Madison – Laurens Anderson, Professor Emeritus of Biochemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, passed away peacefully in early November of this year, following a hospital stay.
Laurens was born May 19, 1920 to Adolf (“Slim”) and Mary E. (nee Slaughter} Anderson. Slim and Marie homesteaded in northeast Wyoming, where Laurens and his younger sister Harriet grew up. At 8, Laurens became the “man of the house” when his father died from complications of appendicitis. He went to high school in Belle Fourche, S.D., where he lived with a maternal aunt and her family, graduating at 15.
Laurens next took a year of normal school, and taught k-12 for two years to save money for college. He attended the University of Wyoming at Laramie, completing his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1942. An ROTC student, he went straight from college into the army, ultimately joining the Army Air Force as a bomber pilot. While stationed in southern Italy during WWII, Laurens piloted a B-24 in bombing missions over Germany, and later served as his squadron’s equipment officer.
Having met his future wife Doris E. Young at Laramie, Laurens proposed to her before shipping out for active duty in January 1943. He arrived home in August 1945, received an honorable discharge, and he and Doris married less than a month later on September 15, 1945. They settled in Madison for Laurens’s graduate studies in 1946. Laurens received his Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1950, and then took Doris, baby Eric, and his mother with him to Zurich, Switzerland for a postdoctoral fellowship. On their return, Laurens joined the UW-Madison Biochemistry faculty, where he remained until his retirement in October 1986. He published frequently during that time, won several awards, and gained a reputation as a talented teacher. He also served his academic community in positions with various professional organizations.
Laurens believed very strongly in being useful. Following his retirement, Laurens continued his editorial work with Carbohydrate Research through 1999. More recently, he collaborated with UW chemistry professor Bassam Shakhashiri in an attempt to determine the details of the reaction in Shakhashiri’s famous pedagogical tool, the “Blue Bottle Experiment.” For several years, Laurens mentored chemistry undergraduates as they performed the lab work necessary for the analysis. Laurens and his students (and others named therein) published their findings in a 2012 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education. For his final project, Laurens undertook, with generous assistance from friends and family, a reorganization of the more than 800 chemical samples left over from his years of active research. This involved culling and renumbering the samples, and creating a computerized list of them from the hundreds of 3×5 cards that described each one. Ultimately, Laurens forwarded the samples to the UW for chemical screening and distribution of any deemed relevant to medical research.
Laurens enjoyed taking his family on vacations, camping in the summer and downhill skiing in winter. Laurens later skied with the Madison Ski Club, not quitting the hill until he was 87. He also loved sailing his 16′ cub on Lake Mendota with anyone who might want to go along. Daughter Kristine has wonderful memories of many a sunny afternoon on the lake with Dad (as well as of the other less pleasant aspects of owning a boat!). Laurens was an avid student of history, and told fascinating stories about his own amazing life. He and Doris were members of the First Congregational Church from their arrival in Madison, finding a circle of friends there that they were close with for the rest of their lives. Laurens also loved to dance; he and Doris were long-time members of a local square dancing group. Laurens lived his life to the fullest extent possible for the duration, and he took each successive debilitation of aging without complaint. He will be sorely missed by all who knew him.
He is survived by his three children, Eric (Beth Jones), Karl, and Kristine (Anne Lucas), his granddaughter, Stephanie Engel (Jake), and great-grandson, Gabriel Engel. Laurens was preceded in death by his wife, Doris, his parents, and sister Harriet and her husband.
A memorial service will be held at FIRST CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH, 1609 University Ave. Madison, on Saturday, December 1, 2018, at 1:30 p.m.
In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the church, Wisconsin Public Television, or Habitat for Humanity.
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