In the late 1990s, JICUF received a transformative bequest from Donald and Mildred Topp Othmer. The bequest was designated for two purposes. The first was to endow the The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Distinguished Professorship of Science, and the second was to support new building programs on campus. In addition, the income earned from the gift has enabled JICUF to first creative new ways to support ICU. The extraordinary generosity of the Othmers has left a lasting legacy on JICUF and ICU.
Dr. Donald Othmer
Born and raised in Omaha, Donald Othmer graduated from the University of Nebraska with a B.S. in 1924 and M.S. in 1925. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1927, before moving to Rochester, New York where he began working for Eastman Kodak. There, his research resulted in more than 40 patents for the company. He began teaching at Polytechnic University Brooklyn in 1932, where he would remain as an active faculty member and chair of the Department of Chemical Engineering from 1937 to 1961. He was named Professor Emeritus in 1976.
He was dedicated to teaching and mentoring students, including many first-generation immigrants. In addition to serving as a trustee of the Japan ICU Foundation, he served on the boards of the Long Island College Hospital and the Brooklyn Historical Society, organizations that also received multi-million dollar gifts from the Othmers. Dr. Othmer also left a significant bequest to the Omaha Board of Education, which had awarded him a college scholarship.
Mrs. Mildred Topp Othmer
Mrs. Mildred Topp Othmer, also a graduate of the University of Nebraska, taught English and economics before moving to New York to work for her family’s designer clothing business and earning her master’s degree from Columbia University Teachers College in 1945. She and Dr. Othmer were married in New York City in 1950. She was an active volunteer with the Brooklyn Botanical Garden and served as a trustee of Planned Parenthood.
Dr. Donald Othmer as a Chemical Engineer
Dr. Othmer became one of the nation’s preeminent chemical engineers, an inventor who possessed more than 150 patents and was the author of some 350 scholarly articles. He was also the co-founder and editor of the Kirk-Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, one of the most frequently referenced texts in the field of chemical engineering.
The Othmers and JICUF
Mrs. Othmer’s mother initially approached a long-time family friend, Warren Buffet, about managing the proceeds of Dr. Othmer’s successful patents. The relationship with the world-famous investor was a pivotal one, and the Othmer estate eventually grew to over $700 million, of which the Japan ICU Foundation received 5% of the final settlement. The Foundation was amazed at the generosity of this unassuming couple.
The majority of the Othmer bequest to JICUF was restricted to new buildings on campus by the terms of the couple’s wills. Please click here to learn more about the many campus facilities that have received funding from the Othmer bequest.
Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Distinguished Professorship of Science
In addition to new buildings on campus, the Othmer estate specified that an endowed professorship in the sciences be established. The Donald F. and Mildred Topp Othmer Distinguished Professorship of Sciences was established in 1999, and prominent scientists have held the position ever since.
The first was Dr. Yoichiro Murakami who served in the position from 1999 – 2008. Dr. Murakami is widely regarded as Japan’s preeminent academic in the field of the history, philosophy and sociology of science. He received his BA, MA and PhD from the University of Tokyo and began his teaching career at Sophia University in 1968. Before arriving at ICU in 1995, he also taught at the University of Tokyo and as a visiting scholar at the Technical University of Vienna. After leaving ICU, Dr. Murakami served as the President of Toyo Eiwa University.
The second professor to be appointed to the Othmer Professorship was Dr. Kazuo Kitahara. Dr. Kitahara is a theoretical physicist who has received international recognition for his work in statistical mechanics and thermal dynamics. Dr. Kitahara is a graduate of the Univeristy of Tokyo and earned his doctorate at Université libre de Bruxelles. He conducted research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before returning to Japan. He held academic positions at Shizuoka University and the Tokyo Institute of Technology before joining the ICU faculty in 1998. He served as the Othmer Professor from 2008 – 2011.
Since April 2013, Professor Hiroshi Kouchi, an authority in plant molecular biology and genetics, has been the Othmer Professor of Science at ICU. Please click here to read an interview with Professor Kouchi.