A Tribute to Lois Cronholm on the occasion of Her 90th Birthday:
“The love of science and that of another”
When Lois met Stuart, it was more than mere combustion: it was science!
We celebrate the achievements of not only the 90th birthday of this incomparable woman but also the love of her life, the late, revered Dr. Stuart Neff. We offer this tribute with gratitude and admiration as three former students, now dear friends, whose five-decades old association with these scholars changed our lives for the better. Lois and Stuart helped transform us into scientists and lawyers, and continuing advocates for a just and sustainable society.
Those fortunate to have shared this journey know already that Drs. Cronholm and Neff met as faculty members in the Biology Department at the University of Louisville. She was (is!) the fierce intellectual fireball, microbiologist, student of law, seeker of social justice, and woman of more “firsts” than can be imagined, and that is saying a lot of a woman in those times. This included being the first female full professor in an otherwise male-only department then the first academic dean at the University. Lois’s achievements are many, and she attributes the strong support and urging of Dr. Neff as her most important incentives in taking on and succeeding in those many roles. In biology, we call this symbiosis; in life, we call this love.
Dr. Neff, who received his undergraduate degree at the University of Louisville and his PhD from Cornell, was a professor of biology at Virginia Tech, UofL, then taught full-time at Temple University until his retirement at age 85. We came to know Dr. Neff as a celebrated ecologist in UofL’s nationally-respected Water Resources Laboratory, whose expansive understanding of the freshwater environment was rivaled by his encyclopedic knowledge of seemingly everything else. A decorated Navy veteran of World War II and the Korean War, he was an expert on the Civil War, a dedicated film, opera and poetry buff, and published widely on limnology and entomology. Dr. Neff’s unboastful yet unfailing command of a wide array of topics made him “Dr. Google” long before that internet search engine was discovered.
Put simply, they fell in love, grew together, and remained in love throughout their marriage of over 40 years. They encouraged, supported, and challenged one another in sharing lives that were never dull. Separately, each one was formidable; together, they were an even more significant structure. To borrow from Shakespeare’s A Winter’s Tale, they followed “unpathed waters,” ones that we graduate students were shown to “undreamed shores.”
Although we join Lois in mourning the passing of Dr. Neff in 2016, we take this opportunity to rejoice in the life they shared, and thank them for all they taught us. We wish Dr. Cronholm the happiest of 90 years, with the fond hope of more to share. It is a singular achievement to reach one’s 90th, but even this milestone almost pales in light of all she has attained. Here we recount some of the highlights. For the reader who wishes to delve more deeply, we suggest the 2019 publication “A Lifetime of Achievement: Our Collection of Prestigious Listees” by Marquis Who’s Who.
Dr. Cronholm is a native of St. Louis, MO. Her father, whose family were Jewish immigrants from Russia, worked as a tailor, and believed it was his daughter’s duty to work to help fund her brothers’ education. Fortunately for all, Lois was not satisfied with only this role. In a time before a college education was common for young women, she studied part-time at Washington University then St. Louis University and completed her bachelor’s degree summa cum laude in 1962 at the University of Louisville. Continuing on with her education, she received her PhD in biology; her dissertation examined “The Role of Photosynthesis in Tumorigenesis in Kalanchoe.” Dr. Cronholm completed a National Institute of Health pre-and postdoctoral fellowship in Microbiology at the UofL Medical School. After teaching microbiology at the university, she was appointed Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UofL from 1978-1985. While professor and dean at UofL and raising her family, Lois also attended its law school, where she received the top American Jurisprudence Award in a number of courses.
From 1985 to 1992, she was Dean of Arts and Sciences at Temple University in Philadelphia, moving next to serve as Provost and Senior Vice President of Baruch College of the City University of New York (1992-1998), then Interim President of Baruch (1998-1999). In 1999, she became the Chief Executive Officer for the Center for Jewish History in New York City during its inaugural period. Dr. Cronholm returned to City University New York to preside over the university’s administrative functions as Chief Operating Officer and Senior Vice President (2001-2008). She then served as a consultant, and was Development Consultant of the Educational Housing Services of New York and as a strategic consultant to the New York Health and Hospital Corporation’s upper Manhattan hospitals, two Presidents and an Interim President of Baruch College, and the CUNY Honors Program. From 1985 until her retirement in 2008, Dr. Cronholm was active in a number of important academic organizations and United States government planning committees, and testified before a Congressional Committee hearing on the Equal Rights Amendment. Lois continues her longtime fight for social justice, and remains active in her pursuit of civil rights and equality.
Throughout their productive careers, Lois Cronholm and Stuart Neff supported, cheered on, and encouraged one another to fulfill their dreams and potential. They were dedicated to one another, their family, their chosen fields of endeavor, and their community in its largest sense. They continued to mentor and encourage their current, future, and former students.
Lois continues her passionate quest for learning, sharing, and caring, and never letting go of her belief in the transformational power of love and science.
Happy birthday, dear Lois – happy birthday to you!
…. by Dr. Reba Page, Dr. Stephen A. Elbert, and Dr. Ronald R. Van Stockum, Jr