Park Wiseman arrived at Ball State in 1947 expecting to spend a year there, maybe two.
After all, Wiseman was a chemist with a doctoral degree, while Ball State Teachers College (as the University was known at that time) held only a marginal interest in science. The institution focused almost entirely on preparing educators for the classroom. Wiseman, on the other hand, wanted to prepare students for careers in science.
“We had a ‘chemistry area’ then,” Wiseman recalled. “It wasn’t even called a department. All the sciences were banded around the biology department. The emphasis was on science education.”
Wiseman never left, though.
Instead of using Ball State to advance his career, Wiseman used his career to advance Ball State.
He retired in 1982 but remains an emeritus faculty member. He still lives in Muncie and on December 29, 2018, he turns 100 years old.
That he and Ball State are passing the century mark together in 2018 is a coincidence worth celebrating. But the occasion is especially noteworthy because of the key role Wiseman played in helping grow the institution into a full-fledged university with an abundance of degree programs.
Wiseman and others helped convince John Emens, who served as Ball State’s president from 1945 to 1968, to establish independent academic departments for math, physics, chemistry, biology, and geology, and to expand the institution’s mission beyond just science education. Wiseman was the first head of the chemistry department when it was formed in 1965 and served for four years.
“Park Wiseman was instrumental in setting up the 43-hour chemistry major program and attaining accreditation by the American Chemical Society,” said Robert E. Sammelson, current chemistry department chair.
“Perhaps just as important is that he set the tone in the department that remains positive and focuses on student-centered learning.”
Wiseman’s lasting contributions are commemorated in a scholarship that bears his name, established by one of the many students touched by the chemist’s influence and kindness.
“We are lucky that so many young people have benefited,” Wiseman said about the scholarship during an hour-long interview this Fall at his residence in Muncie’s Westminster Village.
Wiseman knows firsthand the value of financial aid. A scholarship allowed him to launch his academic career, after enduring a childhood where a college education seemed like a faraway dream.
Born on a farm north of Defiance, Ohio, he was the youngest of four kids. His father, Elmer, who taught school in addition to farming, died when Park was 4 years old.
“It was Christmastime,” Wiseman said. “The hogs got out. He went outside and try to run them down in zero-degree weather.”
The 41-year-old father developed pneumonia in both lungs.
“That was the end,” Wiseman said.
His mother, Anna, sold the farm and moved the family into Defiance. She supported her children through the Great Depression by cooking and sewing. Wiseman and his brother eventually helped, too. Each delivered newspapers, and his brother caddied for golfers at a country club.
“If you made money, it went into the pile,” Wiseman said.
Wiseman attended DePauw University on a full-tuition Rector Scholarship, described by the university as its oldest and preeminent merit academic scholarship. Wiseman knew his mother couldn’t afford to pay for room and board, so he borrowed money and paid off the loan by working as a head waiter his senior year.
In his junior year, Wiseman met a sophomore music student named Marjorie Nelson on a blind date. They fell in love and married shortly after Marjorie graduated. After DePauw, the Wisemans moved to West Lafayette so Park could attend Purdue University, where he earned an MS and PhD in organic chemistry.
Their family grew to include a son, Greg, and, later, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Marjorie also made her career at Ball State, serving as director of circulation in University Libraries. She died in 2017 at the age of 97.
During their 75-year marriage, “I never recall having a serious argument,” Wiseman said.
From bench to classroom
Prior to launching his academic career, Wiseman worked as a “bench chemist” with Firestone Tire and Rubber Company in Akron, Ohio. The job required him to work with hydrofluoric acid.
“I never quite relaxed,” he said.
After a year in Akron, Wiseman moved to Muncie, happy to be interacting with students instead of dangerous chemical solutions.
Bob Reed, ’58, vividly recalls Wiseman’s organic chemistry class.
In some large lecture settings, chemistry professors were known for writing equations in chalk with the right hand and erasing them seconds later with the left hand, Reed said. Students were forced to keep up. Some got left behind. In contrast, Wiseman didn’t rush his lessons.
“When he lectured, he related chemistry to life,” Reed said. “Where you found these chemicals; what they were used for. It was a fascinating way to receive that kind of education.”
Wiseman remembers Bob too.
“He was one of the best students I ever had,” Wiseman said.
Reed called the class a turning point. He said it sparked a fascination with learning and set him on a path to become a medical doctor. A former Air Force flight surgeon, Reed practiced internal medicine and cardiology at Community Hospital in Indianapolis from 1973 through 1988. Wiseman’s former student then moved to Daviess County Hospital in Owensboro, Kentucky, to join a longtime friend to practice cardiology until his retirement in 2006.
After Reed’s graduation from Ball State as a math and chemistry education major, the pupil and the professor lost touch for 50 years. Wiseman was unaware of the oversized influence he had on Reed’s life. But Reed never forgot.
“Everybody remembers a good teacher in their life,” Reed’s wife, Carlene, said.
In 2008, Bob and Carlene established the Park Wiseman Scholarship to honor the pioneering chemistry professor. Recipients must be at least a sophomore and major in chemistry. The award typically pays about $1,000 but may change from year to year.
Wiseman has contributed to the fund also and because of his influence the D. J. Angus–Scientech Scholarship has now also become a chemistry scholarship for students at Ball State.
About 50 Ball State students have already benefited from these scholarships.
Wiseman arrived on campus more than 70 years ago, yet his footprint remains. His legacy endures, not only in laboratories and lecture halls, but also in the lives of so many current and future alumni.
Not bad for someone who didn’t plan on staying.