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55 years spent at ASU leaves Fuchs satisfied

August 23, 2007

On their very first day in Arizona, in 1952, a young woman at an information desk at Arizona State College told Rose and Jack Fuchs that they should keep a vigilant watch for scorpions, even shaking out their socks before putting them on.

“That evening, my wife was bawling and wanted to go home (back to Illinois),” Jack Fuchs says.

Obviously, the scorpion stories didn’t scare them, and Fuchs recently “retired” after teaching chemistry at ASU for 55 years.

Fuchs, who believes he is the longest-serving faculty member in the history of ASU and its predecessor institutions, retains his office in the

Bateman Physical Sciences Center. He will teach an occasional class and continue to advise students, in addition to evaluating transfer students’ transcripts.

For Fuchs, it’s like having ice cream without having to turn the crank. He can still enjoy being around students, but he doesn’t have to grade a bunch of exams or assign homework.

Though he can’t fully explain his fascination with chemistry, Fuchs knew at a very young age what he wanted to be when he grew up.
“When I was 7 or 8, I said I was going to be a chemist,” he recalls. “I had chemistry sets, but they didn’t have what I wanted, so my father took me to Eimer & Amend, a chemical supply store in New York.”

Once the clerk at Eimer & Amend was satisfied that this young boy knew how to handle the more advanced chemicals, the sale was made.
Fuchs had planned to be a bench chemist, but his life was changed forever after he taught his first class as a graduate assistant at the University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign.

“Even after only one semester, I decided teaching was for me,” he says.

Some might say that Fuchs has lived a charmed life. He was drafted into the Army in 1944, after graduating from New York University with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry.

“I was a rifleman, and did see action in the European theater,” Fuchs says.

His unit landed at Normandy, but three months after the D-Day invasion where so many Americans were killed.

“After combat in the south of France, my unit was sent to Holland, and we were just beginning to train for the invasion of Germany, but I had developed trench foot and I was sent to the hospital,” he says

While he was in the hospital, doctors discovered a lump on the small bone in his leg, and he was sent to Utica, N.Y., via Paris for a biopsy.

“I had a big red tag on that said, ‘Possible osteogenic sarcoma,’ ” he says.

Before the biopsy, he quietly stole his hospital records to find out what the doctor had planned for him. Then, to his relief, he learned that he didn’t have bone cancer after all.

“They thought that I had a fracture that hadn’t healed properly, that the bone had overgrown over the fracture,” he says.

Now ready for service again, he was earmarked for shipment to the Far East. But the atomic bombs dropped on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki ended the war, and Fuchs arrived home in New York on Halloween night, where he celebrated by dancing with a hat-check girl at his father’s nightclub.

After he earned his doctoral degree in 1950 at the University of Illinois, he received a post-doctoral research appointment and subsequently started looking at the job market.

Teaching jobs were scarce, so when word came to Illinois that there might be a job in Arizona, Fuchs’ colleagues suggested that he look into it.

“Dr. Bateman offered me the job sight unseen, and I took it, sight unseen,” Fuchs says.

Fuch and his wife crammed almost everything they owned into their car, and they shipped the rest, packed into two barrels – and Fuchs’ set of drums – to Arizona.

“When we arrived, the barrels and drums were all sitting on Dr. Bateman’s front porch,” Fuchs says.

And thus began Fuchs’ triple life in Arizona as chemistry professor, professional tympanist and sportsman.

Though he had started out his musical education on the violin, Fuchs had dabbled with drums, and finally in college he switched to tympani and played with the Sperry Symphony, an orchestra sponsored by the Sperry Corp.

He was principal tympanist with the Phoenix Symphony from 1952 to 1979, with guest artists such as Dame Margot Fonteyn, Jack Benny, Pablo Casals and Andres Segovia, then played with the Sun Cities Symphony Orchestra from 1983 to 2002.

“Music was as much a part of my life as chemistry,” he says.

Then there were the tennis matches.

“There was a time when ASU had a faculty tennis team, he says. “There was a civic league, and we’d play a match every weekend.”
Fuchs also played with the legendary ASU coaches Frank Kush, Bobby Winkles and Ned Wulk, and together they were a formidable foursome.

Kush says of Fuchs: “He was really active and involved with programs at ASU. He was one of those individuals who always cared about his students and made sure they were going to be successful.”

And, added Kush, who lost to Fuchs more than once on the court: “His tennis game was as good as his intellect.”

The Fuchses were regulars at ASU football, baseball and basketball games until Rose passed away nearly 12 years ago, and their son was a batboy for Winkles’ and Jim Brock’s teams.

Fuchs looks back at his 55 years at ASU with justifiable pride. He served as executive officer of the chemistry department for 14 years, and he was elected national president of the Society for Applied Spectroscopy in 1985.

But it is the students that Fuchs remembers most fondly, from the scientists who attended his Infrared and Ultraviolet Absorption Spectroscopy and Modern Industrial Spectroscopy summer sessions he offered for 36 and 40 years, respectively, at ASU, to the young students who discovered the magic of chemistry under his tutelage.

“I like to be involved with young people,” he says. “My wife and I never grew up.”

They also never found a single scorpion in their house – or their socks.