A Lifelong Passion Project

Like all writers, Valerie Stauffer knows a good story when she sees one, and the one belonging to her late husband, Jack Stauffer ’60 PhD, is one for the ages. That’s exactly why she’s in the process of chronicling it in a book.

“It’s more like listening in on a conversation,” she says of transcribing his memoirs—about 100 chapters of which are now complete—building off Stauffer’s initial dictations that began the summer after his diagnosis with glioblastoma brain cancer. “It’s an honest and engaging recollection of his life.”

One hundred chapters may seem like a lot, but with a career that spanned decades and continents, there’s no shortage of accomplishments to cover. Stauffer studied at Princeton and MIT before arriving at WPI, where he made his biggest academic splash as the Institute’s first graduate to receive a PhD in chemical engineering.  

“He was proud,” Valerie remembers of his graduation day at WPI. “Really thrilled and excited. It was a big day for us all.”

As momentous an occasion as it was for both the Stauffer family and WPI as a whole, it almost didn’t happen. A military draft had been put in place shortly after Jack graduated from MIT with a master’s in chemical engineering. He had planned to put his academic pursuits (with the ultimate goal of earning a PhD) on hold to join the Army, and that’s exactly what he would have done if he hadn’t received a letter from from WPI the day before he was scheduled to enlist, inviting him to study on campus.

“It was fate,” Valerie says simply. Shortly afterward, she and Jack packed up and moved to Worcester, a city they’d previously visited only in passing that would soon become their home for the next few years. Jack’s time at WPI encouraged him to dive deep into the world of patents and research with no expectation of profit, just the opportunity to share his work. Even after he received his PhD, many people didn’t realize he had one because he never referred to himself as a doctor. “It was something he did more for himself,” she says, “to gain scientific knowledge through research to help improve the world.”

Improve the world he did, first at Stauffer Chemical Company, a multi-national corporation founded by his great-uncle in 1986, and then through his own endeavor—Stauffer Technology. He built an impressive career as an author, consultant, inventor, and speaker. His book, Quality Assurance of Food, published in 1988, was used as a textbook in food science and nutrition courses in universities throughout the world. He spoke at international technology conferences and served as vice chairman of the United Nations Conference on the International Use of Energy and Raw Materials in the Petrochemical Industry, held in Sinaia, Romania, in 1994.

He was issued more than 65 U.S. and international patents involving nuclear energy, innovative batteries and engines, electricity transmission, and chemical processes—many leading to reduction of harmful chemical pollutants.

Such a profound life deserves to be celebrated, but with a resume as extensive as Jack’s, it could have been difficult to determine where and how to best honor his memory. For Valerie, though, the decision to donate to WPI was easy. “The whole experience at WPI,” she says, “of experimenting, making his own equipment, creatively thinking of ideas and implementing them independently made a huge difference for him.”

After several discussions and visits to campus with their eldest daughter, Jill, Valerie made her decision: her generous gift would go toward naming the courtyards outside the new academic building currently under construction on Boynton Street after Jack. “He would’ve wanted to do something meaningful for the students, and he was always conscious of the campus grounds and landscapes,” she explains, while also citing the family’s love of cycling and the outdoors as factoring into the decision. “… it all just seemed right.”

Stauffer’s legacy at WPI doesn’t stop there. He will be honored posthumously with the Robert H. Goddard Alumni Award for Outstanding Professional Achievement, and Valerie and several of their children and grandchildren look forward to accepting on his behalf, an honor she says would have “thrilled and humbled” her husband.

Each endeavor Jack Stauffer set upon was driven by curiosity and a desire to improve both himself and the world around him. His life was the definition of a passion project, a legacy that will be upheld by WPI students for years to come.

Learn more about giving at wpi.edu/give

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