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Our Rich History: From math to computers — pre 21st Century Villa Madonna/Thomas More College


By Dr. Raymond Hebert
University of Thomas More

Part 55 of our series, “Retrospect and Vista II” Thomas More College/University 1971-2021

This is Sister Mary Elizabeth Frisch, OSB, Ph.D. (from the Catholic University of America, according to Thomas Henry Hanna (Dissertation – “The History and Status of Villa Madonna College; 1962 – University of Cincinnati) which provides the main details about the early history of the Mathematics department at Villa Madonna College.

Sister Mary Elizabeth Frisch, OSB, Ph.D., early chair of the Mathematics department. (TMU Archives)

The Mathematics department was within the Sciences until 1929. Sister M. Domitilla Thuener, OSB served as the first chair of the combined departments (1921–1929) and then as head of the separate Mathematics department (1929–1943). He was immediately followed by Sister Mary Elizabeth Frisch, who was the chair during Dr.’s dissertation. Hanna in 1961. At that time, teachers in the department included James Brooks, Sr. Mary Hulitta Ege, OSB, Sister Mary Rose Rauen, OSB, William Bettenhorn, and Lawrence Mammering, with others added in 1961, namely Robert L. Becker, John McAnow, and Harvey Weitkamp (Hanna dissertation, p. 248) .

It was noted, as a sign of things to come, that “as of the June graduation of 1961, 61 Mathematics majors had graduated from the college; with 36 now concentrating in Mathematics in the spring of 1961. Eighteen graduates of the department went on for graduate study, and of this number, six earned their master’s degree, one a doctorate, and four now (1961) in graduate school” (Hanna dissertation). The dissertation then describes the major offerings, and adds that all students majoring in Physics and Chemistry are required to take Mathematics courses each year.

Sister Mary Elizabeth’s conclusion was that: “in 1960 and 1961, in addition to revising its curriculum, the Mathematics Department strengthened its course offerings and raised the performance standards expected of students. to meet the demands of graduate schools of science that future students be better prepared in the field of Mathematics” (Hanna dissertation, p. 249). Clearly, Villa Madonna College’s pursuit of respectability as a liberal arts institution relies on the strength of the Mathematics department as guaranteed by the founding order of Benedictine brothers and its mathematicians, Sister M. Domitilla Thuener, OSB, Sister Mary Elizabeth Frisch, OSB, and Sister M. Rose Rauen, OSB

Kenneth Taylor and Steven Lameier, longtime faculty members at
Department of mathematics. (TMU Archives)

Shortly after that, two laymen played an important role in what would be the direction of the math department in the next few decades: Dr. Steven H. Lameier and Mr. Kenneth Taylor (who would become one of the longest-serving faculty members of the college’s Computer Science program in the 1970s). Dr. Lameier was hired as a full-time faculty member in 1969 while completing his PhD at the University of Cincinnati (1973). He began as an instructor (1969–1972); then Assistant Professor (1972–1978); Associate Professor (1978–1982+) and served as chair for many years, beginning in 1982.

The research of Dr. Lameier is “Computer applications, probability and statistics, numerical analysis, approximation theory, univalent function theory, number theory, and real and complex analysis” (Steven H. Lameier, Curriculum Vita, March 26, 1968, TMU Archives). Dr. Lameier works in consulting firms. In addition, he has received teaching fellowships, NASA traineeships, and NSF/Phi Beta Kappa Fellowships. Consistently, year after year, Lameier has received positive teaching evaluations. He was a major pillar of the department’s success for the rest of the 20th Century (mostly as chair) and the beginning of the 21st Century. Other Mathematics faculty members over the years include Thomas Vanden Eynden, Debbie Calloway, and Jack Wells (who also teaches Physics and is still with Thomas More College in the 2020s).

Steve Lameier’s most influential counterpart was Kenneth Taylor, who also served Villa Madonna/Thomas More College for decades, first in Mathematics and then in Computer Science. Like Dr. Lameier, Ken also began in the 1960s (1966), rising to the rank of Associate Professor.

Taylor served as chair of the Mathematics department from 1970–1981, and then chair of Computer Science from 1981–1998.

Early computer lab at Thomas More College (1969). (TMU Archives)

Ken Taylor’s background is diverse, making him a perfect fit for a liberal arts institution like VMC/TMC. He started at Villa Madonna shortly after completing a Masters in Math Education at Xavier University (1964) and an MS in Math from Ohio State in 1966, continuing there for several years as a candidate in “All but Dissertation” in mathematics before switching his direction to the newly emerging field of Computer Science. In preparation, he completed the required graduate credit hours at a combination of the University of Central Oklahoma and James Madison University. For the remainder of his career at Thomas More College, until his retirement in 2011, Ken Taylor was a backbone of the college’s computer science program.

