June 21, 2010
Colleagues remember Morton Kenner, first computer sciences chair
MARYVILLE, Mo. - Dr. Morton Kenner, one of the pioneers of Northwest Missouri State's computer sciences program, died Thursday, June 17. Kenner, who lived in Kansas City, Mo., with his wife, Dr. Jean Kenner, was 85 years old.Kenner was Northwest's first chair of the Division of Mathematics and Computer Sciences in 1974.
Kenner came to Northwest in the fall of 1970 as chair of the mathematics department and served the University until 1987. In addition to leading the mathematics and computer science programs, his former colleagues said, Kenner worked hard at creating initiatives that extended to the community, including the annual Mathematics Olympiad, which continues today.
"He was very instrumental in starting the computer science program," said Dr. Jon Rickman, Northwest's Vice President of Information Systems. Rickman worked with Kenner as a faculty member in the computer sciences department and as director of computer services. "He was very supportive of upgrading all computer facilities and wanted it to be the strongest computer sciences program in the state."
Two of Kenner's first hires in the spring of 1971 were computer science and information systems professors Dr. Gary McDonald and his wife, Dr. Merry McDonald, whom Kenner had hired once before.
Kenner had hired Merry in 1970 to teach at Stephens College in Columbia, Mo., but soon left for Northwest. The next year, as Kenner was looking for professors for Northwest's mathematics department, he hired Merry, along with Gary, who had just finished school.
Under Kenner, programs flourished. He became known as an individual who advocated strongly for his department and set high standards, his colleagues said.
After building the mathematics department, Kenner was asked to head the newly-created Division of Mathematics and Computer Sciences. He led the division until it was split into separate departments around 1980.
Gary vividly remembers the day in 1974 when Kenner called him into his office to discuss the computer sciences program.
"He asked me if I was willing to start teaching computer science and start retraining in that program to help develop it," Gary said. "That early he realized we needed to build up computer sciences. He knew we needed to start offering more courses and start moving to a major in that field. It was very early for a school of Northwest's type."
Colleagues recalled how Kenner enjoyed being involved and often hosted dinners for faculty and students. Rickman also recalled Kenner leading students with computer equipment from the Administration Building during the devastating fire in 1979.
"He kind of had a way of taking people under his wing," Merry said. "I really learned a great deal from him and he mentored me a lot. ... When I became chair of the department I learned a lot under his capacity."
In addition to his contributions at Northwest, Kenner taught mathematics at Southern Illinois University and chaired the mathematics departments at Stephens College. In 1964, he and his family moved to Kenya where he spent two years setting up a mathematics program for secondary schools.
A complete obituary appeared in the Kansas City Star on June 19.
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