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nature, society, and the human experience

Professor Emeritus Sandra Winicur Passes Away at 73

  Sandra Winicur, professor emeritus of Biology, passed away on Dec. 8 from complications due to multiple myeloma after fighting the disease for twenty years.  Dr. Winicur retired in 2004, but the legacy she left with the university remains in the hearts and minds of her colleagues and her students.

Dr. Winicur graduated cum laude from Hunter College, earned her Masters from the University of Connecticut and her doctorate from CalTech.  She was hired at IU South Bend in 1970 and taught sciences for the next thirty years.  Throughout her career she was an ambassador for science, instructing undergraduate students, school teachers and nursing students in biology, as well as writing and lecturing on physiology, the biology of aging, the biology of women, and the position of women in scientific literature.  She made the joy of discovery an essential component of her teaching, no matter who her students might be.  Outside of IUSB, she judged science fairs from the elementary through the high school level throughout the Northern Indiana region.  She founded the Northern Indiana Biology Alliance, an organization established to facilitate information sharing between high school and college biology teachers.  She was an avid reader and writer, using the power of her pen to unite the often-separate worlds of literature and science to tell the stories that so often get lost beneath mountains of hard data and theory.

On Honors Day in 1979, she had this to say about science and discovery, words that speak as much to her life and passion as to the students she praises:

“When you leave here this afternoon, you could go and sit by the St. Joseph River, or some local lake or pond, and enjoy the breeze, the sunlight and the beauty of nature.  If you were of an inquiring turn of mind you might lean close to the water and watch an occasional fish dart by and see the water insects skimming the surface, their legs too blunt and their weight too diffuse to break the surface tension.  But there are always some students among you who will take a drop of the calmest water and some material from the bank and put it under the microscope in a breezeless, sunless laboratory.  Then you would see Stentor, a large trumpet-shaped protozoan with blue stripes, almost a millimeter long, swimming through the algae hunting its prey.  You might find a small, many-tentacled ballerina, but just waiting for some miniscule victim to swim within reach of its extensile arms with their poisoned barbs.  With diligent search you could find the cup-like Vorticella, beating food out of the water with its cilia, and quickly coiling its anchoring stalk into a tight helix when a restless roundworm comes wriggling by.  The round-worm is always there, and yet always a surprise—for with all of its thousand cells, it is often almost as small as the occasional unicellular Paramecium

                If you were of a classical turn and had an especially broad education, you might reflect on how the trumpet-like Stentor was named for a herald in the Iliad famous for his loud voice, and how the tentacled Hydra is called after the many-headed serpent of Greek mythology which could grow two heads where one was cut off and which was finally killed by Hercules with a firebrand. 

                To make that watery world real, to be able to call its denizens by name, do you know how many hours of not sitting by the river one must amass?  That’s one price paid, and it’s a stiff one.  And yet, among all the students who can identify these creatures, the ones we hope we are honoring today are those who will see an animal they’ve never seen before swim under the lens, and will not rest till they’ve found out what it is, what it’s doing there, and how it fits into the scene.  We honor most, not those who have learned how to answer the questions, but those who have learned how to ask them.”

She was honored several times during her distinguished career.  In 1991, IUSB awarded her the Faculty Colloquium on Excellence in Teaching and the Distinguished Faculty Award in 1992.  She received the Herman Frederic Lieber Award for excellence in teaching in 1993.  She was a member of the National Association of Biology Teachers, founding the Four-Year College Section of the NABT.  In 2010, she won first place in the Writers Digest writing contest in the “Religious and Inspirational” category with her story “Rebecca and the Future.”

The family has asked that in lieu of flowers, donations should be made to the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (383 Main Avenue, 5th Floor, Norwalk, CT 06851), or Temple Beth-El (305 South Madison Street, South Bend, IN 46601).

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