Dr. Larry Oppliger’s love of physics first began in high school when he asked his chemistry teacher how protons were held together inside the nucleus of an atom. That love endured, eventually leading him to University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he earned his doctorate in the field. From there, he went on to become a beloved physics professor at Western Michigan University for 38 years. (He also was instrumental in getting the department’s particle accelerator up and running!)
During his tenure at WMU, Dr. Oppliger said he had the privilege of working with many wonderful students, including Dr. Glenn Westin (M.A. ‘65, Physics). After Western, Dr. Westin graduated with his Ph.D. from Ohio University and became a physics teacher at Prairie State College in Illinois. At Prairie State, he taught liberal arts and engineering physics, as well as physical science and astronomy courses for more than 25 years.
During his time at WMU, Dr. Westin was a TA in the physics department and worked on his thesis project under Dr. Oppliger’s supervision.
“The project involved analyzing nuclear scattering data which he’d taken at the University of Wisconsin-Madison,” Dr. Westin said. “He invited me to see the accelerator facility at Madison and it gave me an insight as to how physicists work. He was a positive influence on my work throughout. He was easy-going, approachable and willing to listen to problems I encountered on the project and offer suggestions for possible solutions.”
Dr. Westin’s educational connection with and admiration for Dr. Oppliger turned into a lifelong friendship. “We eventually exchanged notes at Christmas. I have in addition stopped for short visits. I remember sampling a home-cooked pecan pie he had baked in one visit, and in another, he proudly showed me some home-built fishing rods he had beautifully crafted.”
Recently, Dr. Westin created a scholarship in Dr. Oppliger’s name through a qualified charitable distribution or QCD. For those who are over 70½, this is one of the most tax efficient ways to make an annual gift.
“Dr. Oppliger’s guidance as a mentor and inspiring example as a teacher has always remained important to me during my teaching career and elsewhere,” Dr. Westin said. “I’m happy to be able at this stage of our lives to start such an important scholarship in his honor.”
He hopes the Dr. Larry Oppliger Scholarship in Physics will be a key factor for those considering a high school teaching career in physics or those who’ve already started on this path. “The scholarship should also be an incentive to aid those choosing physics as a major or minor career option,” Dr. Westin said. “It will provide financial assistance for capable students, and my hope is that alumni and/or donors will help the effort to aid these vital, needed future teachers and physicists.”
You can learn more about the benefits of planned giving, including QCDs, here.
Do you have a scholarship impact or alumni story you’d like to share? We’d love to hear it. Submit your stories to WMUAlumni.org/YourStory.