Retired U professor and alumnus dies at age 79

by Craig Gustafson

Samuel Kirkwood, retired professor of biochemistry in the College of Biological Sciences, died of colon cancer Friday at his home in Hugo, Minn. He was 79.
His colleagues said the professor was instrumental in breathing life back into the introductory biology program at the University.
Gary Nelsestuen, a professor of biochemistry who worked alongside Kirkwood, said he transformed the program from something that nobody wanted to touch to a position of prestige.
Born in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, Kirkwood earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Alberta in 1942. He earned a master’s degree and doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1947 and served in the Canadian armed forces during World War II.
Kirkwood received his first teaching job at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. In 1956, he arrived at the University of Minnesota and became associate professor of agricultural biochemistry.
“He shouldn’t be described as another professor,” Nelsestuen said. “He taught in a style you remembered.”
Kirkwood was regularly voted the best teacher by College of Biological Sciences graduates. He also received the University’s Horace T. Morse award for outstanding contributions to undergraduate education in 1978.
The Morse-Amoco award is the highest teaching distinction at the University, given to only seven of its 4,000 professors each year.
“He was a storyteller that was hard to beat,” Nelsestuen said. “I would put him on-par with Garrison Keillor.”
In 1981, Kirkwood took control of the General Biology program and threw out all classes with television-based instruction. He personalized the classes by recruiting high-quality professors to teach the classes instead. Those teachers also ended up receiving Morse-Amoco awards.
Colleagues said Kirkwood was committed and uncompromising when it came to education.
Kirkwood is survived by his wife, Carol; daughter Nancy of Albuquerque, N.M.; son, Duncan of Eagan, Minn.; and granddaughters Jennifer and Hannah Tennent.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 16, in the Cherrywood Room of the St. Paul Student Center.

Craig Gustafson welcomes comments at [email protected] He can also be reached at (612) 627-4070 x3233.