Darrell Turnidge, 80, of Kent, passed away on Sunday, October 10, 2021 in the comfort of his home, with his family by his side.
Born in Montana during World War II, Darrell was raised in Moscow, Idaho by his beloved mother Naomi and his step-father Ted, whom he fondly called “Dad.” He spoke often of his childhood jobs: delivering telegrams for Western Union, up and down hills, before bicycles were cool; manually setting pins at a bowling alley; loading and unloading bags of dry peas at the silo. He gained physical strength in these days that never left him. He was always able to carry so much.
In 1957, the Soviets launched Sputnik and, not to be left behind, the United States passed the National Defense Education Act in order to educate a generation of scientists and mathematicians. Darrell was among them, studying Mathematics at the University of Idaho in his hometown. After graduation, he continued his studies at the University of Oregon, where he got his PhD in Mathematics in 1968, writing his thesis on Torsion Theories and Rings of Quotients.
It was while at Oregon that Darrell met Karen, his future wife of 56 years and the great love of his life. They met at Christian House, a student fellowship organization, over a game of poker. Karen had heard rumors of Darrell’s quiet charm and so she eagerly accepted his offer to go roller-skating. She never looked back. Quickly engaged and then quickly married, they shared a student’s honeymoon, driving through tall-banked snow up to Timberline Lodge at Mt. Hood.
After graduation, Darrell and Karen moved to Kent, Ohio where Darrell became a professor of Mathematics at Kent State University, beginning a career that spanned 37 years. When he started studying mathematics he knew he loved it — but didn’t know what he would do with it. At Kent State, he found the answer: educating and inspiring generations of students as a well-liked and student-focused teacher and later as an effective and well-regarded university administrator.
Once at Kent, Darrell and Karen started a family: two boys. Darrell as a father was not above getting down on the carpet to play with toys. He was patient and calm. He was a teacher to his children, whether it was programming lessons on a napkin at the Pizza Hut or teaching a son how to frame a shed and nail on roof shingles.
Darrell was thankful to have an unpredictable career: he treasured variety in his work. After a decade of teaching math, he taught himself to program computers, becoming one of the earliest faculty members to teach programming at the university. During this time, he did summer work for Ohio Scientific, an Ohio-based company that built and marketed microcomputers to early adopters and hobbyists. During one summer, he wrote the guide for hobbyists to build the computer at home. During the next, he implemented sound and graphics functionality for OSI’s Basic language interpreter, including the ability to play magnificent, tinny four-part harmonies. He would reminisce that the computer’s CPU was so slow, he had to race to keep ahead of the soundwaves he was generating. He relished these challenges and learning opportunities.
After a decade of teaching Computer Science, Darrell was integral to a pair of external programs that educated hundreds of high school and college teachers, training them in Computer Science and in the application of computer technology to Mathematics. Leading these summer programs, he found community and happiness. It is impossible to estimate the number of students this work affected. A teacher’s reach alone is incalculable, but a teacher of teachers — the waves and ripples do not cease.
After Darrell’s administrative successes, he was invited to join the Dean’s office in the College of Arts and Sciences. He loved this work. He worked long days as an administrator on curriculum, committees, personnel issues, helping students, and the rest. In the evenings he would come home to program, coding late into the night, automating tasks for the college. During his time, he rose to the rank of Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, in charge of the office the year before he retired.
After retirement, Darrell didn’t stop. He left his suit and tie at home and put on a T-shirt, returning to the university to help program and configure the student information system. In his work he was loved, valued, and effective.
Darrell always lived with the possibility that his next experience might be the best of his entire life. While out for dinner, he would set down his knife and fork, look you straight in the eye, and say “this is the best pork chop I’ve ever had.” And then he would make the same claim the next day, but perhaps with mashed potatoes. It was his refrain; he was always open to joy.
We also need to record his profound integrity and compassion as a human being. If someone must sacrifice, he would choose himself to sacrifice first. His was a benevolent voice, an open mind, and a patient ear. We will miss his wisdom here on Earth, but we can still hear his words in our memories.
At the end, he got sick, an extended and challenging time. When he could no longer walk, when he could no longer fully speak, he could still smile and laugh. He spent his last years where he wanted to be most: at home by Karen’s side, enjoying her company and dwelling in her love.
Darrell and Karen drove a 1973 Volkswagen Westfalia camper bus. It was bright orange, the kind with the pop-top. They would take their small family on sprawling, month-long, cross-country trips to see “the folks” back in Idaho and Oregon. One time, they took the dog. Yellowstone, the Badlands, Glacier. Moscow, Eugene, Tillamook. These days on the road are difficult to describe: so much freedom and joy and boredom and beauty. Darrell on the road, behind the wheel of his camper bus: this is among his purest forms. If there is an afterlife, we beg that there are glorious orange buses for him there.
Darrell Turnidge, father and husband, we miss you. You are teaching us still.
Darrell is survived by Karen Turnidge, his wife of 56 years; his sons Todd Turnidge and Jason Turnidge; Jason’s wife Katie; and his four grandchildren: Silas, Jasper, Asa, and Quin. Turnidges seem to only make boys.
Funeral services will be Saturday October 30, 2021 at 11:00 AM at Bissler and Sons Funeral Home, 628 W. Main St. Kent, OH 44240. Burial will follow at Standing Rock Cemetery. Visitation will be prior to the service, from 10:00-11:00 AM on Saturday at the funeral home.
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