Michael Collins

Emeritus Professor, Chemistry

July 18, 1944–Sept. 3, 2014

This site is dedicated to remembering Michael Collins.
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Tributes to Michael
Strides Final Word article by Michael Collins, August 2009


July 18, 1944–Sept. 3, 2014

Dying from my chronic disease, myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a bone marrow disorder brought on by chemotherapy, had certain advantages. Cholesterol and triglyceride levels were not a big deal, and six-pack abs became a lot less important. Of course the real advantage was that death was not a surprise, so I had a chance to get closer to people, to take my farewells, and to get affairs in order—things we all should do anyway, but that we tend to avoid when we get busy. Now to the details:

I was born in Minneapolis on July 18, 1944, at Swedish Hospital (now part of the Hennepin County Medical Center campus). I attended St. Elizabeth grade school and De La Salle High School in Minneapolis. I graduated from St. John's University in Collegeville, Minn., in 1966 with a B.S. in chemistry and a mathematics minor. I received a Ph.D. in Inorganic Chemistry with a Mathematics and Physical Chemistry supporting program from the University of Minnesota in 1971. I taught chemistry courses briefly at North Hennepin Community College, Iowa Wesleyan College, and St. John's before settling in to a 33-year career as a professor in the department of chemistry and biochemistry at Viterbo University in La Crosse. I also spent several years on sabbatical at the University of Minnesota as a visiting professor in the labs of Alan Hooper and Larry Que.

I played football in high school and college and had the privilege of playing for the legendary coach John Gagliardi as a starting tackle on two college national championship football teams, 1963 and 1965. In 1965 I was the co-captain and team most valuable player, was unanimous MIAC All-Conference, was selected to the AP All-Midwest team, made a couple of All-America teams, and received the Golden Helmet Award as Minnesota's Best State College Football Player. Those days were lots of fun and very formative at several levels. I got to meet and play with some amazing people. I was also blessed with great roommates—Pat Jacobs, Mark Thelen, and Dan Hoolihan—and mentors at St. John's.

I received many awards over the years, and a few stand out. I was the 1987 Wisconsin Professor of the Year and the 1987 Bronze Medalist for the National Professor of the year (CASE). I was inducted into my high school Hall of Fame in 2012. Most recently, I received the 2013 E. Ann Nalley Award for Volunteer Services by the American Chemical Society.

As I look back on my college and graduate school days, on my career as a college chemistry professor, and at my wall of award plaques, I find it all a bit remarkable that a shy kid from a working class neighborhood in the inner city of Minneapolis could do all that. I was blessed with some good teachers, with a family who expected good things, with the right friends at the right time, and a bit of luck getting jobs in tough economic times. I am grateful to all of you for your support and friendship.

Many thanks to my providers and caregivers at Gundersen Health Systems over the years. We went through a lot together, and your competence and kindness made it easier.

Many thanks also to my friends, old and new, who gave me and Mary the love and support that was above and beyond any call of duty. You know who you are. Your kindnesses and generosity helped me in ways I could never express.

My sincere apologies to people whom I have insulted, ignored, or been mean to, either intentionally or otherwise.

I was preceded in death by my parents, Aloysius Edward Collins of Waseca, Minn., and Aileen Louise Collins (née May) of New Albin, Iowa. I am survived by my wife Mary A. Cummins Collins; by my two sons Jeffrey Michael Collins and Brian Michael Collins; by daughters-in-law Jolene (Seymour) and Cynthia (Bateman); by grandsons Riley, Drew, Brady, and Zachary Collins, and granddaughter Megan Collins; by brothers Terence (Carol Miller) and Kevin (Linda Smith) and sisters Frances (Dick Bukrey) and Elizabeth; by mother-in-law Edna (Horak) Cummins, sister-in-law Anne (Cummins) Peterson, brothers-in-law William and James Cummins; and by many nieces and nephews.

I was married to Mary Ahrens in 1966. We divorced in 1983.

I used to run a lot for fitness, and it was because of my daily noon runs at Viterbo that I met the love of my life, Mary Cummins, also a runner. Running turns out to be the best thing I ever did for myself. Our first real date was Dec. 15, 1983, on a night that set the record low temperature that still stands as I write this, but my heart was never warmer before that night, and it has only gotten ever warmer over the years. I have loved you, Mary, as I never knew I could love. Thank you for the quiet times together, for the laughs and tears, for the runs, the many walks, the bike outings, and the mountain hikes, for your courage through my adversities, and for your unfailing support. I can never express the depth of love I had for you.

Jeff and Brian, you were my raison d'être for most of my life. You always made me proud to be your father and to know you. It was so terrific to be able to watch you grow in grace and wit and knowledge. I wish only good things for you and for your families. Live long and continue to prosper as the wonderful men you have become. Your wives are remarkable women. Keep treating them better and better each and every day. They are your lives. It was my great pleasure to have known them and to have watched them grow as people, as mothers, and as spouses. Your children were joys to me. I wish I could have been here much longer to watch them grow to be the persons I hope they can become. Only good will come of them. This I know. This I wish for them and for you.

I had the gift of life for 70 years. It seemed too short a time to get it all done, and giving it back was a difficult and sad thing for me. But the slowness of my progress from diagnosis to death gave me time to review and reflect on all that I was able to do and see and feel and learn—a misty sunrise on a wilderness lake, loons calling at sunset, hiking in the mountains with views and people to die for, running the rapids on the Basswood River with Jeff and Brian, bumping my head on the doorways of stone age huts on the Dingle Peninsula, humpback whales breeching right in front of me, the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, Omaha Beach in the rain, sitting around the campfire with friends and family. Holding each new grandchild and watching them grow. Understanding and teaching quantum mechanics. Making a new chemical compound that had never ever anywhere in the universe existed before. It was fun!

To my beloved Mary, to Jeff and Brian; to Jolene, Cindy; to Riley, Zachary, Drew, Megan, Brady; to my family, my in-laws, and good friends.The hardest part was knowing that I can never see you, never touch you, never hear your voices again. Knowing you, loving you, seeing you grow—these were my successes. You were my precious few. Enjoy each da—for me, for yourselves, and for others. Hugs and kisses.



A Memorial Service will be held at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Sept. 7, 2014, in the Viterbo University Fine Arts Center Lobby. A visitation will be held at 1 p.m. until time of service and a time of fellowship will immediately follow the service. The Dickinson Family Funeral Home and Crematory is assisting the family with arrangements.

In lieu of flowers if you so wish to donate something on my behalf I recommend any of the following:

  • Scenic Bluffs Chapter American Red Cross, 2927 Losey Boulevard, La Crosse, WI 54601
  • The Mississippi Valley Conservancy, 1309 Norplex Drive, Suite 9, La Crosse, WI 54601
  • DeLaSalle High School - Science Division - 1 De La Salle Drive, Minneapolis, MN 55401

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