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In memoriam: Curtis Clump, professor of chemical engineering

Curtis W. Clump, whose 33-year tenure as professor of chemical engineering included 13 years as the engineering college’s associate dean for undergraduate affairs, died April 21 at his home in Bethlehem. He was 81 years old.

A witty man who loved taking bicycling vacations with his wife, Clump was praised by colleagues as an active scholar whose kind but firm demeanor and solid sense of ethics suited him well for the role of associate dean, which he filled from 1975 to 1988.

“Curt Clump was a true Lehigh person,” said Mohamed El-Aasser, university provost and professor of chemical engineering. “His contribution was immense. He loved students and was very interested in their lives and professional development. He was always one of the kindest individuals I knew, and he never lost his wit.”

“Curt was a professional of the first order,” said Don Bolle, chair of the electrical and computer engineering department, who served as dean of the engineering college from 1981 to 1988. “He contributed richly to his profession, to the development of his colleagues and, most of all, to the intellectual and personal enrichment of the multitude of students who passed through his classroom and his office.

“Curt’s advice and presence were invaluable in the many issues that arose almost daily,” said Bolle. “His unfailing good humor and energy and his finely tuned common-sense approach to both ethical and operational issues made him a veritable rock in the maelstrom of academe.

“He knew when and how to impart the lessons of life and reality to undergraduates in a manner that brooked little nonsense but also made them friends for life. Many graduates made a point of stopping by his office when they returned to campus for a visit – and his door was always open to all. No matter the workload he faced, he never seemed in a hurry or not to have time for those who needed, or just wanted, a word with him.”

A great memory for everything

Born in Reading in 1923, Clump served as a first lieutenant with the 755th Squadron of the 458th Bomber Group of the U.S. Army’s 2nd Air Division in World War II. He flew 31 sorties from June to September of 1944 as a navigator on a B-24 combat aircraft and received a Certificate of Valor.

Years later, after meeting Bolle, Clump realized that most of his bombing missions had taken him directly over the suburb of Amsterdam in The Netherlands where Bolle lived during the war.

“It was quite a sight,” said Bolle. “All these bombers were flying in formation, wing to wing, maybe a dozen in one group, then a gap, and a dozen in the next group. Curt flew literally right across the top of our house. The ground would shake from all the racket.”

Home from the war, Clump received a B.S. and M.S. from Bucknell University, and, in 1954, a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Carnegie Institute of Technology. He joined the Lehigh faculty in 1955, was promoted to professor in 1965, chaired the chemical engineering department in 1969-70, and became associate dean of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences in 1975.

In 1960, Clump and two of his colleagues, Alan S. Foust and Leonard A. Wenzel, both professors and former chairmen of chemical engineering, published a highly regarded textbook titled “Principles of Unit Operations.”

“It was that book that helped bring world renown to Lehigh’s chemical engineering department,” said John Chen, the Carl R. Anderson Professor of chemical engineering and a former chair of the department.

Clump was elected to the rank of Fellow in the American Institute of Chemical Engineers, one of the foremost engineering professional societies, and was also a member of the American Chemical Society.

In 1985, Clump received the R. R. and E. C. Hillman Award from Lehigh for “having done the most toward advancing the interests of the university.”

Clump and his wife, Marion Turner Clump, celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary in March. They took many bicycling tours in Europe, the details of which Clump was fond of sharing with his colleagues at Lehigh.

“Curt had a great memory for everything,” said El-Aasser. “When he talked about his trips to Europe, he could recall what he found on every corner of every street he traveled on.”

Clump was a longstanding member of St. Johns United Church of Christ in Coopersburg, where he sang in the choir, and he was an active supporter of the Southern Lehigh Public Library.

--Kurt Pfitzer

Posted on Wednesday, April 27, 2005

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