Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN


June 9, 2014

PLEASANT HILL RAMBLINGS: Riesz named Teacher of the Year by Indian National Science Academy

CROSSVILLE — Dr. Richard (Dick) Riesz of Pleasant Hill was invited by the Indian National Science Academy (INSA) to receive the national “Teacher of the Year Award for 2013” in recognition of his 30 years of teaching at the American College in Madurai, India. INSA is the academy which represents Indian science and the government of India in every international science forum. This may be the first time that a “foreigner” has been selected to receive this award.

A former graduate student at that college, Rajiah Simon, nominated Dr. Riesz for this award and organized a special award ceremony held April 12 in Chennai. Simon is a senior professor at the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Riesz and his wife, Joyce, were missionaries in Madurai, a big city in the far south of India from 1963 through 1993. 

Riesz, accompanied by friend, Ted McKnight, also from Pleasant Hill, spent two weeks in India. Riesz was honored in the auditorium of the Institute of Mathematical Sciences. Chennai, formerly known as Madras, is a 369-year-old city that is the capital of the southern state of Tamil Nadu. The institute is a national institution that promotes fundamental research in the mathematical and physical sciences.

The auditorium was filled with former students, friends and colleagues from Riesz' years at American College. The program was scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. and end at 5:30 p.m. Due to the large number of former students who wished to speak publicly, expressing their gratitude for the impact that Riesz had made on their lives, the formal program ended at 6:30 p.m. They all then stayed for high tea and some lingered for a late supper.

In Madurai, Riesz was also invited to greet the students and gathered guests at the annual College Day celebration. He has made arrangements for the 50,000 rupees ($1,000) award to be used to begin an endowment at the American College to fund an annual guest lectureship at the college by an outstanding physicist. Such a lectureship will broaden the scope of the physics students’ perspective in their chosen field of study.

Riesz received his BA (cum laude) degree in physics and mathematics from Drew University in New Jersey and a PhD in physics from Johns Hopkins University, MD. On a summer job in 1946 during his college years, Riesz was a “seagoing cowboy.” He helped to transport 777 horses to Poland as part of the United Nations' project to replenish animals lost during World War II in Europe. 

Riesz was an active researcher at Bell Labs in New Jersey, working at the frontiers of semiconductor physics in the '60s. He was called to start up a new graduate school of physics in the American College, one of the oldest colleges in India. It is in Madurai, Tamil Nadu state. It was founded in 1881 by American Christian missionaries. Riesz was the professor and head of the PG Physics Department from the year 1963 until his retirement. He taught a variety of subjects like classical mechanics, electromagnetism, optics, electronics, etc. His main interest and emphasis was always in laboratory work (practical work and projects).

Riesz developed the physics department into a first-class graduate school. The graduates from that department serve in important science posts in many countries of the world, as well as India. Joyce Riesz found her work coaching young girls in the craft program at a nearby school for indigent girls — Ratchanyapuram - "Place of Salvation." She also aided Riesz in his work, often typing his papers. Their home became a place of hospitality for the students.

Before returning to the United States, Riesz started a program called "Jivana Jyoti," which was a teaching effort to empower physically challenged young persons in use of computers. This effort has been enormously effective and has trained, to date, hundreds of young persons who have been absorbed into the workforce, despite the usually negative feelings toward physically challenged persons.

In 1993 the Rieszes left India and retired to Pleasant Hill, where they joined Uplands Village. He led five South India pilgrimage trips to Madurai, introducing more than 100 persons to the life and culture of South India. Riesz became a trustee and president of the American College Endowment Trust Fund. In Pleasant Hill, the Rieszes are active in the Pleasant Hill Community Church, UCC, especially the music programs. He was a member of the Pleasant Hill Town Council, serving as vice mayor and chair of the planning commission.

The Rieszes have a special place in their heart for the place they spent 30 years and inspired so many young people to accomplish so much in their lives. Obviously, those young people, now professionals, hold them as dearly in their own hearts.

This week in Pleasant Hill:

Saturday, June 14 — Gospel music at The Garden, 603 Genetta Lane. Bruce Parker at 4 p.m. Dinner at 5 p.m. David and Gwen Carr at 6 p.m.

Monday, June 16 — May Cravath Wharton Association's annual meeting. Refreshments at 2:30 p.m. and program at 3 p.m. Jeremy Biggs, administrator for Cumberland Medical Center, will speak about the merger of CMC with Covenant Health and what effects this will have on services in Cumberland County. Election and installation of officers will also take place.

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