After battle with Lou Gehrig’s, faculty member’s life remembered by university community
Students from Lori’s Hands organized a lecture Thursday on STAR Campus to honor former faculty member Ron Wenger, who lost his battle with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) in January, more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
“We had all been really touched by our work with Ron,” said Lori’s Hands founder and alumnus Sarah LaFave. “Dr. Wenger had a lot to share with our students and a lot to teach them, so we felt like having the opportunity to carry on his legacy was important.”
Lori’s Hands is a registered student organization that offers community health service learning opportunities to undergraduates through meaningful service to chronically ill clients in the community. Several members of Lori’s Hands got to know Ron Wenger personally during his battle with ALS.
The lecture in the Health Sciences Complex featured speeches from LaFave, along with current Lori’s Hands volunteer Katie Bonanno, Gail Houseman of the ALS Association of Greater Philadelphia, ALS patient Chuck Morris and his wife, as well as Ron’s wife Sherry Wenger.
Ron was born in Trotwood, Ohio in 1937 and studied mathematics at the University of Miami, Ohio. Ron and Sherry met at Michigan State University where Ron was getting his doctorate in mathematics and Sherry was studying psychology, Sherry Wenger said.
Sherry put her name up on a ride board in order to get from school down to her home in southern Ohio. As it turned out, Ron ended up being her ride.
“I wasn’t too impressed, because he had this really old car that had a hole in the passenger side floorboard,” Sherry Wenger said. “But he was just so outgoing and fun loving, but also a very serious person.”
Ron and Sherry Wenger were married in 1963, and in 1965 Ron accepted a position with the university’s mathematics department, prompting Ron and Sherry to move to Delaware.
For the first two years, Ron and Sherry Wenger lived together in the Rodney Residence Hall where Sherry was residence hall director. After that, they spent another year living in Warner Hall on South Campus.
“By that time we had a son who was getting terribly spoiled, because we would always find him up on the women’s floor in Warner getting all this attention,” Sherry Wenger said.
Once their two kids, Bradley and Kelly, were in school, Sherry Wenger said she decided to get her doctorate in clinical psychology while Ron worked his way up to become associate dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I think the thing he was proudest of is he started the Mathematics Teaching and Learning Center at Delaware,” Sherry Wenger said. “That’s a group of faculty members who work with Delaware high school and middle school mathematics teachers to enhance the teaching and learning of mathematics throughout the state.”
Ron Wenger stayed in administration for many years and then went back to teaching in the classroom toward the end of his career. He retired from the university after 40 years of service in 2005. Ron was diagnosed with ALS four years later.
“He always said he hoped the disease spread slowly up until it’s end stages, and then he hoped it would go very quickly,” Sherry Wenger said.
ALS is a fatal, progressive neuromuscular disorder that causes eventual paralysis of all voluntary muscles, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.
“He was able to do a great deal really, his speech did not become affected until the week before he died, which was a blessing,” Sherry Wenger said. “He was able to walk haltingly up until a couple of months before he died, and I am just so thankful that he did not have to go through the really difficult end stages.”
Ron Wenger passed away Jan. 1 at the age of 76.
“He was always unfailingly interested in other people,” Sherry Wenger said. “People would come to see him and they would leave realizing that somehow they had ended up talking more about themselves than about him. And he was incredibly grateful for every single thing that I did for him.”
Numerous friends and family of the Wenger’s attended the lecture.
“I think [the lecture] was really successful,” said volunteer and senior Katie Bonanno. “A lot of people in attendance knew Ron, and those who did were able to get together in his memory, and the people who didn’t were able to learn from his story and learn a little bit about ALS.”