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IU Northwest shows gratitude for one of its most treasured supporters


Keith Lorentzen, associate professor emeritus, to be honored at Chancellor’s Medallion celebration

Wednesday Sep 28, 2016


It’s not often that a person can say he’s devoted nearly his entire adult life to one university. Even more rare is for a university to have a close and trusted friend for nearly its entire existence.

Indiana University Northwest is proud to have a friend for life in Keith Lorentzen, Ph.D., a man who became one of the university’s earliest instructors in 1955, who worked tirelessly to build a respected program in chemistry, and who continues to support the university and its students well into his retirement.

For as long as IU Northwest has been educating students, going back to its earliest days offering classes toward two-year IU degrees in East Chicago and Gary, before today’s campus as we know it existed, Lorentzen has been there.

And while he retired from IU Northwest 28 years ago, Lorentzen’s support continues indefinitely thanks to the scholarship he created in 2002, given annually to an outstanding chemistry student.

In gratitude for his lifelong service and enduring support of IU Northwest, Lorentzen will be presented with the university’s highest honor, The Chancellor’s Medallion, on November 10.

The honor, bestowed upon two of the university’s most loyal and trusted champions—those whose continued support, whether of time, talent or treasure, has made a profound impact on IU Northwest and its students.

A recent visit to the honoree’s Munster home had Lorentzen reminiscing, not only about his long history with IU Northwest, but also his respect for higher education and his feelings about students pursuing their dreams. Even Evelyn, his wife since 1980, learned a few new things about Lorentzen and the extraordinary life that prompted IU Northwest to thank him for his loyalty.

The G.I. Bill and high expectations

For Lorentzen, born and raised in rural Utah by a university professor and a school teacher, higher education was always an expectation.

Fortunately, he was able to finish his B.A. degree in chemistry in 1942 before being sent to war. The very day he was handed his undergraduate diploma from the University of Utah in 1942, he also received his military orders, which held up the start of his career and his plans for graduate school.

In 1947, he returned home and went directly back to the University of Utah on the G.I. Bill where he earned his master’s degree.

A research scholarship took Lorentzen and his new wife, Frances, to Penn State University where he earned his Ph.D. The couple then moved to Munster in 1951 for a job in the research labs of the Standard Oil refinery in Whiting and soon began their family of six children.

A new career is born

In 1955, Lorentzen started teaching evening Physics 101 classes in East Chicago, at one of the locations in Northwest Indiana that offered classes toward an IU degree. Later, a campus in Gary known as Gary Main became what IU Northwest is today.

Not long after he began teaching, Standard Oil, which had since been renamed to American Oil, moved their research labs to Naperville, Ill., but Lorentzen decided he wanted to stay in Northwest Indiana.

“So I asked the director if they needed a chemist,” Lorentzen said. “They just had one man teaching chemistry.”

Lorentzen made the trek to Bloomington to interview for the position, before I-65 existed. In 1963, Lorentzen left American Oil for a full-time position at IU Northwest. In the years that followed, Lorentzen traveled to the main campus many times, and sat on numerous committees charged with various administrative goals, such as ensuring that the upcoming degrees were as academically rigorous as the programs in Bloomington, that the department could acquire the scientific equipment it needed for its laboratories, and that it hired the best-qualified faculty.

Beyond the degree: Taking education to the next level

The opportunity to maximize his higher education with the G.I. Bill made Lorentzen appreciate the value of philanthropy.

Once the degree program was in place, the next contribution he made was to make an ordinary education extraordinary.

“One thing I wanted to do was have an undergraduate seminar for students who were pursuing a chemistry degree,” Lorentzen said. “I gave some money to the IU Foundation that was used to invite speakers to the university. They’d present seminars and students would give seminars of their own. We had enough money that we could continue the seminar each year.”

Then came what was perhaps his most profound contribution—the establishment of a scholarship.

“At that time, they were making it possible for any student, regardless of their academic standing to get money for college,” Lorentzen said, “but a lot of those students would eventually drop out. I wanted to start a scholarship that would be a competitive, academic scholarship for an accomplished student who was committed to finishing their degree.”

Lorentzen continues to receive letters of gratitude from recipients of the Keith Lorentzen Scholarship Award each year.

“The students often say that without the scholarship, their families could not provide them the money to pay tuition,” Lorentzen said. “It feels really good to help.”

Asked why he continues to give to IU Northwest and its students, Lorentzen simply said, “because education is important. All but one of our children have college educations and one grandchild does too.”

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For information about the IU Northwest Department of Chemistry, Physics and Astronomy, and available awards/scholarships, visit iun.edu/chemistry.

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