It seems like a divine service that the arrival of teachers, like professor Lameier and Taylor coincided with the transfer of the college to the Crestview Hills campus. On July 8, 1968, John L. Krebs, the first director of the College’s Computer Center, submitted a proposal for what would be the college’s first computer. In the words of the proposal: “to retain its stature as a first-class institution Thomas More College must upgrade the faculty in the use and application of computer technology in its educational curriculum (and) in our students currently enrolled with the use and application of computers regardless of their field of endeavor” (“Proposal for a Computer Installation at Thomas More College, July 9, 1968, p. 2, TMU Archives). surely a prophecy that will set the stage for what follows.

John L. Krebs, the first director of Thomas More’s Computer Center (1968). (TMU Archives)

It was only a few months ago (August 28, 1968) that a proposal was submitted for support in acquiring a computer installation for the college. The grant that followed was $57,400 (Press Release from President John Murphy, October 8, 1968, TMU Archives). It is noted that the first faculty hired for the center was Robert John Graham, as a part-time instructor and part-time programmer. The press notice continues that “the NSF grant exceeds any other at an institution the size of Thomas More College” (Press Release). TMC entered the computer world. The new director of the Computer Center is Margaret Geis.

The installation of a Connect/Campus Management System followed, along with the creation of an academic major and department of Computer Science. Among the first leaders in the development of the program were James McDevitt, Charles Bender, and finally Dr. Carl Evert, all encouraged by Academic Dean Dr. James Ebben and Dean of the Faculty Dr. Ron Mann. Dr. Evert will be a co-author in 1979 of What Every Engineer Should Know About Microcomputers: Hardware/Software Designwhile serving as a faculty member at Thomas More.

The administration strongly encourages interactions with other departments for Computer Science faculty and students, as well as the inclusion of at least one cooperative education (co-op) experience. Thomas More was helped by the experience of Dr. Evert at the University of Cincinnati, where he taught for decades and is a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering. UC is one of the leading co-op-based institutions in the United States. In 1978, President Robert Giroux named Dr. Evert as “Special Advisor to the President for Computer Affairs” (Letter from President Robert Giroux to Dean of the Faculty Dr. Ron Mann, to whom Dr. Evert previously reported, August 7, 1978, TMU Archives).

dr. Carl Evert, faculty member of the Department of Computer Science. He was eventually selected by President Robert Giroux to be the president’s special advisor for computer affairs. (TMU Archives)

In a letter from Dr. Carl Evert to Thomas More College (September 10, 1977), he suggested that the “purpose of the Department of Computer Science at Thomas More is to develop an educational program within the context of a liberal arts environment that will equip students with applicable skills and a comprehensive appreciation of the cultural implications of Computer technology in a modern society” (Dr. Carl F. Evert proposal for “Development of a Computer Science Program at Thomas More College, ” September 10, 1977, TMU Archives ).

In the next few decades, the dream of Dr. Evert was realized as his concept guided many talented teachers and staff of the Computer Center and Computer Science department through the balance of the 20th Century. Full-time faculty include Thomas Hext and Dorene Stall, and trailblazing staff members are Teresa Blum, Jay Blum, Chris Heist and Bill Swisher. Dave Manning preceded professors Hext and Stall. Two faculty from related fields with expertise and involvement are Dr. Bill Porter (Psychology) and Dr. Jim Swartz (Chemistry).

Dave Manning, a talented faculty member in the Computer Science department. (TMU Archives)

As previously noted, our longtime mathematician, Ken Taylor, with his graduate training in computer science, was a stabilizing figure in both departments, as he served as chair of Mathematics from in 1970–1981 and chair of Computer Science from 1981–1988. During those years before 2000, TMC joined the Catholic College Computer Consortium, organized summer computer camps, encouraged proposals to improve the use of microcomputers, established a popular newsletter called “Nibble News” and is doing everything possible to bring the Thomas More community into the online world.

Dr. Raymond G. Hebert is Professor of History and Executive Director of the William T. Robinson III Institute for Religious Liberty at Thomas More University. He recently completed his 46th year at Thomas More and, with that background, will now serve as General Editor of the official history of Thomas More College/University from 1971-2021. Along with the anticipated title of RETROSPECT AND VISTA II, it will serve as a sequel to RETROSPECT AND VISTA by Sr. Irmina Saelinger, the history of the first 50 years of Thomas More College (formerly Villa Madonna College). He can be contacted at
hebertr@thomasmore.edu.

We want to learn more about the history of your business, church, school, or organization in our region (Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, and along the Ohio River). If you would like to share your rich history with others, please contact the editor of “Our Rich History,” Paul A. Tenkotte, at tenkottep@nku.edu. Paul A. Tenkotte, PhD is Professor of History and Gender Studies at Northern Kentucky University (NKU) and the author of numerous books and articles.

Margaret Geis, the second director of Thomas More’s Computer Center. (TMU Archives)





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