Talk about your coincidences. Just as OAM was tracking down former Yeoman quarterback Kevney O’Connor ’51 for this installment of “Where Are They Now?” Oberlin’s football team was poised to break the record for most touchdowns in a single season—the same record set by O’Connor’s team more than a half century ago.
The 1950 season remains the best ever for Oberlin football. Significant was the game against longtime rival Denison. With only a minute and 40 seconds left in the game, O’Connor drilled a 35-yard touchdown pass to receiver Bart Harrison ’51, sealing a come-from-behind 19-12 victory.
“We knew we had a good team,” O’Connor recalls vividly. “Denison had clobbered us the previous three years. Not much happened in the first half—we were down 12-0. Then after some key plays, we scored the winning touchdown.”
The team also scored a well-earned place in Oberlin history by racking up 35 touchdowns in a single season, a record that stood undefeated until last November when Oberlin met Allegheny in its final game.
Although the Yeomen were defeated 14-35, the team ended the season as a powerful force, shattering 22 Oberlin records that included sophomore quarterback Greg Mangan’s marks for passing yards (2,404) and total offensive yards (2,394), both set in 1997. The Yeomen’s air attack set a new record for yards in a season (2,431), breaking the previous mark of 2,320 set in 1997.
Most impressive, however, was the squad’s 267 total points, topping the 262 points record that had stood since the 19th-century—1892. And with 37 touchdowns, the Yeoman finally overcame the record set in 1950.
“Our main focus as a team going into the Allegheny game was to get a win and finish with a winning record,” says Mangan. “Unfortunately that wasn’t meant to be. I don’t think anyone was thinking about any sort of records going into that last game. For us the only record that really matters is the win and loss column.”
“The 1950 team had many players who played both offense and defense, and to accomplish what they achieved took outstanding focus, effort, and teamwork,” adds Head Coach Jeff Ramsey. “I am simply happy we could break one of their long-standing records and be mentioned in the same sentence with arguably the greatest Oberlin football team on record. When we average 4.5 touchdowns per game, as they averaged in 1950, then we can say we hold the record outright.”
But let’s get back to O’Connor. After graduation, he was recalled to military service with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team in Korea. (Prior to Oberlin he was a company commander in the Philippines with the 6th Ranger Battalion in WWII.) In 1972 he started an international marketing business and later headed a management consulting firm in the Washington, D.C. area.
After learning that Oberlin’s sports were in danger, O’Connor helped start the John W. Heisman Club in 1978 with the objective of strengthening the intercollegiate athletics program and an initial emphasis of stabilizing the football program. The Club is now a permanent organization of alumni and friends interested in supporting athletics. O’Connor completed service as president in 1988 and a year later was inducted into the Athletic Hall of Fame for holding four Oberlin football records: highest pass completion percentage, single game (88.8 percent vs. Kenyon 1949); most touchdown passes, career (36); and highest yards per punt average, game (46.6) and career (37.5).
Now semi-retired, O’Connor conducted this interview from a locker room in Arlington, Va., while awaiting the start of a tennis tournament. He and his wife, Pam, have five children and 10 grandchildren. He still talks with his old teammates from time to time.
“Records are made to be broken,” he says. Then, with a chuckle, adds: “Although we set the record by playing eight games. They had to do it in 10.”
For more on the Heisman Club, visit http://www.oberlin.edu/athletic/heisman/.
Organ students enjoyed a lecture and performance in September by William Peterson ’70, who once studied organ with David Boe and harpsichord with Fenner Douglass. At Pomona College, Bill is the college organist and the Harry S. and Madge Rice Thatcher Professor of Music. He has performed concerts throughout the United States, including a number of all-Bach recitals and complete performances of Dritter Theil der Clavierübung. His performance of Tournemire’s Symphonie sacrée, one of the composer’s largest works for organ, was broadcast on Pipedreams (Minnesota Public Radio). As a scholar, Bill specializes in French organ music of the 19th- and early 20th-centuries. He returns to Oberlin frequently to visit his uncle, Professor Emeritus of Eng-lish Carl Peterson, and to perform on the Kay Africa Memorial Organ in Finney Chapel. His visit was sponsored by the Conservatory of Music.
