The Magazine of the University of Minnesota Duluth

Volume 21• Number 2 • Summer 2004


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Honoring Theron O. Odlaug, UMD Biology Professor

Above left: UMD Professor Theron O. Odlaug. Center: Theron O. Odlaug and his nephew Theron E. Odlaug. Right: Lucille Odlaug.

When the new James I. Swenson Science Building opens in 2005, it will already have tradition and history. That’s because one of the general biology laboratories will have a name that comes from UMD’s past. It will be named after Dr. Theron O. Odlaug, former head of the UMD Department of Biology. Odlaug’s nephew, Dr. Theron E. Odlaug, (Ted Odlaug), has made a generous gift to UMD to ensure that the legacy of his uncle continues throughout the life of the Swenson Science Building, just as it did in the existing Life Science Building.

Last fall, after Ted made the gift to UMD, he was with his aunt Lucille, Professor Odlaug’s wife, at a family gathering. “While the rest of our family was in another room, Ted sat down next to me,” Lucille said. “He told me what he had done, and then he asked me to come with him to the dedication in Duluth. This new building will strengthen teaching and learning.”

Before joining the faculty here, Professor Odlaug earned his undergraduate degree from Luther College in Decora, Iowa and his doctorate from New York University. It was during his summer break from NYU, while visiting relatives in Nevis, Minnesota, that he met Lucille. After they were married, Professor Odlaug taught in colleges in New York, Montana and Nebraska. He worked as an aquatic biologist for the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife in Gig Harbor, Washington. He began his career in Duluth in 1945 as a professor of zoology at the former Duluth State Teachers College, which later became UMD. Lucille remembers the trek students and faculty had to take to get from Old Main up to the science building, the sole building on the new UMD campus. “We called it the Yukon Trail,” she said. “They didn’t shovel the snow, the path was just too long, so everyone had to make their way through the snowdrifts to get to class.”
In addition to teaching courses in Animal Parasitology, Helminthology, Human Anatomy, Comparative Anatomy of Vertebrates, Oceanography, and Water Quality Investigative and Research Techniques, Professor Odlaug did research on Lake Superior and spent summers at the UMD Limnological Research Center on London Road. One of his projects was to collect plankton samples by using a device that was towed behind an ore carrier. In addition, his research on parasite life histories was published widely, and he authored a laboratory manual on the anatomy of the fetal pig, a work that is still in print, now in its eleventh edition.

“I realized what an incredible guy he was when I did my undergraduate work in biology at the University of Missouri-Kansas City,” said Ted Odlaug. “When I taught a lab course as a grad student, we used the laboratory manual my uncle wrote. He was a mentor to me of the most profound kind. I was so happy when he attended the first paper I gave in 1972 at a scientific meeting on the Univeristy of Minnesota, Minneapolis campus. His encouragement was helpful to me.” Ted Odlaug followed in his uncle’s footsteps, graduating with his Ph.D from the University of Minnesota. He is now executive vice president of the pharmaceutical company, Fujisawa Healthcare, Inc. in Deerfield, Illinois.

In 2003, Ted Odlaug contacted UMD about making a special gift for the Swenson Science Building in memory of his uncle. One of his conversations was with Linda Holmstrand, UMD associate professor of biology. Holmstrand knew Professor Odlaug for more than forty years‚ at first as a student and advisee, then later as a colleague in the department. He was her mentor as well. “I heard all the stories,” she said. “In the pioneer years, the department was small and close-knit. Facilities were poor, pay was subpar, and there was only one telephone for the entire science division. Through these years, Professor Odlaug had the respect and loyalty of his faculty and was reappointed as department head for more than 20 years.”

Holmstrand and Lucille Odlaug told the same story about Professor Odlaug and his taste in restaurant dining. He always ordered Salisbury steak, well done. “It was burnt by most people’s standards,” said Lucille Odlaug. “You have to remember,” said Holmstrand, “He was a parasitologist!”

Lucille Odlaug said that Professor Odlaug’s greatest joy was to teach. She said, “He did it wholeheartedly and with love and he was always so excited when one of his students got into medical school.”

Lucille believes in UMD. She has made two charitable gift annuities herself, to add to the scholarship that was established in Professor Odlaug’s name by a former student. Here’s how Lucille’s gift annuities work. She made gifts of cash to the University of Minnesota Foundation for the benefit of UMD and the Foundation invests the assets. UMD guarantees to pay Lucille’s daughter, Margaret and son, Michael, an annual payment for life. That way, Lucille can leave something for her children and help UMD at the same time. Margaret graduated from UMD in 1959 with an economics and business administration A.A. degree; Michael received his undergraduate degree in biology from UMD in 1967, an M.S. in marine biology from the University of Washington in 1968, and an M.S. in public health from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities in 1974.
Professor Theron Odlaug was an integral, inspirational and indefatigable part of UMD. His wife, his nephew, his former students and his colleagues all agree. He was an inspirational teacher, a caring person, and deserving of all this attention.

— Cheryl Reitan

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