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Physics Department Deeply Saddened by Loss of Dr. Dennis Whitson

Dennis W. Whitson of Indiana, Pa., passed away on May 3, 2014, at the age of 74 after a long struggle with Parkinson’s Disease.

He was born in November of 1939 in Onamia, Minnesota, to Gertrude and Walter Whitson.

His early days were spent in Sauk Rapids and Brainerd, Minnesota.He graduated from Brainerd High School and went on to Brainerd Jr. College, where he majored in chemistry. After two years, he transferred to Fargo, North Dakota, and the North Dakota State University. He received his BS in Physics there and participated in football, as well as wrestling.

It was in Fargo that he met and married his wife of 52-plus years, Sandra (Sandy) Docktor. They moved to Minneapolis, where he graduated from the University of Minnesota with an MS in Physics. Three of their four children were born in Minneapolis. The family then moved to Pittsburgh, Pa., where he received his PhD in Physics at the University of Pittsburgh. His doctorate research thesis was “Nuclear Spin Relaxation of Protons in the Anti-ferromagnetic Materials.”

In 1969, he came to Indiana, Pa., where he joined the IUP Physics Department and taught for 34 years. He thoroughly enjoyed working with the students, and put in many hours in the lab and teaching. He spent several summers doing research at Westinghouse in Pittsburgh and also at Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio. His sabbatical year was also spent at Wright Patterson Air Base. He participated in a summer visiting professor program at NASA at the Houston Space Center doing research on the space shuttle and electro-static effects on the tiles. At IUP, he was instrumental in the development of the electro-optics course, and also served as chairman of the Physics Department for several years. He was a member of the Sigma Xi science fraternity and also of the ATO social fraternity. Upon retirement, he was awarded the Professor Emeritus honor.

He loved football and soccer. The Pittsburgh Steelers very quickly replaced his Minnesota Vikings upon the move to Pennsylvania. Even in the lean years, he would say, “This is a year for building the team!” He was among those who started the soccer program in the Indiana School District for both boys and girls, and served, at one time, as the soccer boosters’ president. The PTA at Horace Mann School saw him serve and work with their organization. He also helped push for Title IX implementation in the school district.

He and Sandy loved to travel, and they took many trips throughout the world and this country. Many of these were river cruises as well as the big ship cruises. Tennis was his major participation sport, and he loved to read. He belonged to a book club and read mostly nonfiction and science fiction.

He is survived by his wife, Sandy, and four children and families: Denise and Emir Gurer of Scotts Valley, Calif.; Carmen and Tony Blanco of Arlington, Va.; Shereen and David Lobdell of Las Vegas, Nev.; and Steven and Becky (Flack) Whitson of Strasburg, Pa. He is also survived by five grandchildren—Megan Gurer, Tobin and Steven Lobdell, and Elizabeth and Caroline Whitson; two brothers and wives—Donald and Kathy Whitson, Larry and Rosemary Whitson; and his mother, Gertrude (Cash) Whitson.

He was preceded in death by his father, Walter.

Friends will be received on Saturday, May 10, at the Bowser-Minich Funeral Home, Indiana, from 1:00 to 3:00 p.m. A memorial will be held at 3:00 p.m. at the funeral home.

In memory of Dennis, the family suggests donations can be made to the following:

  • The IUP Physics Department, Indiana, PA 15705; or
  • The First Universalist Unitarian Church, 285 Two Lick Drive, Indiana, PA 15701; or
  • The Parkinson’s Disease Foundation, Suite 1509, 1359 Broadway, New York, NY 10018; or
  • The Indiana Free Library, 845 Philadelphia Street, Indiana, PA 15701
  • Physics Department
  • Weyandt Hall, Room 56
    975 Oakland Avenue
    Indiana, PA 15705
  • Phone: 724-357-2370
  • Fax: 724-357-3804
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  • Monday through Friday
  • 8:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m.
  • 1:00 p.m. – 4:30 p.m.