- By Jay Goyette
When Robert W. Detenbeck, emeritus professor of physics, died last summer at age eighty, he was celebrated as an accomplished researcher and one of UVM’s most beloved teachers.
His widow, Jeanne Detenbeck G’77, has recently built on that legacy with a gift of $150,000 to establish a scholarship in his honor in the Department of Physics. The Dr. Robert W. Detenbeck Scholarship will be awarded to undergraduate or graduate students majoring in physics, with preference given to graduate students.
Originally, Mrs. Detenbeck had intended to fund the scholarship through her estate. But an unexpected and substantial jump in the value of the stock she had been holding for that purpose convinced her that it made sense to make the gift during her lifetime so she could see the impact of her philanthropy. “It’s something I never expected to be able to do and could never do again.” she says. “I hope I get a chance to meet the students who receive the scholarship.”
Professor Robert Detenbeck capped a twenty-eight-year career on the faculty at UVM as the winner of the Alumni Association’s George V. Kidder Outstanding Faculty Award in 1995, the year he retired. “Bob guided and mentored so many students,” recalls his wife of fifty-nine years. “That was what he really wanted to do most, to teach students and to advise them and such. After he died, I got cards and letters from former students and even faculty that he had helped along the way.”
“This generous gift comes at an opportune time,” says Dennis Clougherty, professor and chair of the UVM Physics Department. “We are in the process of launching a Ph.D. program in physics, and we are looking forward to growing this program in a newly constructed, state-of-the-art STEM complex in three years.”
Robert and Jeanne Detenbeck both received bachelor’s degrees from the University of Rochester—he in physics and she in chemistry. Robert earned his doctorate in physics at Princeton University in 1962. His research at UVM was primarily in optical physics.
Jeanne Detenbeck was something of a trailblazer for today’s growing numbers of nontraditional students, having earned her master’s degree at age forty-five. She began taking geology courses at UVM after a trip to Colorado and its mountainous beauty inspired her to learn more about the science that created it. “I began auditing courses, and it just evolved into a degree in geology,” she says.
As she thinks about the impact her giving will have over the years, she says, “This is a way to pay back the department for Bob’s time there. Having his name on the scholarship means something to them and to me.”