Howard Benton Burkett

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Howard Benton Burkett, professor of chemistry at DePauw University from 1945 to 1986, died at Asbury Towers on June 15. He was 93 years old.

Born Feb. 26, 1916, to Zefa Benton and Jennie Margretta Hillis Burkett near Morton, he attended a two-room school there for eight years. On graduation from Bainbridge High School in 1934, he was awarded a coveted four-year Rector Scholarship to DePauw University, graduating with distinction in 1938. With an Eli Lilly Foundation fellowship, he earned his PhD in Organic Chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1942.

Burkett began research at Eli Lilly on Vitamin A, an urgent need for the war effort. In 1945 he took a 50 percent reduction in income to return to DePauw as assistant professor of chemistry, conducting research with four separate grants. He did research and lectured at the University of Washington during sabbatical leaves in 1954 and 1962. Beginning in 1964, he served as alternating co-chairman of the DPU chemistry department. In 1977 he researched metabolic and arthritic diseases at the National Institutes of Health. During another leave of absence he conducted pioneering MRI research for the Hitachi Company in Japan. He and his wife Lucile led a DePauw winter study tour to Japan and often hosted international students.

During his 41 years of teaching he authored over 17 articles in chemical research and received many awards, including Gridiron Best Teacher Award in 1966 and Outstanding Educator of America in 1975. As a member of the American Chemical Society, he lectured in their Visiting Professor program. He was a charter member of Beta Omicron Chapter of the Honorary Chemical Society, The Indiana Academy of Science and served as President of the DePauw-Wabash chapter of Sigma Xi.

Howard was active in Boy Scouts, Kiwanis and other community activities. A man of strong faith, he had served many terms on the board and numerous other capacities at First Christian Church since 1946. Burkett's interests, in addition to building his own house on Shadowlawn, were traveling and camping, canoeing, sailing, fishing, woodworking, photography and vegetable gardening. Every summer while his father was alive, Burkett worked on the family farm near Morton.

In 1936 Howard married Lucile Eloise Nichols, after their friendship developed in the trumpet section of the Bainbridge High School band. They had four children, Nancee Dickson (Alfred), Harvey Benton (Troyanne Thigpen), David Howard (Winifred), Richard Allen (Nancy Coffin). Their children, 10 grandchildren, 2 step-grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren live in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, California, Michigan, Massachusetts, Louisiana, Florida, New York, Illinois and Turkey.

Howard was preceded in death by infant sister Geraldine Ruth and brother John Thomas Burkett, as well as two great-grandchildren. His memorial service will be announced at a later date, when all of the family can gather, possibly on August 4, which would have been Howard and Lucile's 73rd anniversary.

In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to First Christian Church or the H.B. Burkett Endowed Lectureship in Organic Chemistry, bringing noted chemists to lecture at DePauw. Donations can be sent to DePauw University, c/o Prof. Bridget Gourley, Dept of Chem-Biochemistry, Greencastle.

Condolences may be shared with the family at Arrangements entrusted to Bittles and Hurt Funeral Home.