Why I Give: W.L. Magnuson, Ph.D. Professor of Chemistry

Ph.D., University of Kansas, inorganic chemistry

B.S., McMurry University, Abilene, Texas, chemistry and mathematics


Wife Kirsten is an Owensboro physician assistant and principal clarinetist with the Owensboro Symphony Orchestra.

Daughter Barbara Magnuson-Woodward earned a doctorate of pharmacy at the University of Kentucky after attending Wesleyan from 1984 – 1986 in pre-pharmacy. She serves as the coordinator and clinical pharmacist with a multidisciplinary nutrition support service at the University of Kentucky Medical Center and is an associate professor at the UK College of Pharmacy.

Son Justin will graduate from Vanderbilt University in May with a B.S. in chemistry. He has been accepted to two medical schools.

Dr. Magnuson is in his 48th year as a Wesleyan professor. Prior to his 1969 arrival in Owensboro, he was an assistant professor at McMurry for six years.

“It’s simple. I got a chemistry scholarship as an undergraduate, and I was so appreciative. That’s why I give.”

You grew up in Texas and returned to Texas to teach after earning your doctorate. How did you wind up at Wesleyan?

“I came here, along with Drs. Bob Darrell (English), John Combs (English) and Jim Thomas (mathematics), at the invitation of Dr. Howard Ramsey, who was the academic dean. We had all worked with him at McMurry, and he arrived at Wesleyan a year or two before we did. We drove up here from Abilene in the middle of Hurricane Camille, so it was a memorable drive to Kentucky with our young families.

What were your early impressions of Wesleyan?

“I saw a lot of potential in the sciences. There were very few chemistry majors in those days. I thought we could build the program, and I liked the challenge. My office was on the second floor of the Administration Building, and we had two classrooms and three labs on the same floor.”

Dr. Magnuson in the early 70s.

Why did you choose to teach?

“I had no plans to become a teacher when I was working on my Ph.D. In my last year there, I had several interviews for industrial positions, and none of them were appealing. A former professor and mentor at McMurry, Dr. W. Norton Jones, asked me to return to my alma mater to teach, and that is how it happened. I’ve loved being in the classroom ever since.

Teaching means everything to me. I get to promote the area of study I love and for which I have a great passion. I love to see my students’ progress while they are here and after they graduate. I have great pride in them, and it is very gratifying to see them do well.”

What are your best memories of Wesleyan?

“My relationships with my students. It means a lot that they stay in touch. I enjoy the letters, emails, Christmas cards and wedding invitations.

My friendships with John Combs and the late Jim Thomas. They became like brothers to me. John is probably the most dedicated teacher I’ve ever known. He loved teaching English. Jim was an excellent mathematician and started the computer sciences program here.

Moving into the new building (Yu Hak Hahn Center for the Sciences) in 2005. The science faculty planned the interior and worked closely with the architects. It was an exciting time, and our students helped us move.

Serving as a sponsor of the James Graham Brown Society with Dr. Henry Connor and Dr. Dan Bradshaw for many years.”

What has been your greatest accomplishment at Wesleyan?

“Appointing Dr. Henry Connor and Dr. Bob Flachskam.”

How do you spend your leisure time?

“Flower gardening, reading (historical novels, classics and Westerns) and international travel.”

As you look back to your arrival in 1969, what are the strengths of the College?

“The committed supporters who love Wesleyan and give generously, and the dedicated faculty who care about our students.”

How do you view the College today?

“I am absolutely positive about where we are today and where we are going.

Our loyal donors, past and present, have made this College what it is today, and I urge others to support the College, so we can achieve even greater standing.”