of the city. ‘I was swimming in that sea of culture that was Vienna,’ Kreisel later recalled. That swim abruptly came to an end when Hitler's troops marched into Austria in 1938. Kreisel escaped into Britain only to find it an uncertain haven: in 1940 he was working as a trainee cutter in a Leeds tailoring factory when ‘two men in raincoats’ appeared and he was taken into custody as an ‘enemy alien.’

After being shunted from place to place in Britain, he was transported to Canada, where he was held with other German and Austrian refugees of Jewish descent in a prisoner-of-war camp near Fredericton, New Brunswick. Later Kreisel described the camp as having been ‘a market place of ideas’ and said that he had never again encountered an intellectual exchange of so concentrated a form. Stimulated by this environment, he decided to become a writer. Because he knew that he would never return to Austria, he decided to free himself from linguistic and psychological dependence on German by writing in English.

In 1942 Kreisel was released and stayed in Canada, an ‘accidental immigrant’ to a country that before his arrival he had known only as a large red stretch on a school map. To further his goal of becoming a writer, he enrolled in the University of Toronto. Six years, 11 scholarships and two degrees later, he found himself at the University of Alberta, a lecturer in the Department of English. (His formal studies were completed in 1954 when, following a two-year leave, he earned a PhD at the University of London.)

During his distinguished career at the University of Alberta, he taught in the Departments of English, Drama and Comparative Literature and received the prestigious distinction of ‘University Professor.’ From 1961 until 1967, he served as head of the English Department, and from 1970 until 1975 as the University's vice-president (academic). He also was president of the Association of Canadian University Teachers of English.

As head of the Department of English, he introduced the first course in Canadian literature to the University — on more than one occasion, he spoke of how as a newcomer to Canada he went looking for Canadian literature and no one could tell him where to find it.

In 1981 Kreisel published The Almost Meeting, a collection of short stories. In 1985 his internment diary and other autobiographical writings were combined with critical essays on his work in Another Country: Writings By and About Henry Kreisel. In November 1990 a five-part drama, ‘Enemy Alien,’ based on Kreisel's journal of his internment, was aired on CBC Radio's Morningside.

Dr Kreisel was the recipient of numerous honors. He was appointed an officer of the Order of Canada in 1988, and in 1990 he received an Immigrant Achievement Award for his contributions to his adopted country. Other recognition included the Sir Frederick Haultain Prize for Significant Achievement in Fine Arts (1986) and fellowship in the International Association of Arts and Letters, Geneva (1961).

Kreisel once said that it was his belief that ‘the aim of teaching is simply to light a fire.’ That he lit many fires was testified to when he won one of the University's Rutherford Teaching Awards in 1986. It is further demonstrated by the sorrow with which his passing has been met.

Eleanor Silver Keeping, 1903-1991

Her friends, and she had many, simply called her ‘Silver’ — an unusual name for a woman, certainly, but its possessor was no less rare.

Dr Eleanor Silver Keeping (nee Dowding), who died in March at the age of 89, was a woman of many accomplishments. A respected scientist and teacher, she was above all else a person who relished life and had the knack of passing that enthusiasm to others.

Born in England, she came to Canada at the age of six and attended school in Calgary. University seemed an impossible dream, but Silver was not one to step away from adversity. Although partially deaf from the age of 12, she had an inborn fighting spirit, to which she would credit her success in life.

With financial assistance from her sister and a series of scholarships she ‘escaped happily into Pembina Hall’ and went on to complete studies that earned her a MSc degree from the University of Alberta in 1924. She subsequently became an instructor and lecturer in botany — one of the first women to teach at the University in a discipline other than home economics or nursing.

Silver had fond memories of the closeness of the University campus in those early years — of the camaraderie of the classroom and laboratory, of night-time skating parties at Cooking Lake, and of expeditions to study the ecology of Alberta.

During one expedition, she encountered rolling sand hills interspersed with muskeg. Here, many of the pine and spruce trees were distorted, with misshapen branches which resembled witches' brooms. This condition, she discovered, was caused by a yellow mistletoe whose fruit, when ripe, would explode like miniature cannons, sending sticky seeds to infect neighboring trees. Strangely, however, some of the mistletoe did not produce fruit. Further investigation showed these particular plants to be infected by a fungus.

There was something about the idea of a parasite being afflicted by a parasite of its own that she found amusing, and Silver continued to study and write papers on the mistletoe fungus on and off for seven years, in the process becoming a confirmed mycologist — a specialist in the branch of botany dealing with fungi.

In 1928, she received a travelling scholarship from the University Women's Club and travelled to England to study for a year with Dame Helen Gwynne Vaughan, cytologist at Birkbeck College, University of London. She couldn't realistically expect to get her degree in a year but, characteristically, she made the most of her time overseas: she met and was greatly influenced by H.G. Wells and joined the famous Heretics' Club, she visited the theatres and museums of Paris and London, and listened attentively to the spirited discussion taking place about the theory of evolution.

Back in Canada, she completed a PhD with renowned scholar and inspiring teacher A.H.R. Butler, mycologist at the University of Manitoba, before returning to Edmonton, where she married Frank Keeping who had come from England in 1929 to teach mathematics at the University. Keenly interested in her work, he encouraged her to continue her research, even though as a wife of a faculty member she couldn't receive a salary.

In 1933, Dr Allan Rankin, then dean of Medicine, hired Silver and installed her in a room in the Medical Building. Here, she set up a diagnostic service for human fungus disease in association with the Alberta Provincial Laboratory of Public Health — one of the very first, if not the first, medical mycology laboratories in the Commonwealth.

For 20 years, Silver turned her considerable energy to investigating various medically important fungi and getting physicians and workers in public health interested in medical mycology. When her assistant, J.W. Carmichael, returned from Harvard with his PhD in 1954, she resigned and turned her appointment over to him.

For another two decades, Silver kept her interest in research and the University active as an honorary research associate in the Departments of Medical Bacteriology, Botany and Genetics. The appointments carried no salary or tenure, and she paid her own expenses when she travelled to scientific meetings — including the first International Congress of Mycologists, which she attended at age 71.

Silver Keeping was one of the founding sponsors of the University of Alberta Devonian Botanic Gardens. This facility is now the home for the University of Alberta Microfungus Collection, one of the eight largest collections of its kind in the world. This ‘library’ of fungi (previously called the University of Alberta Mould Herbarium and Culture Collection) had its beginning in the fungi Silver collected during her 20 years of pioneering work in medical mycology.

Published Summer 1991.

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