Writer Matthew Sharpe ’85, whose most recent novel, The Sleeping Father, is number 20 on the Today Show’s Book Club list, gave a public reading in September. Matthew teaches creative writing and literature at Wesleyan University, and he is a member of the faculty at the Milton Avery Graduate School of the Arts at Bard College, where he teaches writing to graduate students in a multi-disciplinary MFA program. He’s earned many fellowships and awards for his short fiction, essays, and creative non-fiction, including the recent New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Fiction. His visit was sponsored by the Creative Writing Program.
Jennifer Mansfield ’96, an assistant professor of biology at Barnard College, held a lecture called “Hox Genes, MicroRNAs and Patterning in the Vertebrate Embryo.” Jennifer holds a PhD in developmental genetics and finished a three-year Kirchstein Postdoctoral Research Fellowship at Harvard Medical School, granted by the National Institutes of Health. She was awarded the Charles A. Huebschman Prize for study at the Marine Biological Laboratory and the James Howard McGregor Award for “unusual promise as a teacher of zoology.” Her visit was sponsored by the biology department.
Lynn Higgins ’69, a distinguished research professor and professor of French and comparative literature at Dartmouth, was invited to discuss her work on the French film Holy Lola (by Bertrand Tavernier), in which a French couple finds their lives transformed as they adopt a Cambodian child. Lynn discussed boundaries between fiction and documentary film, genre, and its variations, as well as French perspectives on the post-colonial world. Lynn is author of many interdisciplinary books and articles, and she has received numerous awards and academic honors, including two major prizes for her book New Novel, New Wave, New Politics: Fiction and the Representation of History in Postwar France. Her visit was sponsored by the Department of French and Italian.
Andrew Todd Marcus ’97, a Boston-based architect, designer, photographer, and carpenter, spoke to 70 students at Casa Hispánica in November. Having spent considerable time in Barcelona, Spain, Andrew discussed his work in the “oficina técnica” of La Sagrada Familia—the famous unfinished temple of Antoni Gaudí. Andrew’s research focuses on the religious and mystical dimensions of Gaudí´s work. With a master’s of architecture degree from MIT in 2004, Marcus traveled to Barcelona as a Fulbright Fellow, where he explored the work of Rafael Guastavino and the legacy of traditional Catalan construction in contemporary Spain. His November visit was sponsored by the Department of Hispanic Studies.
Noted water conservationist Chris Brown ’79
gave a talk titled “Thinking Globally and Acting Locally on the Fresh Water Crisis in the American Southwest.” Chris has spent the past
17 years as an advocate
for water conservation and shared his perspectives
on the most effective ways of bringing about
environmental change. He met informally with students afterward to discuss careers in the
environment. His visit was sponsored by the Environmental Studies Program.
Oberlin history major Karl Kellner ’92, a specialist in strategic planning and strategy development for the health care industry, talked with students about how his Oberlin experience helped shape his career path. Karl earned an MBA at the Wharton School and is now a partner and vice president
of Booz Allen Hamilton,
a management consulting firm in New York. Active
in community service, he holds a leadership role with the Harlem Small Business Initiative, a volunteer program co-founded by former President Clinton and Booz Allen Hamilton to help small businesses in Harlem, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and South Central Los Angeles. Carl and his wife, Suzannah Mason Kellner ’94, live in New York with their two children. His visit was sponsored by the history department.
Translator Aaron Zaritzky ’00 gave a reading from his newly published translation of Felipe Benítez Reyes’ book of poems, Vidas improbables (Probable Lives). Aaron taught high-school Spanish at Verde Valley Boarding School in Tucson, Ariz., before earning an MFA in poetry at the University of Arizona, where he taught Spanish as a graduate assistant. He is reviewer for the Arizona Journal of Hispanic Cultural Studies and the Sonora Review and is currently ghost writing a memoir for his father. Aaron was a guest of the Creative Writing Program and the departments of Hispanic Studies and Comparative Literature.
David Liberles ’91, an assistant professor in the Department of Molecular Biology at the University of Wyoming, delivered a talk in December titled “Toward an Understanding of Functional Evolution of Genomes.” David held appointments in Europe as a senior scientist in the computational biology unit at the University of Bergen (Norway) and as an assistant professor at Stockholm University. His research areas include bioinformatics, computational biology, and functional genomic and molecular evolution. A former board member of the Society for Bio-informatics in the Nordic Countries, David currently serves on the journal editorial board of Biological Procedures.
