Gerald (Jerry) Meike, a founding professor in the Department of Mathematics, passed away peacefully in Grand Rapids, Mich., on August 21, 2017—the day of the total eclipse. His wife of 64 years, Sally, was at his side.
Born March 6, 1929, Jerry attended Catholic Central High School in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and received a B.S. from Aquinas College in 1952 and an M.S. from University of Detroit in 1954. After serving in the Army, he went on to attain a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Michigan.
Jerry joined the math faculty at Wright State before there even was a Wright State University: in the 1965–66 academic year, it was still a branch campus of Ohio State and Miami Universities. Jerry’s academic focus was on the foundations of mathematics and logic.
A true educator at heart, Jerry would develop his own instructional materials and textbooks before there was computer software to make it easy. His efforts were not lost on his students. “You showed me that there are still professors out there that care about students,” one of his students wrote him. Another student stated “Dr. Meike represents to me what a teacher is, should be, and always will be…It was not until I gained more experience with higher-level mathematics that I saw what he was trying to do for us.” Years later, another former student wrote to him, “I remain astonished at how much effort you put into reviewing our work. Your comments (always in that distinctive shade of red ink) mean even more to me with the passing years.”
In addition to his teaching at the university level, Jerry also served as a faculty coordinator in the 1970s for Wright Start, a month-long evening program for disadvantaged high school students.
One of his proudest accomplishments wasn’t even in the field of mathematics, as he taught a University Honors 400 class called Social Perspectives in the spring of 1981. Jerry used as his text Feminist Frameworks: Alternative Theoretical Accounts of the Relations between Women and Men by Allison Jaggar and Paula R. Struhl to examine how unacknowledged assumptions can affect thought. Readings spanned the perspectives of conservatism, liberalism, traditional Marxism, radical feminism, and socialist feminism. “It blew our minds,” remembers one of his students, Catherine Queener. “What a difference it made to all of us that Jerry was willing to swim upstream and teach it. How grateful I am that Dr. Meike and the University Honors Program made a place for a unique and thought-provoking class.” At the conclusion of the Honors class, Jerry invited the entire class, plus guests, to his home for dinner and an opportunity to continue discussion.
Jerry loved to make friends, and he and Sally had many visitors who could find the house by looking for the binary house number. In Jerry’s home, you might hear a choral version of the Middle English poem “Sumer Is Icumen In,” songs by the “Sons of the Pioneers,” John McCormack, or a recording of Jerry’s singing in a barbershop quartet. Throughout his life, he used his velvet tenor voice in ensemble performance with such groups such as the Dayton opera chorus, and solo performance at weddings, family gatherings, and friendly sing-alongs.
Friends could divulge any secret to him because they found him completely trustworthy and full of sympathy and compassion. He would patiently and attentively listen to conflicting viewpoints, without any signs of irritation. Not only did his students learn from him—his friends also did. Even to his last days, his appetite for new knowledge remained unabated.
An avid cyclist, Jerry used to bicycle to work at Wright State, often even in the dead of winter. Twice in his 70s, he rode the 250-mile Ride Across California—a bicycling adventure for fifth graders and their families—so he could share his love of nature with his grandchildren. He became the oldest person ever to complete it.
Jerry’s athleticism served him well throughout his life. Well into his 70s, he was putting the dock and raft into the water and swimming at a family lakeside cottage where he regularly outwitted the local bass. His athletic drive also helped him offset the effects of Parkinson’s disease and an eventual leg amputation. When adjusting to a prosthesis, during a rugged exercise session he commented, “The opposite of rigor mortis is vigor fortis.”
Jerry is survived by his wife, Sally (Obermeyer), five children, Blake, Rusty, Annemarie, Mercy, and Roger, brother Charles (Chuck), and five grandchildren, Everett Meike, Sarah Meike, Daniel Yule, Erik Meike, and Elise Meike. We will gather at the Aquinas College Donnelly Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on October 21 to remember Jerry’s life. In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to the Special Olympics, a favorite program of Jerry's.
He will be remembered as a loving husband and father, a much-loved friend, a greatly respected colleague, a model teacher, a stalwart advocate for the underserved, a conscientious person, a thoughtful intellectual, and an absolutely pitiless punster.