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Leon William Schroeder (1921–1995)

Published onJan 01, 1997
Leon William Schroeder (1921–1995)

Leon W. Schroeder, for many years the astronomer at Oklahoma State University, was born 25 January 1921 in Guthrie, OK and graduated from Stillwater High School in 1937. His college work at Oklahoma A&M College was interrupted by flight training and, eventually, teaching at the No. 3 British Flying Training School in Miami, OK. He retained his pilot's license and frequently provided transportation for members and visitors of the Oklahoma State physics department.

Schroeder returned to Oklahoma A&M after the war, receiving a BS in engineering physics in 1947 and an MS in physics in 1948, with a thesis on hyperfine splitting in the spectrum of sodium. He moved smoothly from student to instructor to assistant professor of physics there, but took a leave of absence to pursue graduate work at Indiana University in 1954-56 (joining the AAS in 1955), where he received a PhD in astrophysics in 1958, with a dissertation on the line spectrum of Arcturus, under the direction of Marshal Wrubel. His promotion to associate professor in 1958 coincided roughly with the institutional name change from Oklahoma A&M to Oklahoma State.

Schroeder acquired primary responsibility for the teaching of astronomy at OSU in 1968, at the retirement of H.S. Mendenhall (still an AAS member) and rapidly increased the enrollment in introductory courses to about 500 per semester, in what became the most popular general studies course on campus. He was promoted to full professor in 1969 and retired in 1984. In addition to regular teaching responsibilities, Schroeder organized observing sessions for students and the public and participated in a number of teaching workshops, summer sessions, and development of self-paced and correspondence versions of courses. The picture was taken while he was introducing visitors to the OSU 14" telescope; predictably, the others were not wearing suits and ties. The intersection of Schroeder's astrophysical and aeronautical interests led to participation in a variety of NASA educational activities, and he was an observer at several Apollo launches and a participant in the ceremonies surrounding the first Mars landing.

His own research interests remained firmly in the general area of stellar spectroscopy, with data gathered during leaves at Dominion Astrophysical Observatory, Dyer Observatory, and Kitt Peak, and analyzed in collaboration with a number of graduate students. Ten people completed PhD degrees under his direction and an additional nine wrote masters' theses, including Hugh Peebles (now of Lamar University) and Thomas Jordan (now of Ball State).

Of German ancestry, Schroeder was a life-long Lutheran as well as Sooner and a supporter of Camp Lutherhoma as well as of the OSU football and basketball teams. He died peacefully, in his sleep on 1 March 1995 and is survived by his wife, the former Geraldine Longan, a son Terry Schroeder, a daughter Cynthia Schroeder McDonald, and a number of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Photo (available in PDF version): Leon Schroeder (at right) demonstrating OSU's 14 inch telescope (courtesy Peter Shull).


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