Missing since 2012, professor remembered by friends and relatives
As friends, colleagues and relatives remembered John Dohms, 64, a retired university professor who suffered from dementia and whose remains were found in a wooded area behind Fremont Road in Newark on Friday, they often returned to stories about his adventurous spirit and enthusiasm for learning and teaching.
Dohms had been missing since 2012 and was searched for by hundreds of people, Lt. Mark Farrall of the Newark Police Department said.
“Obviously, it’s not the outcome we were hoping for,” Farrall said. “Hopefully this will at least be able to provide some source of closure for the family who’s wondering where he’s been and whatever happened to him.”
Dohms was a professor in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences who received his Ph.D. in veterinary microbiology from Ohio State University in 1977 and specialized in avian microbiology. He attended Bowling Green State University as an undergraduate, where he was an All-American lacrosse player.
University alumna Elizabeth Haines, 43 of Summit, N.J., frequently biked and ran with Dohms. She said she remembers him being involved in university athletics, and said he impacted her by being an example of both a scholar and an athlete.
“As intense as he was around the science, he also didn’t take himself too seriously,” Haines said. “He was dedicated to improving his mind and the minds of others.”
Bernard Kaplan, a university English professor who has known Dohms since they were both children growing up a block away from each other in Fair Lawn, N.J., said shortly after Dohms’ disappearance, he traveled to their hometown to pass out flyers and let neighbors know to look out for him.
“The idea was that someone with dementia may have wandered to where he was as a kid,” Kaplan said. “That was a kind of bittersweet trip, of course. We were kind of hoping that’s what would happen — he would wander up there. But it never happened.”
John’s brother-in-law, Chris Herrman, 51, of Grand Junction, Colo., said he recalls numerous stories about John. One experience they shared in Costa Rica in 1989 particularly makes him laugh, he said.
On this trip, John took along an insect collection tin for a colleague who was researching leafhoppers, a jungle bug, Herrman said. The pair went into the jungle and collected the bugs, but realized they would have to be smuggled through customs upon their return to the United States, Herrman said. They did so successfully.
“John was proud of this, so he takes them back to the college,” Herrman said. “Turns out we’ve been collecting the wrong species the whole time!”
Herrman and Dohms also spent about 10 years traveling around the world white water rafting. They rafted in Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Chile, Peru, Zimbabwe, Canada and on several rivers in the United States, Herrman said.
Haines recalls Dohms’ sense of humor.
“He used to have this infectious disease fashion show,” Haines said. “Everyone would dress up in infectious disease [gear] and he’d announce it down the walkway. It was really cute.”
He talked about his students all the time, and was proud of his mentoring of them to get them into premier vet schools, Haines said.
“I’d just like for people to realize he was a vibrant and fun-loving guy, not some old professor with dementia,” Jim Dohms, John’s brother, 61 of Bradenton, Fla., said.
The university offered a $10,000 reward in the search for Dohms. Family and friends have said they would like for the money to be given to the hiker who found the remains, to a scholarship or to name an academic facility or classroom. University offices could not be reached for comment.
Dohms is survived by Kim Herrman, his partner of 33 years; his brothers Jim of Fla. and Peter of Ariz.; and 11 nieces and nephews. Memorial services have not yet been arranged.
Correction: Dohms’ infectious disease fashion show involved dressing up in infectious disease gear (gloves, masks), not as an infectious disease, as stated in an earlier version of this article.