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Legacy Award Winner - 2009

College of Agriculture and Natural Resources

Leroy Maki makes lasting difference

By Robert Waggener,
Office of Communications and Technology

Leroy Maki

This year's Legacy Award goes to a longtime College of Agriculture faculty member who helped launch the microbiology program, established a scholarship fund for students, and was considered an exceptional teacher.

"Dr. Leroy Maki has made a lasting difference in the microbiology program both in terms of teaching and financial support," says Anne Leonard, college relations officer for the College of Agriculture.

Adds Department of Veterinary Sciences Professor E. Lee Belden, who had Maki as a teacher and then became a colleague: "Teaching was clearly a very strong point of Dr. Maki's. He was well prepared, very well organized, and as honest a person as you could find. He taught life lessons, and one way he did that was by having a genuine concern for his students."

Leroy (pronounced LaRoy) Maki taught microbiology in the College of Agriculture from 1955 to 1990.

"I most enjoyed the association with the students," said Maki, who has retired in Laramie. "I enjoyed teaching them, and I was always in the laboratories helping them."

Maki says he quickly found that teaching became a two-way street. "I learned because the students asked me a lot of questions that really made me think. It was very stimulating. If I didn't have the answer, we would work to find it."

Maki adds he also enjoyed research but didn't like the administrative end of being a faculty member, especially when he learned about the proposal to split the then Department of Microbiology and Veterinary Medicine into the Department of Molecular Biology and the Department of Veterinary Sciences.

"That was a real hassle," he says.

Belden, though, says one of the things Maki brought to the table no matter what he was doing was equity. "He was fair in dealing with everyone. He has served as a role model for many, many people."

Belden had Maki as a teacher beginning in 1959, and then Maki served on his master's committee.

"He set a great example for me," Belden says. "When I became a teacher and a colleague of Dr. Maki's, I tried to pattern myself after him. I succeeded in some aspects, like being genuinely concerned about students, but I've never achieved Leroy's level of organization in the classroom. His teaching was very complete."

Maki says his organization, dedication, and love for teaching stems back to his work as a young boy on the family dairy farm in Skamokawa, Washington.

"The whole family worked on the farm. We milked cows twice a day, cared for the chickens, and raised hay. That gives you a sense of responsibility," Maki says. "My mom instilled in all of us boys a curiosity (Maki has two brothers). We were all interested in the world around us and how things worked. I am sure that spilled over into my school and teaching. When I understood something, I could explain it better to others, and if I didn't understand something, I would seek answers."

Maki served in the Army from 1945-46, earned bachelor's and master's degrees in bacteriology and public health from the former Washington State College in Pullman, and then received his Ph.D. in bacteriology in 1955 from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

His interest in bacteriology started in the Army when, as a member of the medical corps, he was assigned to a military hospital in Utah.

"I worked on the wards making beds and helping patients in and out of the operating rooms. I saw people working in the hospital laboratories, and it looked interesting," Maki recalls. "When I went to Washington State, I initially started in medical technology, and one of the first courses I took was bacteriology. The gentleman who taught the course was really interesting, and he encouraged me to major in bacteriology."

Maki says that faculty member along with a woman who taught medical bacteriology became great mentors.

"I used them as models for a lot of my teaching. They were very good instructors to begin with, very disciplined in their fields, and they developed great relationships with their students," Maki remembers.

Maki started at UW in 1955 as an assistant professor. He and three colleagues built the microbiology program.

"It's something we passionately wanted to do. A challenge is always easier when you are really interested in achieving it," he says.

During his tenure in the college, Maki was honored with numerous awards, among them the Amoco Foundation Good Teaching Award, University of Wyoming's John P. Ellbogen Meritorious Classroom Teaching Award, and the College of Agriculture's Lawrence Meeboer Outstanding Teaching Award.

Asked why he believes he was recognized for his teaching, he responds, "My rapport with students."

Maki, 82, established the Leroy and Martha Maki Scholarship shortly after his wife died in 1989 to honor Martha and to help students interested in microbiology. He continues to contribute to the endowed scholarship, and two to four students annually receive awards.

"Dr. Maki and his family faithfully attend the college's annual scholarship banquet," Leonard says. "He is always seated with the current recipients of the Maki scholarship. Students like being able to connect a person or family to their award, and our donors enjoy meeting current students."

Maki says he's keeping busy during retirement performing community service, including genealogy, and singing. He's a member of the First United Methodist Church choir, Gem City Gents Barbershop Chorus in Laramie, and Wyomingaires Chorus in Cheyenne.

He has become a great resource for people across the country and beyond seeking genealogy information in Albany County and surrounding areas. He voluntarily helps them by looking up marriage, obituary, cemetery, and land records, and he takes photos including ones of homesteads and gravestones. He receives, on average, two to five requests a month.

"A lot of the requests are very interesting historically. I had one recently from a woman whose great-grandfather is buried southeast of Laramie near Ames Monument. She was looking for the burial records and was wondering how he died." Maki determined the man was digging a well on a ranch, and the well collapsed on him.

A woman from England inquired about her great-uncle who homesteaded near Laramie Peak, and she, too, wondered how he died. "I was able to determine he died after getting hit by lightning,' Maki says.

The woman flew to Laramie, and Maki took her to St. Matthew's Episcopal Cathedral, where the great-uncle's family worshiped. He also took her to the homestead. "It was quite an experience for her," he says. "The wide open plains are quite different than England."

He adds, "Genealogy is a very interesting hobby."

As the interview wrapped up, Maki shared another interest: "It's time to go hiking."

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