At a time when public universities are being asked to reduce their reliance on state funding and generate their own revenues, a 94-year-old UConn emeritus professor of electrical engineering has stepped up to bequeath the sum total of his 30 years of UConn retirement benefits – $1 million – to the University.
Professor John Löf, an MIT graduate who for many years ran UConn’s Computer Center and kept the University at the forefront of computer technology nationally, has designated his gift for graduate education in the School of Engineering.
When asked why he selected the University as the recipient of his bequest, he said with the eminently practical thinking of an engineer: “It’s not unreasonable to give back all of this retirement money. The University is getting back what the state has given me.” Taking his cue from his grandfather, a banker who invested in stocks, Löf invested wisely over the years.
Dean of Engineering Mun Choi recalls the day Löf entered his office and asked, “If I donate $1 million to the school, what would you do with it?” Without hesitation, Choi replied, “I’d use the gift to improve the vitality of our graduate education.”
Says Choi, “Our graduate programs are funded through competitive grants and fellowships, supplemented by endowments. Our graduates are tomorrow’s research pioneers and teachers, and a vital part of our legacy that will continue to grow. John, too, is an important part of our legacy: a professor of immense vision and sterling accomplishments in electrical engineering and computer science who continues to give back to the School of Engineering.”
Raised in Denver, Colo., Löf attended MIT as a graduate student. During World War II, the U.S. government used a computer at MIT to calculate trajectories for battleship cannons. Get the trajectory wrong: the cannonball sank into the sea. Get it right, and an enemy ship exploded. Löf was one of the graduate students at MIT who worked on that project, and when he followed an MIT colleague to the University of Connecticut, he brought his newfound expertise with him. He arrived at UConn in 1952 as an assistant professor of electrical engineering, and over the years, watched as both technology and the campus expanded.
As director of the Computer Center on campus, he spent thousands of hours helping faculty, staff and students understand the use and usefulness of computers.
Löf still has a space in the Computer Center, and has an extraordinary memory for the makes and models of computers that the university acquired over the years, from its first – “the size of a kitchen stove” – to the next, then across time and the technological landscape to today.
Löf has a frugal lifestyle, planting a vegetable garden each year, tapping his own maple syrup, and foregoing costly technological purchases that require frequent updating, including computers. Despite being an authority on computers and their history, he does not own one.
He lives near the Storrs campus, tending his garden and keeping an eye on the local birds, a hobby he acquired after he met his wife Ruth, a bird enthusiast and accomplished bird bander. She was known to provide safe haven for birds that had forgotten to fly south for the winter, including a tiny hummingbird that one year had free reign of the house. Ruth Löf died in 1992, and in her memory Löf also has left $100,000 to establish the Ruth and John Löf Fund for Natural History at the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History at UConn.
“I figure I’m fortunate,” he says. “Thirty years of retirement produces quite a lot of money. I hope it will be a benefit.”
For more information about supporting the School of Engineering or the Connecticut State Museum of Natural History, please contact the UConn Foundation’s development department.