Supporting Students — Chemistry and Track


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Through graduate school, to a professional career at Cargill and then the Tennant Corporation, chemist Norm Gill ('61), hasn't forgotten what it was like to be a student at UMD. Gill commuted from his Duluth home. He majored in chemistry and studied with some of UMD's greatest professors, James C. "Charlie" Nichol, Edward Cowles, and Moses Passer. "Charlie Nichol taught physical chemistry, the hardest classes I ever had." Gill ran cross country in high school but at UMD he had so many labs in fall, he waited until spring and went out for track. In his junior year, he placed second in the two-mile race in the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. "That year, it was so cold in Duluth that by the time we went to the conference meets, we had never practiced outside once," Gill said. "We had to do our practice runs in the halls." "I had a strict budget. I bought used books and sometimes I used the textbooks in the library," he said. "UMD was affordable and yet the education was at the top. When I got to graduate school, I had already taken many of the advanced courses at UMD." Nothing stopped Gill. "I hitchhiked to Minneapolis for my graduate school interview. After it was over, I didn't have money to stay overnight, so I hitchhiked back to Duluth."

Gill had almost finished his chemistry master's degree at the UM-Twin Cities when a friend presented him with an opportunity. Cargill was hiring chemists. "I applied so I could practice my job interview skills," Gill said. He was offered the position. "I still had a couple of months to go before I could get my degree but I was so sick of being poor, I took it." Gill finished his degree later in 1964 by taking night classes.

Gill was in graduate school when he met Joan Henry, a school teacher from Iowa. They met at a wedding, and it wasn't long before they married. "I knew right away that she was the one," said Gill. "Besides being really nice, Joan had a car."

Cargill, the international producer and marketer of food, agricultural, and industrial products, presented Gill with some exciting challenges. As a research and development chemist, he developed products and took them from their "very inception right through their use by the public," Gill said. "I worked with technical services, mass production, and marketing." His name was listed on the safety and handling instruction sheets of all of his products. Norm's wife Joan remembers a few late and not-so-late calls. "Norm's phone numbers were listed on those sheets, and he kept them filed at home. One day, Norm was on his way home when someone called. The man said he had a container that was bulging and getting bigger. I tried to calm him down, and I assured him Norm would call him back very soon," she said. And Norm did. "Cargill had a family atmosphere," Gill said. "Cargill MacMillan, the owner, would go through the plant and stop to talk to people about what they were working on."

After 16 years at Cargill, Gill took on a new challenge. He took a position in R&D at the Tennant Corporation, a manufacturer of industrial cleaning solutions as well as floor coatings. He stayed with Tennant for 21 years. It was long enough to see many changes in the industrial world.

Norm and Joan Gill have established a scholarship for a chemistry student at UMD who is also on the track team. In addition to funding the endowment through current gifts, they have left a portion of their estate in their will to further the scholarship at their deaths. "Those are the things I care about. I remember being in track at UMD, and I had great chemistry teachers there. I want to support those things," he said. "College is so expensive now, and I remember what it was like to need money."

The Olga Lakela Fund

The Olga Lakela Fund is a perfect example of a faculty member endowing an important program that enriches the campus. Professor Lakela, a department head, and a distinguished botanist, taught and researched at Duluth State Teachers College and UMD from 1935 to 1958. Impressed with Lakela, Raymond Gibson, the last president of Duluth State Teachers College and the first provost of UMD, remembers that when he asked her what budget she needed for laboratory experiments she replied that she collected her flora from the woods, fields and streams of Minnesota. Lakela, who earned her Ph.D. at the University of Minnesota, wrote extensively about Minnesota plants and developed an impressive herbarium. After her retirement from UMD, Lakela continued her research at the University of South Florida in Tampa and helped to create a tropical Florida herbarium.

Lakela's bequest to UMD, the institution she served so well during her distinguished career in Duluth, has provided an enduring legacy to her work. Professor David J. Schimpf of the UMD biology department reports that her bequest has established the Olga Lakela Fund which maintains her collection, together with substantial additions from other botanists, and supports botanical research at UMD. The fund enables the herbarium to purchase new technical literature, funds research travel, subsidizes publications, and supports the creation of a computerized database. The herbarium serves the needs of botanists, natural resource agencies, and the general public. The Olga Lakela Fund is a tangible remembrance of a talented faculty member who pursued her discipline with zeal and made important contributions to UMD.