Man thought to be oldest living U.S. Rhodes Scholar turns 100

Drew Bracken
Newark Advocate

Said to be the oldest living Rhodes Scholar in America, Dr. Frank Verhoek turned 100 on Thursday, right here in Licking County.

Verhoek celebrated the day with his three daughters and their husbands. A bigger celebration was held Saturday in the lobby at Kendal at Granville, the retirement community where he has lived since it opened.

Verhoek was born Feb. 12, 1909, in Grand Rapids, Mich. He graduated with honors from Harvard University in 1929, earned a master's degree in 1930 and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1933, and a doctorate from Trinity College, Oxford, where he was a Rhodes Scholar, 1933-36.

After a year of postdoctoral study at the University of Copenhagen, he began a long career as professor of chemistry at Ohio State University from 1937-77, after which we was named an emeritus professor of chemistry.

"I spent a lot of my time doing chemistry, some of which turned out to be of interest," he said Thursday from his Kendal apartment.

Such is the measure of his modesty. Through the years, Verhoek held a number of consulting positions as a chemist for General Electric, the Argonne National Laboratory, Olin-Mathieson Chemical Corp., Libbey-Owens-Ford Glass Co., the U.S. Naval Weapons Center at China Lake, Calif., and the University of Florida.

He was a lecturer with the Chemical Bond Approach Project for the National Science Foundation from 1959-68 and co-author of several textbooks and laboratory manuals on general chemistry. His research centered on rates of chemical reactions, especially decomposition rates of carboxylic acids in various solvents, oxidation rates of hydrocarbons in solution, hydrocarbon derivatives of boron and decomposition of solid state cobaltites.

"Somebody had to do it," Verhoek said.

His daughter, Susan Williams, who lives near Hershey, Pa., and holds a doctorate in botany from Cornell University, said everyone in the family knew their dad was smart, "but as you can tell he's also a very humble person. He never flaunted anything. To us he was just Dad, and he was smart. When we got things from school it said put down what your father did and we always wanted to put down 'professor,' but he said, 'No, I'm a teacher.'"

Growing up, daughter Louise Shiels, of Granville, who holds a master's degree in speech therapy from Kent State University, remembers all the family trips, particularly out West.

"He and mother were always interested in nature," she said. "They were interested in pointing out the wildflowers and the different kinds of trees."

Verhoek in fact was recognized for his nature photography. He liked to stay active. Consequently, reaching the century mark came as no surprise to his family.

"I guess we figured he could," said daughter Helen Yarbrough, of Evanston, Ill., who holds a master's degree in library science from the University of Denver. "He's been in such good shape for so long. He was mowing his own lawn in Worthington at the age of 95 until he tripped on a stone and he cracked his hip."

Besides his daughters, Verhoek has two grandchildren and one great-grandson. His wife, Cordula, who earned a master's degree in German from the University of Wisconsin in 1934, died in 1998.