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Stan Metzenberg ’80

July 24, 2018, in San Mateo, California, of a brain tumor.

“In our family, Stan was the Hero with a capital H,” said his daughter, Gretchen Metzenberg ’07. “He was completely devoted to supporting my mother in her life and career despite her profound disability in the last 20 years of her life. She could not have continued without him, and through her work they changed the courses of many students’ lives.”

Born in Madison, Wisconsin, Stan was described as “the consummate nerd,” a good Boy Scout who built rockets, went on backpacking trips in the backcountry, and long canoe trips. His father, a biochemistry professor at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, passed on his interest in science. When Stan was visiting his older brother at Oberlin, he rifled through a stack of college pamphlets and was drawn to the beautiful calligraphic typeface on the Reed pamphlet. That—and word of mouth—put Reed on Stan’s short list. He knew it was a serious, academic place, and that’s what he wanted.

At Reed, Stan did a full double major, resulting in his doing a biology thesis (“An In Vitro Protein Synthesis System Using Ribosomes from the Ascomycete Neurospora Crassa”) with Prof. Peter Russell [biology 1972–2011] and a math thesis (“Topological Spaces and Topological Groups”) with Prof. Raymond Mayer [math 1974–2002].

He did folk dancing and sang with his future wife, Aida, in the Collegium and with Peter J. Ribosome and the Subunits, a band put together by Prof. Russell that played at Reed-related gigs. Very much into computer programming, Stan was one of the original terminal watchers back when there were actual computer terminals. He did computer programming and sent Aida chat messages before such applications were really a thing.

In January of his senior year, Stan married Aida at the county courthouse and then went right back to working on his theses. He and Aida both got their doctorate degrees from the University of Wisconsin and then went to UC San Francisco for post-doctoral fellowships. They were subsequently both offered professorships at CalState Northridge. Stan worked as a molecular biology professor at the university for more than 20 years, with a lab that adjoined Aida’s. He had a dark and irreverent sense of humor that often surprised those lulled by his mild-mannered exterior. Gretchen, his daughter, remembers his once writing a problem set involving a paramecium and amoeba in the style of Jaws.

He was a champion for veterans returning from service and developed an award and scholarship to promote their achievements. Passionate about K–12 science education, he worked extensively with other scientists to ensure rigorous academic standards.

Stan was completely devoted to Aida, who for 20 years fought valiantly against an unknown neurodegenerative disorder that functionally left her quadriplegic. He also cared for his son, André, who is autistic.

“He brought patience and humor to their lives, making my mother laugh many times a day,” Gretchen recalled. “I remember our very wonderful but odd father/daughter bonding over dissections at home, experiments in his lab, a homemade circuit board, or math games that he invented, and rearticulating my guinea pig’s skeleton that we dug up. He taught me the joys of intellectual rigor, of steady skepticism, and the joys of poking holes in someone’s argument, especially if you can do it calmly. He was a true scientist. I’ll also remember the pleasure he took in tormenting me as a teenager, and his readiness to dance to “Play That Funky Music White Boy” with abject joy. Every conversation included his wanting to be useful to people, and one of his last questions to me before his coma was, ‘Is my work done?’”

Aida died in 2018. Stan is survived by his daughter, Gretchen; his son, André; his brother, Howard Metzenberg; and his mother, Helene Metzenberg.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2019

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