Brian Mars

29 April 2013
Brian in 2004
Brian in 2004

It is my terribly sad duty to inform you of the sudden death of Brian Mars on Saturday, April 27th at his home in Cannon Falls. He was 65 years old. Brian had just received recognition last week for 30 years of work at Carleton, having joined the Carleton Chemistry Department in June of 1983. His official title was “Lab Manager in Chemistry, Instrumentation Specialist, Hazardous Waste Coordinator, Chemical Hygiene Officer.”

Brian was a vital component of the teaching and research mission of the department. He ensured that the department’s covey of chemical instrumentation was properly running, that appropriate supplies were in stock or ordered, that hazardous materials were properly stored and disposed of, and that student workers were recruited and given assignments. He literally was “on-call” every day, troubleshooting whatever problems people brought to his door. Brian also acquired NMR data for sophomore organic chemistry students. A few years ago he obtained his 10,000th spectrum for Carleton students.

Brian excelled at solving problems associated with installing, maintaining, and operating equipment and instruments in the chemistry department. He kept a careful eye on the budget, so that the department operated an excellent lab program at the lowest possible cost. He recognized the importance of his job and he was committed to being on campus as much as possible. Over the past ten years, Brian was absent less than a handful of times. He spoke very highly of the students who worked with him and he took pride in their accomplishments.

Brian was an amateur pilot who loved attending air shows, a veteran of the Navy and Vietnam War, and an actor and director for community theater in Cannon Falls. He enjoyed riding his motorcycle, model railroading, and working outdoors on his property in Cannon Falls.

A memorial service for Brian will be held at 11:30 a.m. this Friday, May 3rd, at Riverwood Community Church, 5343 Highway 19 Blvd, Cannon Falls. Visitation will begin at 10:30 a.m. Friday at the church. Interment with military honors will be 2 p.m. Friday at Red Rose Cemetery in Waterford Township.

Transportation will be provided to the service.  We will meet at 10am on Friday in the parking lot south of Mudd (between the Arena Theater and Memorial Hall). There will be a sign in the window of Mudd 169 (the Mudd computer room) for students to sign up for rides, so that we have a rough count of who is going. 

An obituary with more information about Brian’s life can be found at the Lundberg Funeral Home website.

Please keep Brian’s wife, Gail, all their family and friends, and the Chemistry Department in your thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.

In sorrow and faith,
Carolyn Fure-Slocum ’82

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  • 2013-04-30 00:01:51
    Amy Mars

    Thank you for this beautiful remembrance.  You've really captured his spirit.  I am so proud and my dad and his accomplishments.  This means so much to me and our family.

  • 2013-04-30 08:45:39
    Charlene Hamblin

    I didn't know Brian well, but enough to learn he was a gentle soul who loved model railroading, when I was referred to him for advice on the topic.  After receiving his input, I gave him our "Mars" candy RR car; it just seemed like the thing to do.... and he smiled.  Sending condolences to Brian's family and praying you find peace in wonderful memories.

  • 2013-04-30 11:34:09
    Dick Ramette - CC 1954-1990

    I also remember with pleasure the many times he assisted me in major demonstration lectures both at CC and elsewhere.

    It seems a lifetiime ago that I hired Brian Mars as our new chemistry laboratory director, replacing Cliff Larsen who retired after 36 years if amiable and competent service.  When I helped Brian unload his stuff and move into his house, I remember that one of the first things he did was start up his motorcycle and ride around the block to make sure it still worked.  What we didn't fully anticipate then, in 1983, was that Brian's initial responsibilities, identical to those of Cliff, would steadily evolve to much greater complexity as the new era of computer-based instrumentation blossomed.  He became the master and guru  of these electronic "monsters" that came to define modern chemistry.  Without Brian's supportive expertise the research and teaching capabilties of our faculty would have been much more challenging.

    On a personal note, I came to admire Brian as a partner in the design and execution of chemistry demonstrations in the classroom, my favorite part of teaching in contrast to my least favorite - the grading of exams.  On many occasions, such as Parent's Day and visits to other institutions, Brian was my essential colleague in special demonstration lectures with plenty of smoke, flame and loud noises.  Much later, after I'd long retired, I was grateful to him for assisting my grandson Joshua with a special chemistry project.

    He will be missed, not only for his professional skills, but for his congenial and "can do" attitude.

