Frank Wolf, Professor Emeritus of Mathematics at Carleton College, Dies

Frank Louis Wolf, 76, professor emeritus of mathematics at Carleton College for 37 years, died Saturday, July 1, at his summer home in Bay Lake, Minn. He was a longtime resident of Northfield. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Sept. 16 in Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel.

10 July 2000 Posted In:

Frank Louis Wolf, 76, professor emeritus of mathematics at Carleton College for 37 years, died Saturday, July 1, at his summer home in Bay Lake, Minn. He was a longtime resident of Northfield. A memorial service is planned for Saturday, Sept. 16 in Carleton’s Skinner Memorial Chapel.

Wolf specialized in the teaching of analysis, statistics and foundations, and taught at Carleton from 1952 until his retirement in 1989. He was known for his expertise in teacher preparation and mathematics curriculum development, and was the author of several exceptional textbooks on mathematics, including “Elements of Probability and Statistics” (1962, 1974) and “Order and the Real Numbers, A Guided Tour” (1968) and “Number Systems and Their Uses” (1971). Wolf also was an amateur poet, and his first book included numerous limericks, such as the following one at the beginning of the chapter titled “The Arithmetic Mean:”

A teacher from South Abilene
Gave us problems ’til we were green
And she’d use her whip
For the littlest slip.
She was surely not average–but mean.

In addition to his mathematical pursuits, Wolf took a high level of interest in environmental issues affecting the city of Northfield. Several years ago, he conducted a study of the emissions practices of Sheldahl, a Northfield-based manufacturing company accused of releasing a carcinogen into the air. Together with other Northfield citizens, Wolf founded an environmental watchdog group, Clean Air in Northfield (CAN), which was able to persuade Sheldahl to change its practices. “The effort succeeded due to Frank’s tactfulness and excellent negotiating skills,” said James McDonnell, professor of English at Carleton and member of CAN. “He showed great leadership and great citizenship.” Most recently, Wolf was appointed to Northfield’s Environmental Quality Commission.

Wolf was born in St. Louis on April 18, 1924, to Louis and Helen Dorcas (Below) Wolf. He served in the U.S. Army for two years during World War II. Following the war, he was an assistant test engineer and technical supervisor for Carbon and Carbide Chemical Co. in Oak Ridge, Tenn., and a technician for two atomic bomb tests at Bikini Atoll in the Pacific Ocean. In 1947, he married Joy Gifford in Webster Groves, Mo.

Wolf earned his B.S. degree in chemical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis in 1944. After the war, he returned to receive his M.A. in mathematics in 1948. He taught for two years at St. Cloud State University before earning his Ph.D. in mathematics with a minor in philosophy at the University of Minnesota in 1955.

In 1959, Wolf chaired a committee of faculty members instrumental in establishing Carleton’s first electronic computing center, which was a joint
effort with St. Olaf College. In 1986, Wolf helped secure a grant from the National Science Foundation to fund Carleton’s Statistical Laboratory for
the Social Sciences, where professors were able to teach data-driven statistics courses. Wolf served as the lab’s first director.

According to his wife, Wolf loved to teach and turned down an offer of a dean’s position at Carleton in order to stay in the classroom. He did, however, hold various appointed and elected administrative positions, including one term as chair of the faculty and two terms as chair of the mathematics department. He was particularly satisfied with his work as chair of the educational policy committee, which was responsible for setting the educational policies and practices of the College.

Wolf held various offices in numerous state and national mathematical organizations, including the Minnesota Academy of Science, the Mathematical Association of America, the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Computer Graphics Association and the American Mathematical Society.

Wolf is survived by his wife; son Jon Wolf (Edie Hill) of Minneapolis; three daughters, Joan Prefontaine (Paul) of Deerwood, Minn., a 1971 graduate of Carleton, Joy Allison Wolf (Jerry Wilhelm) of Minneapolis, a 1975 graduate of Carleton, and Barbara (Donald) Terao of Evanston, Ill.; brother Bryant Wolf of Harrison, Ark.; two sisters, Dorcas Whitehead of Silverton, Ore., and Joan Blistain of Bay Lake; five grandchildren and one great-granddaughter; nieces, nephews and cousins.

Interment was at the Bay Lake Cemetery in Bay Lake Township. Memorials may be given to Carleton College or the Bay Lake Environmental Fund.