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Austin D. Sprague Endowment Fund
Purpose of Fund
I've been asked to write a few words that could be entered into the minutes about Austin Sprague, Professor Emeritus of physics, who died last week at age 92 after a brief struggle with pneumonia. His children Julia and Charles lost a devoted and loving father, others of us lost a wonderful colleague and personal friend, and the entire DePauw community lost one of its most dedicated teachers and loyal supporters. But, in at least one very important way, Austin will be closely connected with DePauw forever. Thanks to Austin's and his children's uncommon generosity, coupled with a matching gift from the Lilly Endowment, the Austin Sprague Scholarships have been funded with half a million dollars to support needy physics majors at DePauw.
Austin's Bachelor's Degree was from Miami University and his master's and doctorate in physics were from another school in his native state, The Ohio State University. Clearly, his professional credentials were first rate.
During the 2nd World War, Austin was assigned to the Office of Naval Research where he was credited with the development of the depth charge proximity fuse that gave our surface vessels the upper hand in combating the German Uboat menace.
Coming to DePauw in 1947, and operating out of his second floor office in Minshall Lab for over a quarter century, Austin made a positive difference in the lives of hundreds of DePauw students until his retirement in 1973. Rain or shine, he'd arrive at Minshall on his single speed, balloontire bicycle, take off his trademark beret, put on his lab coat, and clutching what had to be the world's longest slide rule, he went about his business.
First and foremost, Austin considered himself a teacher; as such, he understood the importance of permeating his classes with the knowledge and experiences gained from firsthand research and scholarship. Two short examples will make the point. In the '50s, on his first sabbatical leave, Austin carried out cosmic ray research at the University of Chicago with Marcel Schein who was one of the top cosmic ray researchers of the day. Austin played a major role in designing the photographic instrumentation that went aloft in the balloons. Only the best worked with Marcel Schein, and Austin was Schein's coauthor on at least one important paper.
In the 1960s, when the physics staff at the American College of Paris revamped their offerings, they recruited Austin to spend a year in Paris to design a laboratory curriculum and select the proper equipment to do the job. At the conclusion of the project, the ACP ceremoniously commended Austin not only for his professional competence but also for his, oh so French, elan.
Closer to home, Austin was a good all around University citizen. He conscientiously carried out formal faculty governance obligations, transported visitors to and from the airport, attended national professional meetings, worked on various projects for the local Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa, and the like. He particularly enjoyed serving as the official timer at every home meet of the swim and track teams. Austin was a marvelously talented man who thoroughly enjoyed his teaching and other faculty responsibilities; but, he also lived a full life outside the University. He was an excellent cook, spoke French and German fluently, received hundreds of duplicate bridge Master Points, traveled extensively, was a great fan of German poetry, he enjoyed Greek mythology, conceived and executed really clever practical jokes, faithfully read the "Paris Match", and true to the plate on the front of his car that proclaimed, "I'd Rather Be Flying" he accumulated over 3,000 hours at the controls of single engine Pipers and Cessnas.
Perhaps the best way to end this brief tribute is to use Austin's own words. Whenever a fellow pilot died, Austin would sigh and simply say, "I guess it was just his turn to land at that big airport in the sky." Well, Austin, from the DePauw faculty: "Happy Landing!”