  • 2013-04-30 12:55:21
    Karen Rhoades

    I too, as Brian's older (2 1/2 yrs) sister am thankful for this 'beautiful remembrance' and the complimentary comments following... As my brother and I grew up, we were the 'partners in crime'. It broke my heart when he left Chico and moved to MN. When I visited him and his family in 2007, he took me on a tour of his dept. I was amazed at what he did but not surprised as 'that guy' could fix just about anything, starting with tearing things up and putting them back together at a young age. I always knew I could depend on him for advice on just about anything. Like Amy said (above), "You've captured his spirit." I'll miss my brother forever but am so proud of what he did with his life and the man, husband, father, brother he was...

  • 2013-05-01 07:53:55
    Matt Whited

    I only had the opportunity to work with Brian for two years, but I really enjoyed having him as a colleague.  Brian was my go-to guy for any interesting new (or old) demos involving, as Dick mentioned, "smoke, flame, and loud noises".  He always had a knack for making things work, and I can remember several times coming to him with a seed of an idea and he would always be able to figure something out.  Fortunately, we only evacuated the building once!

    More than his technical skills, which were always appreciated, I remember that we had a tremendous amount of fun figuring out how to make chemistry work.  Brian was incredibly kind, helpful, and reliable in all of our interactions, and I think I can speak for all the members of our department in saying that he will really be missed.

  • 2013-05-01 09:52:38
    Nancy Cantwell

    I will always remember Brian's help with one of the Northfield Environmental Quality Commission's early attempts to encourage leaf recycling. Many bags were collected, when we realized that the plastic bags everyone had used, before the days of easily obtained biodegradable bags, would not break down for years. A group of us went out to attack the pile at the compost center, worked as long as we could to empty the slimy things, and left, planning to return another time. Brian stayed on until every bag was empty and the process of decay could begin in earnest. What a trouper! I send my admiration to his family, who knew well his dedication and perseverance and much more.

  • 2013-05-01 10:31:59
    Michael W. Burand

    Brian was an integral part of my experience at Carleton. We shared common interests in motorcycling, flying, and sailing, and I remember fondly our many conversations about these topics. As a colleague he was outstanding; whenever I asked for help with an instrument or lecture demonstration--no matter how last-minute it was--Brian always came through for me.

    I remember a time when I asked Brian to make me a hydrogen-oxygen balloon for a lecture demonstration. A colleague had suggested only filling the balloon to about the size of a cantaloupe. While I was standing there, Brian filled it to something about the size of a watermelon. "Uh..." I said nervously, "That seems awfully big. Do you think it will be OK?" Brian thought for a moment and said, "It will be memorable." It was. And so was Brian.

  • 2013-05-01 11:34:17
    Eamon Flynn '09

    I worked in the Chemistry Lab for three of my years at Carleton, a great experience thanks to the presence of Brian. He was always patient, happy to help, and truly dedicated to making every student's experience in lab the best it could be, often without the recognition he deserves. Thank you, Brian.

  • 2013-05-01 12:06:20
    Ben Cotts '11

    I was a chemistry major and I worked in the stockroom for some of my time at Carleton. Brian's work preparing and maintaining the lab rooms was a huge task and vital to our education as chemists. Getting to know Brian more as I grew older was part of joining the chemistry community at Carleton. I always found him honest and helpful. I also remember how he expertly manned the grill at the chemistry picnic each year. Thank you Brian.

  • 2013-05-01 13:05:09
    Kristine Mackin '09

    I was also a Chemistry major, but the best memory I have to share of Brian was his willingness to help out the Experimental Theater Board when we were cleaning out about 30 years of accumulated paint cans. He got me all the information I needed about sorting and disposing of the various types of paint, and helped move all the hazardous kinds to the correct area to be disposed of. His generosity with his time and resources is what I hope we can all remember. Thank you from all of us, Brian.

  • 2013-05-01 13:44:49
    Mac Brown '93

    I just wanted to add my condolences - Brian meant a lot to all of us! Mac

  • 2013-05-01 15:09:21
    Deborah Gross

    I have worked with Brian for 15 years at Carleton, and he was always a valued and trusted colleague.  Whether discussing the best way to prepare something for the classroom or laboratory, talking about fruit trees or fountain pens, or talking about some interesting science from a departmental seminar, Brian was always thoughtful, intellectually engaged, and eager to share his experiences.  I talked with Brian a great deal about instrumentation in the department, and the enduring memory that I will keep is the smile that Brian had on his face when describing how he had fixed something so that it was ready for use by Carleton students and faculty.  It was a combination of pride in a job well done and glee that he had outfoxed the equipment.  Thank you, Brian.

