Former WSU students give $350,000 to honor mentor and friend Alan Elcrat
Their anonymous gift creates the first math professorship at Wichita State
WSU Professor Alan Elcrat
Alan Elcrat could be an intimidating figure. A mathematical wizard, he casually referenced phrases like “vortex flow” and “equilibrium configurations.” A man’s man, he brewed home beer and mastered Tae Kwon Do. He threw himself at life with ferocity.
Strangers who became friends soon recognized that what had seemed intimidating actually was inspiring — and that made it easy to admire Alan Elcrat and hard to forget him.
That was the way it turned out for two of Dr. Elcrat’s former students, who more than two decades ago ended up in the WSU math professor’s calculus one class and found themselves excited and challenged. The students, who would later marry, declared mathematics their major and struck up a friendship with Dr. Elcrat.
As life unfolded and careers became a priority, their connection with Dr. Elcrat faded but the memories persisted. So when news reached them in December that their friend and mentor had died, they felt the loss deeply. Those students not only returned to Wichita to attend Dr. Elcrat’s memorial service, but they also chose to honor him by creating the first-ever math professorship at Wichita State in his name.
An outdoor sports enthusiast, Alan Elcrat included snowshoeing and skiing among his wintertime activities.
Their pledge of $350,000, made anonymously, will allow the math department to hire a nationally distinguished professor once the endowment is complete, said Buma Fridman, department chair. In the meantime, he said, Dr. Elcrat’s loss to the department is significant and painful.
“He was a pillar of the department,” Fridman said. “He was the one who built the direction of the applied mathematics program, which eventually led to the Ph.D. program. He was at the center of the major decisions about the department for the past quarter century.”
Dr. Elcrat’s friend and colleague, Stephen Brady, described his approach to life as passionate.
“He attacked it,” Brady said. “If he had a goal, he would go at it until he got it done. He had a brilliant mind and was considered one of the deepest thinkers in his field.”
Dr. Elcrat published 75 peer-reviewed papers and wrote two textbooks. He collaborated with colleagues from around the world. As colleague and friend Tom DeLillo put it: “His death was mourned at Oxford.”
“He had a brilliant mind and was considered one of the deepest thinkers in his field.”
- WSU Associate Professor Stephen Brady
The former students said they never forgot Dr. Elcrat or the impact he had on their lives.“When Dr. Elcrat entered the classroom, frequently dressed in jeans and a turtleneck sweater, he attacked the blackboard,” they recalled. “He was an imposing figure — not tall but with a stature that communicated he was aggressive in everything he did. To an 18 year old, he was nothing short of intimidating, but in a charismatic sort of way.”
They credit Dr. Elcrat with influencing their lives immeasurably.
“It would have never entered our minds to major in mathematics were it not for Alan Elcrat,” they said. “And the technical skills, along with the confidence to confront intellectual challenges that comes from the study of mathematics, have been a powerful force in our lives ever since.”
Dr. Elcrat was born in Chicago, but grew up in Indiana. He received a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from the University of New Mexico and his masters and doctorate from the University of Indiana. He moved to Wichita in 1967 and began his career at Wichita State, where he taught for 47 years.
He was a runner and an avid home-brewer. He enjoyed hiking, skiing and traveling the world. Dr. Elcrat is survived by two daughters and three grandchildren.