Remembering Ben Donath

Ben taught mathematics at Buena Vista for 41 years. His passion for excellence was readily apparent in the way he encouraged every one of his students to reach their highest potential.

Ben Donath, dean of Buena Vista University’s School of Science and associate professor of mathematics, passed away on May 29, 2018 in Storm Lake. He was 68.

Born on August 31, 1949 in Lincoln, Ill., Ben was the son of Benjamin Carl Donath and Ruth Helen (Jones) Donath. After graduating from Lincoln High School, Ben attended Illinois College in Jacksonville, Ill. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in mathematics and philosophy in 1971. Two weeks later, he married his college sweetheart, fellow philosophy major, Tina (Johnson) Donath. 

After their wedding, the Donaths moved to Oxford, Ohio for graduate school at Miami University of Ohio, where Ben earned a master’s degree in mathematics and in statistics in 1973. He subsequently completed four years of work toward a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Iowa, before accepting a faculty position at Buena Vista College in the fall of 1977. 

Ben would teach mathematics at Buena Vista for 41 years, until March 2018. His passion for excellence was readily apparent in the way he encouraged every one of his students to reach their highest potential. Ben’s greatest source of professional joy was seeing his students meet and exceed their own expectations.

In 2004, Ben received the George Wythe Award, BVU’s highest honor for excellence in teaching. A student who nominated him for this award noted that when Ben helped students to master difficult concepts, rather than “taking off in a Ferrari” and expecting students to catch up on their bikes, “he would say ‘Follow me and I’ll show you the way,’ and he would get on his own bike and ride with us the entire journey.”

During his teaching career at BVU, Ben served as associate dean of faculty from 1992-1997, and as dean of the School of Science from 2006-2018. In April 2018, he was inducted into BVU’s Order of Cumberland and Tollefson for exceptional service to the University. 

While teaching was his life’s greatest calling, Ben was also an avid reader and vegetable gardener. He enjoyed playing the piano, especially in his youth and young adulthood. Ben traveled to China twice in the late 1980s as part of a cultural exchange program. Ben and Tina were devoted parents to one daughter, Adrienne Alexis, who lives in St. Paul, Minn. 

Ben is preceded in death by his wife, Tina, and his parents, Ben and Ruth Donath. He is survived by his daughter, Alexis, of St. Paul, Minn.; his brother, Michael Stephen Donath (Connie) of Lincoln, Ill.; and his sister, Karen Sue Donath, of Normal, Ill. 

Ben has bequeathed his body to medical education at Des Moines University. A visitation will be held on Friday, June 1 from 5 - 7 p.m. at Sliefert Funeral Home in Storm Lake, followed by a short service at 7 p.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Benjamin Donath Mathematics Student Enrichment Fund at BVU.