Robert Weinstock was born in Philadelphia on February 2, 1919. Although his family was desperately poor during the Depression, Bob loved to recall interesting events of his early years. At the age of 15, he sat in a 50-cent, left-field, lower-deck seat and watched Babe Ruth hit two home runs in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics. Later, Bob cited that game in a physics journal when he wrote with classic Weinstock style about the trajectories of fly balls. He also had what he liked to call a “brush with Einstein” when the great physicist came to Bob’s Philadelphia high school to receive an award. Apparently at one point Bob nearly bumped into the distinguished visitor as he passed him on the front steps.
In the fall of 1936, Bob enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania with the aim of becoming a high school mathematics or physics teacher, a position that offered job security. However, as a student in the school of education, he learned two major facts from the chair of Penn’s physics department: First, one could be a theoretical physicist without doing any work in a laboratory, and second, one could be a teacher without having to slog through any education courses. In a few microseconds, Bob said, he decided to switch his major to physics.
With very little money but an outstanding undergraduate record in physics and mathematics, Bob continued
his work when, in 1940, Stanford University offered him a teaching assistantship and admission to graduate school. Despite a shortage of graduate courses in physics at Stanford (because so many senior faculty had disappeared to take up war jobs) Bob received a PhD only three years later and soon followed his mentor, Felix Bloch, to Harvard to work on radar countermeasures.
By the end of World War II, Bob had decided he would not return to physics or academia. He had an urge to spend his life helping to solve social, economic, and political problems of society, which he felt were much more important than solving problems in theoretical physics. He resolved to join the American labor movement, and in January of 1946, was hired on as a wiper for the freighter Elmira Victory. As the only wiper in the U.S. Merchant Marine with a PhD in physics, he was one of three engine-room personnel who did little more than clean, paint, and perform other menial jobs on orders from the first assistant engineer. On the Elmira Victory, and later on a second freighter, he sailed the world for eight fascinating months.
In September, when Bob was on layover in San Francisco, colleagues at Stanford persuaded him to stay and teach mathematics for one quarter to help cope with the influx of returning veterans supported by the GI Bill. As it turned out, he never shipped out again. But he always retained his progressive idealism. In 1948, he traveled with and was active in the vice presidential campaign of Idaho Senator Glen Taylor, who was Henry Wallace’s running mate on the Progressive Party ticket.
Bob taught mathematics at Stanford for eight years, during which time he married mathematics graduate student Elizabeth Brownell and published a book, Calculus of Variations, which is still available in paperback. Bob then spent five years teaching in the mathematics department at Notre Dame University, receiving tenure after four years. For the 1959-60 academic year, he took a leave of absence from Notre Dame, accepting an invitation to fill a one-year, sabbatical- replacement slot in the mathematics department at Oberlin College. So impressed by Oberlin’s culture and the seriousness of purpose he saw in even average students, he decided to remain. He found no openings in the mathematics department, but one appeared in the physics department due to a retirement. He applied for it and later claimed, “the College could not find anybody competent to replace [Forest] Tucker, so they hired me.”
Although not active in campus politics, Bob made a significant impact at Oberlin. He was a talented theoretical physicist and an energetic and creative person. An effective teacher, he was especially attentive to the needs of individual students. I was a student in the seminar Bob taught his first year in the physics department. We participants were immediately struck by the precision and rigor of his analysis; his authoritative knowledge of physics and mathematics; and the beauty and clarity of his handwriting on the board, transparencies, and paper. During derivations, he formed each letter with care. He believed the best way to help students fulfill their potential was to be a demanding teacher—which he certainly was—and he decried what he saw as a general lowering of standards at Oberlin in response to weakened high school preparation of its students. Near the end of his second year in the physics department, he was elected by the senior class to serve as one of four speakers at the traditional Thursday-noon, all-college assemblies. The other speakers that year were Barry McGill, Wolfgang Stechow, and Clyde Holbrook.
