Dr. Roy Sonntag

By Dr. David Klassen

Dr. Roy SonntagDR. ROY SONNTAG was raised in Cleburne, Texas. He was awarded a B.S. degree in Chemistry and Math by North Texas State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Texas, where he was named a General Electric Scholar. Upon completion of his doctorate, Roy was a research chemist for the ESSO Research and Engineering Company in Linden, NJ. He joined the McMurry faculty in 1960 as an Assistant Professor of Organic Chemistry.

After Roy’s 35 years of service at McM several of his major attributes stand out. He was a mentor to his colleagues, an educational innovator, an academic leader, a scholar, and a dedicated teacher. I would like to elaborate a little on each one of these attributes.

First, Roy was a mentor. When I joined the McM faculty in 1969, Dr. Jones was the chemistry department chairman and Roy and Lyndol Harris were on the faculty. As were most of his students, I was awed and a little intimidated by Dr. Jones, so naturally, I turned to Roy for help and guidance. I had never held a faculty position before, and Roy served as my mentor, giving me sound advice about teaching, dealing with students, and understanding the academic climate at McM. I’ve always appreciated the advice that he gave me as my mentor.

Roy was an educational innovator. One of the first things that impressed me about Roy was his willingness to keep up with current ideas in his field and to try out new things. For example, in the 1960s, he developed a stand-alone, self-paced video show using a slide projector and a tape recorder for his students to use to learn organic nomenclature. That was really a forerunner of the many current software programs that are now available for computers. When personal computers first became available, he ensured that our department got several.

He also wanted the department to have the newest scientific equipment. The year I arrived the department was awarded a grant from the Research Corporation to purchase a Perkin-Elmer NMR instrument. He took it upon himself to maintain it and consequently he spent many hours keeping it tuned up. He also participated on the team that wrote a proposal to the U.S. Department of Education that ultimately resulted in a 3 million dollar grant for McM. His part of the proposal got our department a new and better NMR, as well at the computer lab that is extensively used on the second floor of the science building. Also in terms of instrumentation he convinced the university to purchase a new Matson Fourier Transform Infrared Spectrometer, or FTIR, to replace the old out-dated one. That IR has subsequently been replaced by an even better one.

Roy was an academic leader. In 1975, when Dr. Jones reached the age of 65 and had to resign as department chair, Roy was selected to take over. He served admirably in that position for 18 years. During that time he saw a need for a biochemistry course and insured that we offered one, first by finding an adjunct, then hiring a biochemist with joint responsibilities in chemistry and biology, and ultimately learning biochemistry on his own and offering the course that way. Early on he recognized that a biochemistry program would enhance the department’s course offerings. Ironically, the department received permission to hire a full-time biochemist and institute a biochemistry major the fall that Roy announced his intention to retire. The program has fulfilled all the expectations that Roy had imagined. Also, in terms of leadership Roy served, at one time or another, on just about every university committee, frequently being the chairman. Particularly germane was his leadership on the premedical and pre-dental committee, and his many years as the pre-pharmacy advisor.

Not unexpectedly for a university professor, Roy was also a scholar. In addition to and in conjunction with his publications in scientific journals, he fostered research by chemistry undergraduates at McM, having obtained grants from the Welch Foundation for 9 years. His scholarly activities also included sponsoring the chemistry honors society, Gamma Sigma Epsilon. He served for many years as an officer, the Grand Recorder, for the national organization, helping to plan their national meetings. On campus, he was a sponsor for our American Chemical Society Chapter and a co-sponsor for the McM Alpha Chi chapter. This was one of the ways that Roy fostered excellence and leadership among the student body.

As with many other McM professors, Roy was an excellent and dedicated teacher. He demanded and expected his students to hold to the highest academic standards. He was committed to education both in and outside the classroom and always worked to provide the best education of students possible. He affected the lives of many, many students in a very positive way, consequently the results of his teaching are far reaching. Although we didn’t use the terminology then, we would say today that he instilled in his students Leadership, Excellence, and Virtue.

On the personal side, Roy was known as a kind, caring, and gentle person. He was a long standing active member of the St. Paul United Methodist Church. I imagine that he served his church in many capacities over the years. He also served the community in the Chamber of Commerce on the Military Affair’s Committee, he worked on the AISD textbook selection committee, and he often was a judge for the Science Fair. In 2006 Roy was inducted into the Science and Math Advisory Board’s Wall of Honor for his years of service to McMurry University, including his service to the chemistry department, and above all his service to the many students who were advised by him, or who passed through his classes.


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(Oct 5, 2015) Jerry said:
Thank you for sharing.

(July 4, 2015) Rick Nason said:

Dr. Sonntag was one of a kind. I will never forget the time I had a small explosion in organic chemistry lab due to my not having a magnetic stirrer set properly. On my very limited resources I was trying to figure out how I was to pay for the broken glassware as I was cleaning up. Dr. Sonntag came over and instead of anger or frustration (which I think he was incapable of), he first inquired extensively into whether or not I was hurt, and then after ascertaining the only damage was to my ego he calmly gave me one of the best chemistry lessons - and life lessons - I have ever received.

A true gentleman and scholar.