By the time Don Bonar came to Denison in 1965 as a math instructor, Marion Wetzel had already put in nearly two decades of teaching, and she was happy to dole out advice to the new faculty member. “She was very supportive of the young people in the department,” says Bonar. And she seemed to take a special interest in the math instructor who would spend the rest of his career at Denison. “I think she saw a West Virginia farm boy working hard,” says Bonar. Wetzel herself grew up on a farm in Ashton, Ill., and had a love of agriculture. She went on to school at Cornell College in Iowa, and later to Northwestern University, where she earned her master’s degree and a Ph.D. She joined the Denison faculty in 1946—a rare woman in the math and sciences—and her passion for math guided her on a long career in the math department. She became an associate, then full professor, and served as chair of the department—the first woman to serve in the administrative role—for several years. When she retired in 1986, she was the college’s longest-tenured faculty member.
Wetzel’s main area of interest was in continued fractions, and she could often be found on campus plugging away at her work into the evenings, often joining Bonar for a cup of coffee in the student union, before heading back to the office. “She gave her life over to math,” he says.
Bonar describes Wetzel as both lively and cautious. She had a white Buick convertible, for instance, but she never put the top down. “Her car never left Ohio,” says Bonar, “it may never have left Licking County.” But Wetzel did, occasionally traveling with colleagues to math conferences and meetings across the country.
“She never lost her interest in math,” says Bonar. Even in retirement. She was fascinated with trinkets,” he says. “If they were math-related, she was interested.” Bonar recalls one such trinket: a wooden möbius strip sculpted from a walnut tree.
Wetzel died on January 14, 2012 at the age of 92. Preceded in death by her parents, a brother, and a sister, she is survived by her nieces and nephews.