Dr. Wayne Hamilton, BSCE ’58, knows the value of supporting higher education, because higher education has been his life’s work.
His journey began in the fall of 1954 as a first-generation college student at Ohio Northern University, continued for an illustrious 40-year career as an engineering professor and associate dean at the University of Maine, and came full circle, as a Forward Together campaign donor who is helping future generations of ONU students achieve their college dreams.
“I cannot say enough about the opportunities that a college education at Ohio Northern opened for me. I’ve enjoyed a professional career in engineering much beyond my wildest dreams when I first enrolled (at ONU) in 1954,” he says. “And now, I want to do any little bit I can to help others get a chance (at a college education).”
Hamilton had a modest upbringing in rural Northeast Ohio in the 1930s and 1940s. He spent his formative years working on the family farm and attending the local public school where two grade levels sometimes shared the same classroom. He has fond memories of simpler days spent apple picking in the orchard with his grandfather and accompanying his dad on a milk route to local farms. He even recalls huddling with his family around the radio on the day Pearl Harbor was bombed, and the joyous sound of church bells ringing on VE Day.
After high school graduation, he worked in Florida for a few months before enlisting in the U.S. Marines during the Korean War. While his military service took him overseas to Vieques (an island of Puerto Rico) and Europe, his unit fortunately never saw combat in Korea.
Thanks to the G.I. Bill, Hamilton enrolled at ONU to study civil engineering after his military service ended. Dean Lawrence “Larry” Archer, BSCE ’47, became an important mentor, allowing him to try his hand at real-world projects, including designing a Sunday School addition for a local church. Hamilton remained close friends with Dean Archer until his death in 1987.
His senior year, Hamilton and another student were asked to complete a survey and plan for the westward expansion of campus. At the time, Hamilton didn’t think the plan would ever come to fruition.
“On my return to campus for my 40th reunion in 1998, the (west) campus had been built and the layout was as we had envisioned it back in 1958,” he says. “It was gratifying to see the new campus and to know that I had a little bit of a hand in getting it started.”
His ONU experience paved the way for Hamilton’s future success. It imbued him confidence in his academic and engineering abilities, giving him the courage to say ‘yes’ to opportunities like graduate school at Case Western Reserve University (at the time, called Case Institute of Technology).
At Case, Hamilton taught classes as a graduate assistant, and realized he enjoyed working in higher ed as a teacher and researcher. He also met his wife, Kate. They married in 1959, raised their son, Bob, and enjoyed almost 45 years of marriage before she passed away from cancer in 2004.
Hamilton received his Ph.D. from the Oklahoma State University, and spent his entire career at the University of Maine’s College of Engineering and Computing. In addition to teaching, he served in administrative capacities as chair of the department of civil engineering and as associate dean.
“My dad often said to me, ‘once you got started in it (higher education), you never got out of it!’” laughed Hamilton.
Teaching brought Hamilton the greatest joy. Taking a cue from his ONU mentor, Larry Archer, Hamilton sought to give his students real world experiences. His favorite class to teach was Strength of Materials, a building block course for both civil and mechanical engineers. Coincidentally, Strength of Materials was the first and last undergraduate course he taught in his career.
“Teaching at the undergraduate level was the most fulfilling part of being on the faculty,” he said. “I enjoyed my work and always looked forward to going to work. The years went by in a flash.”
Hamilton officially retired in 1997, although he continued to teach one class each semester for a few years. In retirement, he decided to travel. He has visited every continent in the world except for Antarctica.
Now, Hamilton is giving back to the University that started him on his life’s course. Several years ago, he established an endowed scholarship fund at ONU and he contributed funds for a classroom in the James Lehr Kennedy Engineering Building.
As part of ONU’s Forward Together campaign, he recently made a significant contribution to the Wayne A. Hamilton, PE, Civil Engineering Scholarship Fund that provides financial assistance for sophomore, junior and/or senior civil engineering majors. The campaign seeks to raise $100 million, with $50 million allocated for student scholarships.
“In my position as associate dean at the University of Maine, I talked with many incoming students and their parents. One of the most common concerns they would express to me was their need for help with the financial part of attending the University. Upon retirement, I found myself in a position where I could help in some small way by setting up an endowed scholarship fund,” he says.
Hamilton corresponds with the ONU students who receive his scholarships, and from their letters, he knows how much the scholarship means to each of them. He hopes that some of the students who receive his scholarship will, in turn, help other students down the road. “Sort of the pay-it-forward plan,” he says.