  • 2013-05-01 19:36:48
    Joyce Adams

    I want to thank everyone for the wonderful stories about Brian. He was a complex and interesting person. He loved his job and those he worked with. Aaron and Amy his children are really missing him but it has warmed their hearts to hear how loved and respected their Dad was.

  • 2013-05-02 17:37:15
    MaryAnne Chamerlik Cooper '87

    I spent a summer working for Brian in the stockroom and then several hours a week my senior year. I remember that summer with great happiness - we worked hard, but had such a fun time! Brian was a kind, hardworking and yet goofy guy. We kept in touch for many years - the last time I saw him was when my 15 year old son was an infant. I was stunned and saddened to get the news and will miss him. The chemistry dept will not be the same without him.

  • 2013-05-03 06:14:27
    Robert Rossi

    I worked with Brian as a visiting professor at Carleton for several years before moving "up north" to take a position similar to his own at another college.  It was only then that I began to understand and appreciate the really hard parts of his job - navigating hazardous waste regulations, managing student employees, remembering to do critical equipment maintenance without fail, and so on.  These are all thankless things that nobody really notices unless they are flubbed, but they are each crucial.  Brian and I shared a passion for fixing and figuring things out, and helping to turn on light bulbs above student's heads - I enjoyed many a joyous victory with him in these areas, and they were always so rewarding...but I'll remember him best as a quiet force, never seeking accolades, working behind the scenes on essential things that were all too easily taken for granted...and which made the really fun stuff possible.

  • 2013-05-03 18:34:16
    Dave Alberg

    I’ve had the pleasure to work with Brian for the past 20 years in the Carleton Chemistry Department. As others in the department have already said in these posts, Brian was a pillar of our program, supporting our curriculum, the faculty, and most critically, our students. He served in numerous ways behind the scenes, but his most visible role was as our go-to problem solver. On the always-hectic Tuesday and Thursday “lab days”, Brian could be reliably counted on to drop whatever he was doing, in order to solve the urgent problem at hand, putting out one fire after another (sometimes it actually was a fire!). Others have mentioned Brian’s prominent role in maintaining our NMR spectrometer, and collecting NMR data for students. My work in the department relies heavily on this instrument and over the past 20 years, I often found myself with Brian in the basement NMR room. Typically, I would discover some problem, like a broken cooling fan, or other issue, and “we” would work together to fix it. Usually, that “we” was mostly “he” and very little “me”! It was always good fun to problem-solve with Brian. Another prominent role Brian ably filled was as chief cook at our annual chemistry department picnic, at Nerstrand Big Woods park. I will always be able to picture him toiling over the gas grill in a cloud of smoke – cooking up dozens of hamburgers and Nerstrand brats to feed the hungry masses of college students. Being chemists – who always enjoy a thrilling chemistry “demo” – we never minded those occasional impressive grease fires, despite losing a brat or two! It has been hard, this past week, to walk by his office and see his office door closed. His door was rarely closed.

  • 2013-05-05 18:38:44
    Joyce Adams

    When I called to check on how my children were copeing with their father's death my son Aaron said"THERE IS NO MAN I ADMIRE AND RESPECT MORE THAN MY DAD" This touched a mother's heart. And Amy my daughter said-"THERE WAS NO QUESTION MY DAD COULD NOT ANSWER" Brian was loved and his love grows on in my children.

