Wednesday September 28, 2016

Joseph Kepes: 1931-2016

Joseph Kepes, a University of Dayton professor emeritus and former chair of the department of physics, died Sunday, Sept. 18. He was 85.

Kepes joined the University faculty in 1962 as an associate professor of physics and department chair, and became a full professor in 1970. He retired in 1997.

Kepes is credited with expanding the physics department at a critical point in its development by hiring core doctoral-level physics faculty. In the interest of attracting good students, he learned recruitment skills from the University’s football coach.

Kepes instituted the department’s Summer Intensive Physics program, which offered students an opportunity to complete the algebra-based, two-semester, lecture and laboratory physics sequence in a total of seven weeks.

John Erdei, associate professor and current chair of the department of physics, recalls being assigned to teach in the program early in his University career.

“Students were fully immersed in physics, meeting six days a week, all day and into the evenings,” Erdei said. “Because it was a unique offering at the time, students from a number of institutions around the country enrolled, and although the course was very demanding of the students’ time, they always reviewed the experience as productive and valuable.”

Erdei recalled Kepes as a constant member of the physics team that played in the University’s annual Jim LaVanche golf tournament.

“It was great to be able to spend a morning playing golf with Joe, who was an avid golfer,” he said. “As skilled as he was, he enjoyed playing with those of us with questionable skills. We looked forward to fielding a team every year and spending the time with colleagues outside the department.”

Kepes’ interests also extended to astronomy. In October 1973, he presented a free public lecture about the Comet Kohoutek, which he called “the most spectacular comet of the century.” The comet was visible to the naked eye from November 1973 through January 1974, and in December was bright enough to be seen during the day. “The last great daylight comets were in 1843 and 1882, so that one has an idea of how frequently such an event occurs,” Kepes wrote.

A Cleveland native, Kepes received his bachelor’s degree in physics from Case Institute of Technology, now Case Western University. He received his doctorate in nuclear physics from the University of Notre Dame.

Before joining the University of Dayton faculty, Kepes was a senior scientist with the Bettis Laboratories of Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Pittsburgh. He also spent two years as a teaching assistant in physics at Notre Dame.

Kepes was a member of the American Physical Society, Sigma Xi and the American Nuclear Society. He contributed to the Bulletin of the American Physical Society, the Annals of Physics and the Transactions of the American Nuclear Society.

In retirement, Kepes enjoyed playing golf and also explored the relationship between science and religion by reading theology and theological history, according to his published obituary.

Kepes leaves behind his wife of 62 years, Joanne Lopez Kepes, who received her master’s degree in 1972 from the University; their six children: Art ’77, Terri ’79, Chris, Jerry ’82, Nora ’86 and MaryAnn ’89; and many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial was held Sept. 24 at St. Charles Catholic Church in Kettering, Ohio, followed by interment at Calvary Cemetery in Moraine, Ohio.

If desired, contributions may be made to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Kepes will be remembered during the University’s monthly memorial Mass on Oct. 12 at 12:30 p.m. in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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