Owen Fennema, Renaissance Man 1929—2012


I have been asked to write a tribute to Owen Fennema for several reasons. Perhaps the primary reason is that I succeeded Owen as the Editor-in-Chief of IFT's peer reviewed journals, a position he held 1999–2003. Although I can document the many accomplishments Owen had as a food scientist, a consummate food science professional, an editor, and an author, I cannot separate my feelings for this man so simply. So this tribute will be both professional and personal.

Every once in a while someone enters your life and completely changes it. That is what happened to me when I met Owen Fennema in January 1963. I started working for Owen in his laboratory at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison and continued until I emerged in 1968 as his first PhD student. From those days on, I have tried to emulate Owen in everything I did because he did it so right. I was truly honored to be nominated by Owen to succeed him as Editor-in-Chief in 2003.

About the man, Owen completed his formal education with a PhD from the Univ. of Wisconsin-Madison in 1960. He was hired immediately onto the faculty and retired in 1996. He advanced through the ranks at the university rather quickly, served as the chair of the Dept. of Food Science for 3 years, and was very active within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences and within the university. He taught food chemistry and advised about 15 to 20 undergraduate students per year. His lectures were crystal clear, like the water and ice that was the primary attention of his research.

As a tribute to Owen's contributions to IFT, in the September issue of JFS (Vol. 77 Issue 9) there is an “In Memoriam” listing of Owen's many contributions to IFT, including serving as its president 1982–83. From 1999 to 2003,Owen served as IFT's editor-in-chief during which there were several important advancements: accelerated processing of manuscripts that eliminated a manuscript backlog (for which many authors were very grateful); promoted the development of 2 additional peer-reviewed journals (Journal of Food Science Education and Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety); elaborated the scientific editor/associate editor model for each of the (then) 5 sections of the Journal of Food Science; wrote job descriptions for positions within the publications; adopted excellence in science as the basis for publishing in the journals; and continually made the point that a professional society like IFT has the obligation to support its peer-reviewed publications. His motto seemed to be, “If it is good, sound science and meets the requirements of peer- review, then IFT has the obligation to publish it for the betterment of food science and technology.” In addition, Owen transitioned the journals to electronic submission and handling, went to 9 issues published per year from 6 issues, redesigned the content of the sections of JFS, and greatly reduced the manuscript-handling timeline. Put simply, Owen transitioned IFT's journals into the 21st century and began JFS's long climb to respectability among food science scholars. His contributions to the success that IFT's journals are enjoying today cannot be underestimated.

Now I need to provide a little explanation to the title, why a renaissance man. Owen was truly a worldly man as evidenced by his many contributions to international food science, not the least of which was his service to the International Union of Food Science and Technology (IUFoST) to which IFT is an adhering body. He served in various capacities in the organization, gave lectures around the world, and served as major professor to numerous international students. Perhaps most importantly, he was Editor-in-Chief of Food Chemistry, a text/reference book with chapters authored by experts around the world, several chapters of which Owen authored. The book has been used as a textbook on every continent (except Antarctica) and been translated into several languages. As a tribute to Owen's monumental efforts to get this book into print, the book is now called “Fennema's Food Chemistry” and is in its 4th edition. During his professional life Owen developed wood working and carpentry as an avocation. This led to taking up leaded glass design and construction, an art form in which he was a truly gifted artist. Many of his works are hanging in UW-Madison buildings and in private homes of friends and acquaintances. In fact, one is hanging at IFT headquarters.

How do you sum up the contributions of one man, a man of such enormous intellect, impact on his chosen field of study, intrinsic leadership, and humanitarianism? The answer is, “It is impossible.” What you can do is recognize his contributions and be thankful that we had him with us, that he made our journey easier. I would be remiss if I did not use a Vince Lombardi quote to end this tribute since Owen loved the Packers. Lombardi said, “The quality of a person's life is in direct proportion to his commitment to excellence.” Owen indeed was committed to excellence and his contributions were monumental. Rest in peace, dear Owen.