Michigan Tech News

Professor Perishes in Kayaking Accident

 

Last Modified 10:43 AM, July 9, 2009

Phone: 906-487-2354

By Marcia Goodrich

April 20, 2009—

Professor Richard Honrath, a leader of Michigan Tech's atmospheric sciences program and recipient of the 2006 Research Award, died Friday, April 17, in a kayaking accident on the Silver River in Baraga County.

According to the Baraga County Sheriff's Department, Honrath, 47, became separated from his kayak after it rolled in rapids; he became pinned under a tree in the fast-moving current.

"This is a horrible human tragedy," said Dean of Engineering Tim Schulz. "Richard was clearly one of the top faculty members at Michigan Tech, an outstanding educator and a highly respected researcher. I've known Richard since 1992, when he and I came to Michigan Tech as assistant professors. He was a wonderful human being, a sincere person and one with utmost integrity."

Honrath was first on the faculty of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Recently, he joined the Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences.

"He was a man so full of vitality that you can't imagine this happening," said Professor Marty Auer, his friend and colleague in civil and environmental engineering.

The two team-taught in the same classroom. "As a teacher, I always thought of him as being kind of like a gentle father," said Auer.

When Honrath explained difficult concepts to students, he would tell them to first draw a picture. "And when their exams came back, students would have written, 'First, you draw a picture,'" Auer said.

His teaching quality illustrated another ability. "He had exceptional clarity of thought," Auer said. "He could lay bare very complicated concepts, so that anyone could understand them. And he was so keenly analytical that you might consider his arguments to be the universal solvent. No matter what you were discussing, by the time you were done, he'd melted all the uncertainty away."

"Richard's death is certainly a big loss to our department, but more so to the University and, in a bigger sense, to society, because of the wonderful research he did," said Professor Neil Hutzler, former chair of civil and environmental engineering. "It will be hard to replace him, but Richard worked very hard during the last few years to bring other atmospheric scientists to campus, and in that respect his legacy will continue."

Auer agreed. "He accomplished a great deal--his work with the Remote Sensing Institute, the graduate program in atmospheric sciences . . . and he did it without the benefit of power or politics. He just used his personality to put it all together.

"He was just an open, gentle, positive man."

Honrath built a strong research program in atmospheric sciences, establishing the PICO-NARE air pollution observatory in the Azores, which measures pollution drifting across the Atlantic from North America. He was also conducting research on pollutants using ice cores from the Greenland ice cap and studying carbon dioxide and ozone as part of the PROPHET intensive atmospheric chemistry study in northern Michigan.

"Richard was the faculty member most responsible for bringing atmospheric sciences at Michigan Tech to international prominence," said Wayne Pennington, chair of geological and mining engineering and sciences. "He and others in atmospheric sciences created a PhD program here in that field. He supervised graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. He established field stations in Greenland and the Azores. While we hope to fill the gaps created by our loss of Richard, we know we can never fill his shoes."

Honrath earned a PhD in Atmospheric Chemistry in 1991 from the University of Alaska-Fairbanks, an MS in Civil Engineering from Carnegie Mellon University and a BS in Engineering and Applied Science from the California Institute of Technology.

Honrath is survived by his wife, Lori, of Houghton; son Ramey, a student at Northwestern Michigan College in Traverse City; daughter Prabah, 11; his parents, Richard and Laura Honrath of Sacramento; two sisters, Linda (Andre) Von Wartburg of San Francisco and Lisa (James) Ransdall of Pleasanton, Calif.; several nieces, nephews and cousins; and numerous friends.

A memorial service will be held Friday, April 24, in the Horner Lobby of the Rozsa Center. The doors open at 3 p.m.; William Kennedy will lead the service, which begins at 4 p.m.

Donations may be made in Honrath's name to the Honrath Children College Fund at the Michigan Tech Employees Federal Credit Union or the Richard E. Honrath Memorial Scholarship Fund at the Michigan Tech Fund.

The Jukuri-Antila Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements. The Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences has posted a site in his memory, www.geo.mtu.edu/news/2009/Richard_Honrath.html.

Michigan Technological University (www.mtu.edu) is a leading public research university developing new technologies and preparing students to create the future for a prosperous and sustainable world. Michigan Tech offers more than 130 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in engineering; forest resources; computing; technology; business; economics; natural, physical and environmental sciences; arts; humanities; and social sciences.