Bob Damrauer had a feeling some kind of function was being cooked up to honor him at work. His wife, Lennie, tried to mollify her husband — known to be ever feisty and oft-curmudgeonly — by saying, “Just try to behave yourself.” (Why should the start of his 50th year at the University of Colorado Denver be any different than the thousands of days that came before?)
Damrauer deduced the “surprise” was coming on a recent Friday; Chancellor Dorothy Horrell had scheduled an early-morning meeting on the top floor of the Lawrence Street Center (LSC). Sure enough, she ushered him into the Alumni Conference Room of LSC — a building that didn’t exist when the young chemist arrived in fall 1968 — where 25 smiling colleagues greeted him with gifts (mostly chocolate), hearty applause and, of course, some ribbing.
Damrauer, associate vice chancellor for research, special assistant to the provost and professor of chemistry, was feted to mark the occasion of his 50th anniversary at CU Denver. The first person to greet him was Provost Rod Nairn, who thanked him for his exemplary service as a faculty member and the various administrative roles he’s held over the years. “You’ve shown remarkable perseverance and resilience through all the changes … This will be the first of many opportunities to thank you this year.”
Damrauer, wearing his trademark colorful V-neck sweater and accompanied by Lennie, recounted how he joined the vanguard faculty at CU’s downtown extension in the late ’60s (CU Denver was officially established in 1973). Back then, the “Denver Center” was concentrated in the Tramway Building on 14th Street (affectionately dubbed “UCLA,” the University of Colorado between Lawrence and Arapahoe).
Start of a first-rate university
“I was hired by Stan Cristol and Chuck DePuy at CU Boulder, both of whom were members of the National Academy of Science,” said Damrauer, who holds a BS from the University of Michigan and a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “They said, ‘We’d like you to go to Denver because we think the metropolitan area of Denver deserves a really first-rate university.’”
While the beginnings were austere — Damrauer recalled that his Tramway Building laboratory actually connected to water, air and gas — an irrepressible momentum sparked within the nascent faculty and began to spread across the small-but-scrappy campus. Before long, the CU Denver we have come to know — innovative, student-focused and scholarly preeminent — took root and began to distinguish itself as Colorado’s only public urban research university.
‘Impacted us in extraordinary ways’
At the surprise gathering, Chancellor Horrell commented that “everyone in this room would have a Bob Damrauer story to share because he has impacted each of us in extraordinary ways.” She noted that Damrauer’s passion and commitment embody the thriving institution that sits in the heart of the vibrant Mile High City. “Bob has never allowed this place to think that it could be anything but great,” she said.
The chancellor also commended Lennie Damrauer, who was a longtime chemistry professor before shifting to computer science. The couple have donated to CU Denver in many ways, including the Robert Damrauer Scholarship Fund and the Chancellor’s Distinguished Lecture Series. They also recently endowed a distinguished lectureship in chemistry in honor of their parents. Their son Niels is an associate professor of physical chemistry at CU Boulder.
“The generosity Bob and Lennie have shown toward this university is remarkable. They are so committed and care so deeply,” Horrell said. “Their impact will reverberate for generations to come.”