One of ‘Four Horsemen’ dies

By Gus Bode

The death of one of the famed “Four Horsemen” of the SIUC Chemistry Department has left fond memories of a man devoted to success on campus and in the community.

Kenneth Van Lente, a retired faculty member and one of the most well-known professors on campus, died Aug. 19 at Holland Community Hospital in Holland, Mich. He was 95.

With Van Lente, James W. Neckers was another member of the group responsible for making the department nationally recognized in the early 1930s along with T.W. Abbott and R.A. Scott. He was Van Lente’s longtime friend and co-worker.

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He was a special friend,” Neckers said. “We went through Hope College (in Holland) together, taught 35-plus years at SIUC and both had cottages in Holland, Mich.”

The two resided in their cottages during the summer and winter seasons. Neckers, whose cottage was on the lakeshore, lived three miles from Van Lente’s on Lake Macatawa.

Neckers’ relationship with Van Lente led to Van Lente’s hiring in 1931. Neckers gave a personal recommendation to then SIU President Henry William Shryock, the University’s fifth president, to bring Van Lente aboard. Neckers said Van Lente, who spent 42 years as an instructor at SIUC, was one of the school’s best undergraduate instructors.

Van Lente was born on March 29, 1903, in Holland, Mich. He was preceded in death by his wife, Cynthia Melpolder Van Lente, in 1986.

Van Lente was employed by SIUC from 1931 until his retirement at age 70 in 1973. Among Van Lente’s many accomplishments at SIUC was receiving the Great Teacher Award from the SIUC Alumni Association in 1967. He received $1,000 upon receiving the honor.

Van Lente was the first member of the University’s chemistry faculty to present a paper to a national meeting of the American Chemical Society. He authored a textbook, Experimental General Chemistry, in which he assisted Neckers and Abbott. The book was used by 200 universities and junior colleges, and it served as SIUC’s standard text until 1970.

In 1970, Van Lente was one of the 16 SIUC educators whose name appeared in the book Outstanding Educators of America. He was given this recognition because of his talents in the classroom, his continued research, administrative abilities, and professional and civic qualities.

But Van Lente’s accomplishments are not limited solely to SIUC. Van Lente was a member of the American Chemistry Society, the First Presbyterian Church, the American Men of Science, Chemical Who’s Who, the Honorary and Professional Societies and the Illinois State Academy of Science.

Van Lente led many organizations as well, including the fraternities Alpha Chi Sigma and Phi Lambda Upsilon. In addition to heading these organizations, Van Lente held many positions in committees on and off campus.

On May 14, 1981, the SIU Board of Trustees granted permission for the construction of the Neckers Building, which includes Van Lente Auditorium on the second floor.

Neckers, who developed a strong relationship over the years with Van Lente, said he will miss his colleague.

He was my closest friend for a long time, Neckers said.

Factoid:Memorial services will be at 1 p.m. Sept. 6 at First Presbyterian Church in Carbondale.

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