COLUMBUS – John Eicher of Oxford is among ten remarkable older Ohioans who will be honored for a lifetime of accomplishments with induction into the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame during a special ceremony next week in Columbus. He joins more than 450 individuals who have been inducted since 1977.
“Because aging is everybody’s business, the Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame recognizes the many ways our elders continue to grow, thrive and contribute throughout their lives,” said Bonnie K. Burman, Sc.D., director of the department. “John Eicher and the other inductees understand that we should not be defined by our age, but inspired by it. They set a stellar example for other Ohioans to follow and are a precious resource for our state, nation and the world.”
This year’s honorees have elevated Ohio and their communities to the national and international stage, as well as created and fostered opportunities for their neighbors to live “Well Beyond 60.” The inductees will be recognized by the Ohio Department of Aging, the Ohio Association of Area Agencies on Aging and members of the 131st Ohio General Assembly at a ceremony to be held Thursday, May 19, at the Ohio Statehouse.
Eicher is a Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at Miami University, where he taught for 37 years. During his career, he worked on the Manhattan Project alongside Nobel Prize winners, helped design the Hughes Laboratories at Miami U., and established the school’s doctoral program in chemistry. A perpetual learner, John has been involved in Miami’s Institute for Learning in Retirement since 2002, both as a teacher and as student.
Also to be inducted are: Al Abrams (posthumous) of Findlay; Sister Jerome Corcoran of Canfield; Annie Glenn of Columbus; Michael E. Jackson of Tipp City; Yung-Chen Lu, Ph.D., of Columbus; Caroline N. Luhta of Concord Township; Sandra L. Ogle of Rockbridge; Gloria J. Renda of Steubenville; and E. J. Thomas of New Albany.
According to Eicher’s bio, on the ODA’s website, Eicher “leads a double life.”
At Miami University you will find him either behind a student’s desk or in front of the class. He has taught college courses for more than 75 years and still enjoys being a student. This professor emeritus has not only shaped countless minds in the field of organic chemistry, but also has experienced and contributed to some of the most significant events in world history.
Growing up in Dayton, Eicher was an avid collector of books, minerals and stamps. He traveled with his family to the 48 states, Canada, Mexico, Cuba, the Alaskan coast and Central and South America. At Fairview High School, he excelled in science, history and philosophy and became a lab assistant. He placed first in a district scholarship test and was awarded a scholarship from The Ohio State University in chemistry He was a popular young man and counted among his friends Orville Wright and Charles Kettering.
Eicher earned his Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry from Purdue University in 1942, where he taught his first course in industrial mineralogy in 1940. He returned home and to The Ohio State University, where he assisted in the preparation of various hydrocarbons including one used as a fuel for British Royal Air Force Spitfire fighter planes during WWII.
In the summer of 1943, Eicher began working on what was to become known as the Manhattan Project with other scientists at Columbia University in New York City. As a research chemist, he worked with project leaders and Nobel Prize winners from all over the country, including Project Director U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Major General Leslie Groves. He worked in an organic research section, made Teflon-like plastics, and researched the viscosity of uranium hexafluoride for atomic bomb explosives with lab partner Albert Myerson.
“I lived a double life,” Eicher said of his time working on the top-secret project. “I spent most weekends with my friends, visiting museums and exploring the city. I had no identification with me, only a reference number to Washington in my wallet.”
At the end of the war, Eicher returned to Purdue, where he completed his Ph.D., conducted research and taught graduate-level organic chemistry. In 1952, he became friends with Nobel Prize winning scientist Linus Pauling.
Eicher began working as a professor in the chemistry department at Miami University. He helped design the Hughes Laboratories and was instrumental in establishing the chemistry department’s doctoral program. His colleagues considered him the resident historian in the chemistry department. He watched Miami and Oxford grow and change during pivotal times in the United States. He remembers when the Kent State shootings happened in May, 1970 and recalls, “It was the only time I ever remember the university president shutting down the school.”
Eicher formally retired from Miami University in 1989, after 37 years of teaching. However, he continues to teach in Miami’s Institute for Learning in Retirement, exploring such subjects as mineralogy, biology, “kitchen chemistry,” and U.S. and world history. Since 2002, Eicher has taught 25 classes and has been a student in many more. Eicher never stops being curious, never stops exploring – never stops learning.
“The classroom is just sort of my place,” Eicher said. “It’s fun to be in class to talk to other people and teach things that they are interested in.”
Eicher and his wife Susan raised two children, Nancy and David. Susan passed away in 1983, but John still lives in the home they built together. Both of their children are Miami University alumni, and his only grandson Christopher is attending the University of Wisconsin. In 2008, John toured Europe for the first time on a trip to France, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, Poland and Great Britain with David and Christopher .
John said his secret to living “Well Beyond 60” is heredity and his addiction to chocolate which, he points out, contains cinnamic, truxillic and truxinic acids. His mother and grandparents lived into their 90s. Perpetual teaching and learning is also part of his longevity formula. John feels he still has more history in him to teach and share, and even more history to create.
Access bios and photographs of the other inductees at www.aging.ohio.gov/news/halloffame.
The Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame honors individuals age 60 and older who are native-born Ohioans or who have been Ohio residents for at least 10 years. Nominations are evaluated on the impact of current contributions or a continuation of work and accomplishments begun before age 60. This year’s nominees range in age from 64 to 100.