As chair of the biology department for nine years, and a faculty member for 34, Dr. Walter Fredricks helped guide the department to the modern era.
A Magna Cum Laude graduate of LaSalle College (Philadelphia, PA), Dr. Walter Fredricks earned his doctoral degree at Johns Hopkins University, where he studied the Hill Reaction of photosynthesis in cyanobacteria. He went on to a post-doctoral fellowship at the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, and started his career as a professor at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy in 1964. Fredricks came to Marquette in 1965, where he taught biochemistry and immunochemistry as an assistant professor in the Marquette University School of Medicine. In 1966, Fredricks was appointed to the Biology Department, where he stayed for nearly 35 years.
Dr. Fredricks’ research career started by studying low potential electron transport reactions in photosynthetic bacteria, anaerobic bacteria and the chloroplast of higher plants. In the 1970’s, his research was directed toward isolating and characterizing the antigens involved in hypersensitivity pneumonitis, which eventually led to an interest in the evolution of antibody molecules.
Known affectionately as “Big Wally” by his students, Dr. Fredricks touched the lives of hundreds of students that passed through his biochemistry course entitled The Molecular Basis of Biology. He wanted his students to be able to clearly identify the questions asked by scientists as they entered their labs, and would introduce lectures by asking his students to consider questions like, “What is the Molecular Basis of… muscle contraction? energy production? the genetic code?” Along the way, Fredricks was fortunate to have a whole series of answers provided by investigators, some of whom won the Nobel Prize for answering these fascinating questions. In this way, he was able to make his lectures into a series of stories where he could connect the rigorous science of biochemistry with real people. In 1998, Dr. Fredricks’ talents for teaching and inspiring his students were rewarded with the Rev. John P. Raynor, S.J. Faculty Award for Teaching Excellence.
Dr. Fredricks earned his nickname Big Wally early on in his tenure in the department, and bore the title proudly. As a young assistant professor (not too many years older than his students) students would try to test his authority by anonymously calling out, “Wally” in the middle of a lecture. Fredricks told his wife about this, and she told him she’d get him something to solve the problem. A few days later she came home with a navy blue tee-shirt with BIG WALLY in big white letters on the front. The next time someone called out, “Wally” during a lecture, he stopped, turned around, and confronted his anonymous challenger. He said, “I am Dr. Fredricks, a professor in a major university, and I expect to be shown proper respect.” He added, “I do not want my students to call me Wally,” he opened his shirt with a flourish to reveal the tee-shirt, and shouted, “because my name is Big Wally”. The place erupted in applause and laughter, and he never heard those cat calls again.
In 1989 Dr. Fredricks was elected chair of the Biology Department, following the nearly 25 year tenure of Dr. Peter Abramoff. Just prior to Fredricks’ election, the Biology faculty created a document that revised and modified the mechanisms of governance and administration of the department, including procedures not only for the orderly transfer of responsibility but clearly outlining the duties, responsibilities and perquisites of the department chair. The document also provided greater faculty input to departmental decisions, and greater control over the person occupying the position.
This new mode of operation was a delight for Dr. Fredricks because he knew that the department’s faculty were a bright, creative, collegial, and dedicated group of teachers and researchers. Fredricks placed high emphasis on listening to the faculty, as he thought they should define how the department should develop. He saw his role as chair as to facilitate the faculty’s’ teaching and research activities, to create a robust academic environment for our undergraduate and graduate students, as well as to act as an effective liaison between the department, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the University administration.
During Dr. Frederick’s first year as chair the department added three new assistant professors: Drs. James Buchanan, Thomas Eddinger and Kathy Karrer (who had received her B.S. degree from the Department). An external review in the early 1990’s found the department lacking in organismal and evolutionary biology and ecology. The department, led by Dr. Fredricks, took this very seriously, and addressed the issue by filling faculty lines as they opened with professors who could strengthen the department. Between 1992 and 1995, Drs. James Maki (ecologist), Michael Schlappi (plant biologist), and Michele Mynlieff (neurobiologist) were recruited and hired. Dr. Fredricks was elected to serve three terms as chair, and retired with a well-deserved Emeritus in 2000.
Wally and Vernie with the pals met on the Love Boat cruise, Harry Morgan (M*A*S*H) and Cesar Romero (Batman's Joker) in Ibiza, one of the Balearic Islands
Dr. Fredricks is also a newly published novelist. The Sea of the Morning Sun -1493 is his first full-length novel, which takes place during Christopher Columbus’ second voyage to the Caribbean. He worked on the novel for 8 years, finishing the manuscript in 1985. That same year, Fredricks and his wife won an all-expense paid cruise around Europe on ABC-TV’s Love Boat. On this trip, he was able to achieve his dream to visit some sites that were pertinent to his book. Fredricks planned to publish the book in 1992 (the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s first voyage), but the celebrations that he anticipated for that year never materialized, and interest in Columbus’s voyages was practically nonexistent. The book sat in a drawer until this past year when he finally decided to get it into print. Find out more about Dr. Fredricks’ book at https://www.facebook.com/TheSeaOfTheMorningSun