In Memoriam: Duncan Emmett Poland

duncanpoland.jpgCourtesy of the Poland family and Joseph S. Tenn, professor emeritus of physics and astronomy

Duncan Emmett Poland was born August 18, 1934 in Muskegon, Michigan, and died July 19, 2011, in Santa Rosa. He earned his bachelor's degree in chemistry in 1957 at the University of Michigan and received his Ph.D. in physical chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1963. After two years as a post-doctoral researcher with the National Bureau of Standards (now the National Insitute of Standards and Technology) he joined the four-year-old Sonoma State College in 1965.

He and Garrison Sposito, who came the same year, immediately founded the Physics Department. His first year, the college occupied an apartment house in Rohnert Park, and he fondly recalled sharing an office, which was really an apartment, with an English professor.

The department became the Department of Physics and Astronomy in 1973, and the college, after three name changes, became Sonoma State University in 1978. Duncan played a very large role in selecting and acquiring equipment for the new Darwin Hall, which was named by the Biology Department, as it was supposed to become all biology eventually, and he spent years planning for the separate physical science building that never came to be. He was also active in establishing the curriculum of the new department and in campus affairs.

He taught a number of courses, especially electronics and experimental physics, but his leadership qualities were soon recognized, and he served several terms as Department Chair (originally titled Chairman; when non-gender-specific titles were under discussion, he characteristically suggested that he be called the Chairworm, with the last four letters standing for "woman or man").

He served as Chairman of the Division of Natural Sciences, a position that is now titled Dean of the School of Science and Technology, and for a few years as a vice president of the University. When he stepped down from this office he was immediately drafted to head the faculty union, a sign of the respect in which he was held by all parties and something that would be unthinkable in these more polarized times.

For years his truck carried a bumper sticker saying that the worst day fishing was better than the best day working, but in fact he did much more working than fishing. Even after retiring in 2001 he did little fishing. His wife, Marion, died in 2008 after more than 50 years of marriage, and his last years were spent in an assisted living home.

He is survived by his son, David, of Rohnert Park, and daughter, Julie Gullickson, and her husband Gregg and sons Ethan and Jared, of Santa Rosa. He also leaves his four siblings in Michigan: Murray Poland, Mary Cryderman, Sydney Edlund, and Tobit Poland.

Services will be held Fri., August 5, 2011 at 1 p.m. at Santa Rosa Memorial Park on Franklin Avenue. All are welcome. The family suggests donations to the SSU Physics and Astronomy Scholarship Fund (#E0231) in Professor Poland's memory. Any questions may be directed to Julie Gullickson at or (707) 542-1545.

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