  • 2013-05-06 08:18:31
    Julie Karg

    Like Brian’s daughter, Amy, Brian was the person I looked to for answers.  I think everyone in the Chemistry Department did.  When I couldn’t figure out how to do something, or I couldn’t find the answer to a question I had, Brian was always there.  He possessed a wealth of information and skills that will be sorely missed.  After working so closely with someone for 25 years, you would think you would know practically everything there is to know about that person’s job, but that was simply impossible.  Though I tried to learn as much as I could from Brian, there were not enough hours in a day to perform the functions of my own position, learn all the aspects of another person’s position, and keep up with the demands of an ever-growing Chemistry student enrollment population, changes in technology and more sophisticated/complex laboratory procedures, and increasing safety regulations.  Knowing I did not possess Brian’s knowledge base and skills set, I had always hoped Brian would be here to help usher in his eventual replacement, making the transition as smooth and seamless as possible.  It was something I had been nervous about for years, as the possibility of his retirement loomed.  But the transition I had hoped for was not to be, and immediately after learning of the sudden loss of such a vitally important and multifaceted (Laboratory Manager, Instrument Specialist, Hazardous Waste Coordinator, Chemical Hygiene Officer) member of our department just 5 working days ago, our department adopted an approach of “one-day-at-a-time”.  There have already been many challenges, but with the help of many individuals, collectively, we have managed to get through them so far. 

    Five days and counting.

  • 2013-05-08 09:06:29
    Marion Cass

    Last week, beginning with an e-mail from Wendy telling us that Gail had called with the sad news that Brian had passed away over the weekend, then the 10” snowstorm the night of May 1, followed by Brian’s funeral on Friday May 3, life was a bit surreal in the Chemistry Department.  It was not until yesterday, a regular “lab day”, that I was struck by the fact that the lab floor was just not the same, Brian’s office door was closed, Steve was prepping his own lab, Gretchen was searching the lab floor for missing equipment, the liquid nitrogen was not filled, Julie and the stockroom workers were covering the added load, and we all were coping to the best of our abilities to make things work.

      I worked with Brian for over 26 years at least two days a week for every term I have taught at Carleton.  Brian was recognized for running his 10,000th NMR sample in 2011.  I can say with certainty that he filled our gas IR cells for Advanced Lab in Quantum Spectroscopy at least 1000 times since we began working together.  At the end of each Winter Term cycle we would celebrate the “one last time this term” fill.  Brian had a challenging and demanding job, working with up to 9 chemistry faculty members per term, faculty from other departments who needed help with chemicals and equipment, administrators overseeing chemical safety, while managing the “chaos” of our lab program with somewhere between 30-100 students on the lab floor any given Tuesday or Thursday morning or afternoon.  Collectively the faculty, Brian and Julie, and the stockroom workers planned in advance to minimize the chaos, but every day there was at least something gone awry:  a printer that would not print, an instrument that would not run properly, a solution that just wasn’t quite right, a piece of vital equipment that had “gone missing” or was broken.  Brian was the person called on to “fix-it or find it” for years on end.  Add to this that Brian was the person ultimately responsible for safety, taking care of the chemical waste, ordering most of the supplies and making sure, along with Julie Karg, that the lab program operated as smoothly as possible, it is amazing to comprehend that he ran over 12,000 NMR samples, filled thousands of gas IR cells and did many of the countless things he was called upon to do and still maintained a sense of calm and his sense of humor.  He was always there to help us (perhaps only missing a handful of days of work in over 30 years of service to Carleton).  I will miss his quirky smile and genuine sense of humor. He appreciated a good story and loved to find the humor in everything from the truly absurd to something downright goofy.  I will also remember how much he helped me and supported me in teaching scientific glassblowing.  He was encouraging and helpful.  He seemed to celebrate that it was something we taught “just for fun, just for the students”. The last Friday he worked at Carleton, the last full day he was alive on this earth, I hear he was in the glassblowing lab providing support and encouragement to the Carleton glassblowing students.

    Thank you Brian for all the countless hours (days/years) you gave to us.   Thank you for your smile and the reminder to appreciate a bit of humor everyday.

  • 2013-05-08 13:04:51
    Gretchen Hofmeister

    The memory of Brian that stands out for me right now is related to his travails in replacing the turbopump for the GC-MS instrument in our department this year. To keep the story from being too long, I’ll just say that it involved researching the least expensive way to do the repair, phone calls and paperwork for setting up a new vendor and returning defective parts, and an unsuccessful service call with the instrument technician. The technician left the instrument unusable, and Brian took it upon himself to get the instrument operational again. This took some time, but he persevered and succeeded! Just this week, the parts arrived in the department to await the final repair, which Brian had planned to do this summer. To me, this series of events epitomized the challenges of his job and the attitude that he brought to his work. We miss you, Brian—your patience in dealing with logistics and your joy in solving problems of this nature.