Dr. Nord Gale, founding chair of biological sciences, dies

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On February 13, 2019

Dr. Nord Gale

Dr. Nord Gale, Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor emeritus and the founding chair of biological sciences at Missouri S&T, died Friday, Feb. 1. He was 80.

Gale joined the faculty in 1968 and reintroduced biology to the university after its curriculum was discontinued in the 1940s. Initial courses were offered as part of the chemistry curriculum. The life sciences department was formed in 1983, and Gale was appointed chair.

Gale served on the S&T faculty for 32 years until his retirement during the 1999–2000 academic year. Under his leadership, the department grew from a faculty of two – himself and Dr. James Hufham – to 11 full-time academic positions.

Gale’s research area was in bacterial physiology when he arrived at S&T, but he soon became involved in research on heavy metals in aquatic organisms in Missouri’s Lead Belt. He was well known among rural Missouri residents for his efficient method of sampling streams and ponds by “electrofishing.”

Gale was a pioneer in involving undergraduate students in research. He was rarely seen working on any project without a team of students nearby, whether in the field or lab.

During his time at S&T, Gale received 18 Outstanding Teaching Awards and the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Education and was named Curators’ Distinguished Teaching Professor. One of Gale’s final accomplishments before retirement was writing the proposal that ultimately established a graduate program in biology.

Gale is survived by his wife, Joan, daughters Dawna Johnston and Sheri Jones, and son Steve Gale.

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4 thoughts on “Dr. Nord Gale, founding chair of biological sciences, dies”

  • David G Sizemore says:

    My deep condolences for his family. I took Zoology from him way back in 1970. He was exceptional and his teaching style collegial. I was sorry I did not have time to take another of his courses.
    Godspeed Dr. G.

  • I have known this family since 1962,we were living in the same house which had been divided into apartments. We all moved to separate houses near 9th East and seventh East, in Provo, Utah. I would be very glad to hear from anyone in the family ! Nord and Joan’s children were like family, although they were very young when we were students

  • Cliff Knickerbocker BS '84 says:

    I got my B.S. degree from UMR in Chemistry/Biochemistry (’84), and it’s likely that Dr. Gale was both the best teacher AND the nicest professor I had there (although Dr. William James, Director of the Materials Research Center, was close, or tied). And Dr. James Hufham – who taught me basic and advanced genetics, and helped me slog through new papers about “genetic engineering” (now called genomics) – also mentioned in this piece, was right up there with them.

    Dr. Gale taught me cell biology, cell physiology, medical microbiology, and many laboratory techniques, and it’s very true that he’d let absolutely anyone who wanted to be involved in research jump right in, without any pressure, and always made his students feel comfortable in both the classroom and the laboratory.

    The fiirst semester I had a course with Dr. Gale, I took 21 total credits with a >3.5 GPA. The next semester, Dr. Gale came to me and suggested I take a double B.S. in Biochemistry AND Life Science, and said he would be my major professor for the second B.S.

    Not knowing that was even possible, I asked him “what’s involved?”. He smiled, and said, “What do you WANT to be involved?”. So I took a deep breath and told him, “NO 3 SEMESTERS OF FOREIGN LANGUAGE, AND NO ELECTROCHEMISTRY” (both required, and combined, a total of 15 credits).

    So the Doc went back to his office and drew up a highly personalized second major program that included about 30-35 credits of advanced biochem, biology, organic chem, and tons of research credits (150 hrs total), under him and Dr. Donald Siehr, a Biochem Professor (PhD, University of Wisconsin-Madison). Dr. Gale also talked to the Dean and got that all fully approved for a second BS degree.

    I learned more in those years in school than any other years in University, and not a month has gone by in the nearly 40 years since that I haven’t thought of him, and been grateful for his kindness and his leadership.

    Perhaps the thing I remember most about him was how funny he was, and his extremely expressive face. I think the man could have easily become a successful stand-up comedian if he’d wanted to. When he’d ask the class a question, and a student answered something that was way wrong, he used to roll his eyes and get the dorkiest looks on his face, smiling the entire time, and crack a joke at the student who got it wrong, but never once did anyone ever take his reactions negatively, and 99% of the time we would all crack up, including the student who goofed. The guy was just absolutely hilarious, and it matched perfectly with his enthusiastic teaching style, his 100 mph speaking rate, and his finely tuned wit.

    I never saw the man again after I left UMR, and I regret that very much. I never even finished the second degree, lacking only freshman level zoology and sophomore level ecology (then 6 total credits). I wanted to come back for one last semester in the spring of 1985, to finish those two courses and do more research, but I got a lucrative job offer and a wife after my first degree was awarded, and made the mistake of taking both. LOL.

    If I had it to do over again, I’d have come back to do research with him and get that BS in Life Science.

    I’m sure the family of Dr Gale knew what a treasure he was, and here I am, 38 years later, still doing research on genomics and lung cancer. Every single paper I read, even today, always reminds me of him and what he taught me. Thank you so much for everything, Doc!

    Cliff L. Knickerbocker
    B.S. Chem/Biochem, 1984

    • Dave Westenberg says:

      Thanks for sharing this great memory Cliff. Nord Gale was a wonderful mentor. We were lucky to hold an event in 2018 to honor him on the 50th anniversary of his arrival in Rolla to restart the biology (life sciences at the time) program. If you get back to Rolla let us know and we would love to show you around the department and see how the program he started has grown.