by Valerie Kimble
SOCORRO, N.M., Nov. 24, 1999 -- A quiet, and yet cheery, reading room upstairs in the New Mexico Tech Library will be dedicated on Saturday, Dec. 4, 1999, in the name of a man whose spirit still hovers over the campus. The dedication is set for 11 a.m., and the public is invited.
The room will be named the Frederick J. Kuellmer Reading Room in honor of Kuellmer, who died on March 13, 1992.
During his long career with Tech, Kuellmer was at one time or another (and sometimes at the same time) a professor of geology, dean of students, graduate dean, vice president of Research and Economic Development, vice president of Academic Affairs; and, between the administrations of Tech Presidents Stirling Colgate and Ken Ford, Acting President.
"Fred Kuellmer was the embodiment of academics at New Mexico Tech for years as a teacher, researcher, and administrator," said Dr. Carl Popp, vice president for academic affairs.
"He was dean of the college in 1969 when he hired me into the chemistry department and served as a colleague, mentor, and personal friend for many, many years. It is entirely appropriate for the Library Reading Room to memorialize his many contributions," Popp added.
"Fred had a lot of faith in Tech," said Kuellmer's widow, Jane. "He believed in it, and he worked hard to further that faith."
Kuellmer came to Socorro in 1952 as an economic geologist with the New Mexico Bureau of Mines and Mineral Resources, while completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago. Those were the Workman years, when E.J. Workman was president of New Mexico Tech.
Jane recalls her husband leaving the house in robe and bedroom slippers in the wee hours of the morning to tend to work in the lab. Very often, she said, Kuellmer would run into Workman, who lived in a second-floor apartment of the campus's Research Building which later was named "Workman Center" after him. (The building was the predecessor of the current Workman Center.)
"Workman would be in robe and slippers, too. He and Fred ended up having some interesting talks at two in the morning," recalled Jane.
The family left Socorro in 1964 "forever," she said; but by 1966 they were back, when Kuellmer returned to Tech as a professor of geology and dean of students.
The role of dean of students isn't won by virtue of a popularity contest; nonetheless, Kuellmer enjoyed a rapport with students. The students called him "Freddy Feldspar" after a mineral the geologist studied in his early years.
The Kuellmers opened their home to students for holiday dinners, and many Tech graduates recall verbally sparring with the keen-witted college dean.
Professionally, Kuellmer accrued many awards, including a postdoctoral fellowship for a year of study in Zurich, Switzerland. He also published a number of papers and reviews on coals, which he began to study in the 1970s.
What he took greatest pride in, however, was his family. "He was extremely proud of his kids," said daughter Ellen Hefner. "He was concerned about his family, about Tech, and his church. Everything else followed." Three children survive Kuellmer: daughters Ellen Hefner and Louise Springer, and son Lawrence. Eldest daughter Marcia Kuellmer Dehnert predeceased him.
To his eight grandchildren, he will always be "the ice cream grandpa."
Kuellmer also loved New Mexico. "This was the first place he had spent any time where he could actually see the rocks," said Jane. His children recall family trips with Dad never failing to point out any geologic features he found interesting. He was also an avid hunter and fisherman who rarely missed an opportunity to escape to the mountains and lakes.
Kuellmer read each morning's newspaper from cover to cover, and spent a lot of time reading professional journals. It wouldn't be difficult to imagine him sitting in a sturdy chair with a book in his hands and a light over his shoulder.
It seems a fitting tribute to Kuellmer's intelligence and devotion to Tech to have a quiet, and yet cheery, library room dedicated to his memory.