Bob had wide interests and strong convictions, and he didn’t hesitate to express his sometimes unconventional opinions. He loved books and was a voracious reader with a particular appreciation for 19th-century fiction. He sponsored a number of group winter-term projects reading the novels of Charles Dickens. In fact, his Anglophilia led him to spend four summers and four sabbatical leaves in the Department of Theoretical Physics at Oxford University. In faculty debates about course distribution requirements in the ’70s and ’80s, he made impassioned speeches advocating a literature requirement, saying that the requirement to study literature at Penn launched him on his lifetime of reading.
As far as I know, Bob’s only stage role was in the 1984 English department production of Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Inspector Hound, in which he appeared as the corpse. His big scene was nearly ruined when the corpse couldn’t stop giggling.
Bob also loved classical music, and the Conservatory clearly helped make Oberlin a special place for him. He often attended concerts and befriended a number of Conservatory students with whom he then corresponded for years through lengthy, meticulous, handwritten letters. He had his limits, however. There was a particularly noteworthy event in October of 1981 when he was invited to a concert of contemporary music by faculty composers. As he later described it in the alumni magazine, he took offense at one particularly noisy piece, conceived, according to the composer, on a long subway ride. Bob wrote, “during the long, enthusiastic applause that followed the emission of Subway Songs, I … expressed my feelings … by vigorously booing, seething with indignation, irresistibly impelled by firm conviction.” He further wrote, “How, I wonder, can one have listened to Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms, even Dvorak, Sibelius, Berg, Martinu, Wood, Aschaffenburg, Darcy—and then give the name ‘music’ to the eardrum-lacerating, mind-twisting, soul-offending, air-polluting, electronic product of the kind that spewed from loudspeakers into Warner Hall?” His diatribe in the alumni magazine was accompanied by rebuttals from five Conservatory professors and one student and was followed by numerous letters in subsequent issues.
Bob obviously enjoyed taking controversial positions. One such position resulted from his discovering, around 1980, that the proof of the property of planetary orbits long attributed to Isaac Newton was not, in fact, a logical proof at all. In an international debate involving publications, letters, and conferences, Bob spent the next 25 years working to convince physicists, mathematicians, and historians of science that their defenses of Newton’s Principia also contained fallacies.
Bob and Betty Weinstock have been very generous members of the Oberlin community. The name Weinstock appears on the list of contributors to virtually every worthwhile organization in our area. On a small scale many of us benefited from the famous Weinstock lunch fund, which permitted Bob frequently to invite individuals from all parts of campus for lunch and a good conversation. Bob was on a first-name basis with most of the waiters in Oberlin restaurants, for whom he left tips with Susan B. Anthony dollar coins. Trying to figure out a way to outwit Bob and pay the bill instead of letting him do it was a game that his guests almost never won. Another contest that Bob won was a community-wide competition during Oberlin’s sesquicentennial celebration in 1983, in which he grew the longest beard in town within an allotted time period.
His generosity was manifest on a larger scale in 1977, when Bob took a permanent leave of absence from the faculty to make his position available for an outstanding young physicist who had been hired as a temporary sabbatical leave replacement. As a result, the teacher could be offered, and soon accepted, a tenure-track appointment. Even though Bob was then on a leave of absence, he continued to teach, without pay, his year-long course in applied mathematics, a central course in our curriculum for generations of junior physics majors. Six years later, in 1983, he took advantage of an early-retirement plan offered by the College to become an emeritus professor at the age of 64. Even though he had then officially retired, he still continued to teach, without pay, the course in applied mathematics for seven more years, until he finally decided to bring an end to his teaching in 1990. His career in teaching spanned 50 years, and his applied mathematics course has never been replaced.
The March 15, 1990, issue of the Oberlin Observer carried the following short notice: “The American Association for the Advance-ment of Science has elected Emeritus Professor of Physics Robert Weinstock to the rank of fellow. The honor recognizes his ‘long record of research contributions that have yielded substance for the teaching of undergraduate physics and mathematics.’”
Bob died at his Kendal of Oberlin home on May 16, 2006, at the age of 87 while watching a televised baseball game. He leaves his wife, Betty, and his two sons, Frank and Robert. Oberlin has lost a wise, idealistic, and colorful figure, and one who has served as an inspiration to me, personally, throughout my entire time at Oberlin.
Bruce Richards is a professor and chair of the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Oberlin College. This Memorial Minute was adopted by a standing vote of the General Faculty of Oberlin College on October 25, 2006.