Enough Tupperware
by Leslie Lawrence '72


Memorial Minute

Werner Bromund

Emeritus Professor of Chemistry

Werner Bromund was a faculty member in chemistry at Oberlin College for 38 years from 1937 until he retired in 1975. On the faculty, his field was analytical chemistry, but, as we shall see, he came to that specialty by an unusual route. I write this Memorial Minute having been Werner's student in two courses in the early 1950s and having subsequently been his faculty colleague for 18 years. Werner died July 14, 2000, at The Renaissance, the retirement center in Olmsted Township, Ohio, where he and his wife, Elizabeth, had moved in 1989 before Kendal was a reality.

Werner Hermann Bromund was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1909. His father had been an opera singer in Germany but, after emigrating to the U.S., he had trained and served as a pastor before also training in medicine and becoming a practicing M.D. Werner's mother was also of German heritage. Until Werner began elementary school, he spoke the German language at home.

The Bromund family was living in Chicago when Werner enrolled at the University of Chicago in 1927. At Chicago he began his studies with the intention of studying law or medicine, but he found chemistry more to his liking. He also became sufficiently skilled in the gymnastic exercise of Indian Clubs to become the Big-10 and the ICAA champion. He attributed this talent to his being ambidextrous.

Werner was graduated from the University of Chicago with Phi Beta Kappa honors in 1932 in the depths of the Great Depression and accepted a teaching assistantship in the MA program in chemistry at Oberlin College. He completed his thesis for the MA in organic chemistry in 1935. He had already moved on to the PhD program at New York University in 1934, where he did research with Robert Herbst in organic chemistry. During his third year at NYU, Werner was recruited at the last minute to teach the undergraduate course in analytical chemistry because he had had experience as a teaching assistant in this course in the previous year. Meanwhile, at Oberlin College in 1936, William Chapin, a distinguished analytical chemist, had suffered a stroke. In 1937 with his PhD research incomplete, Werner returned as the second person to be a one-year tryout as a replacement for Chapin. In 1938 Werner was appointed to a continuing position on the Oberlin College faculty. Through summer work he completed his PhD in organic chemistry at NYU and received his doctorate in 1942 but had by then metamorphosed into an analytical chemist. Analytical chemistry, which Werner taught almost exclusively at various levels at Oberlin, suited his innate sense of order, precision, and love of techniques such as glassblowing, microscopy, and photography. Werner's standing as an analytical chemist was confirmed when, in 1944, he co-authored with Luke Steiner the second edition of the laboratory manual from William Chapin's exceptional course, Exercises in Second Year College Chemistry, John Wiley and Sons, which integrated analytical chemistry and physical chemistry.

During his two years as a graduate student in Oberlin, Werner met Elizabeth H. Bacon '27. They were married in 1935. Two children, Richard '62, and Mary Elizabeth (Marylee) Burke were born to the Bromunds. Dick is professor of analytical chemistry at the College of Wooster, and Marylee lives in Lorain, Ohio.

Werner's first sabbatical leave was spent in New York in 1951, but in a different setting from that of his PhD work. He was at Queens College doing research with the noted microchemist, A. A. Benedetti-Pichler. This experience not only led to a publication, but it also reinforced the growing professional interest that Werner had already expressed in a course, microchemical analysis, and in a working relationship with Richard Buck, who founded the Intermuseum Conservation Laboratory, associated with Allen Art Museum. In 1958, a second sabbatical leave was also devoted to the study of microchemistry techniques at the famous Kofler/Kuhnert-Brandstätter school in Innsbruck, Austria, where Werner's German was regarded as being of antique 1915 vintage. Werner spent another sabbatical leave in 1971 working in the areas of microchemistry and analytical chemistry as applied to art conservation with Sidney Siggia at the University of Massachusetts and with Richard Buck in Oberlin. Werner's earlier leave from Oberlin in 1964-65 was devoted to teaching analytical chemistry for a term each at American and Lady Doak Colleges in Madurai, India, and at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan, under the sponsorship of the Oberlin Shansi Memorial Association.

Werner had many links to the Oberlin community. In his early days on the faculty he followed Chapin's footsteps in working with the Oberlin Water Works and checking on chemical procedures. He served on the Oberlin Public Utilities Commission and on the Lorain County Board of Health. He did blood alcohol analyses for the Police Department. He consulted on analytical chemical procedures for local industries. He was an active member of First Church and was known for installing and maintaining the special lighting for the Christmas season. Werner was also an energetic and dedicated gardener. Our family became closely associated with Werner's beautiful gardens when our son, David, took care of them for the summer of 1981. That experience gave David a vital interest in gardening that finds one expression in a Werner-Bromund-like composter.

Werner had a strong interest in the historical record. He saved everything. Had it not been for the treasure trove in Werner's basement, the famous aluminum gong, which is again rung each year to celebrate Charles Hall's great discovery, would have been lost. When the chemistry department moved from Severance Laboratory to Kettering Hall in 1961, Werner carefully packed up much antique chemical apparatus and written records that reached back through William Chapin to Frank Jewett. He also saved chemical materials that he had found elsewhere. The records have been deposited in the college's archives. Much of the chemical apparatus was recently donated to the extensive history-of-chemistry collection that is housed and displayed at the University of Cincinnati.

For almost four decades all chemistry and premed majors at Oberlin took Werner's analytical chemistry course, and most took his advanced course. Among students he was well known for the high standards of experimental precision and of numerical computation that he expected. Werner Bromund is well remembered by his colleagues and many former students.

Norman C. Craig is emeritus professor of chemistry at Oberlin College. This Memorial Minute was adopted by a rising vote of the General Faculty of Oberlin College on October 24, 2000.

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