Professor Melvin Chandler Thornton
July 2, 1935 – May 30, 2020
Mel was born in Sioux City, IA to parents Phil and Ruth Thornton. The family moved to Storm Lake, Iowa, where Mel grew up living a block from the lake and enjoyed sailing with his twin brother and friends in a boat they bought and renovated. Mel graduated from Storm Lake High in 1953 and received a Navy Scholarship to the University of Nebraska, where he majored in mathematics and met his future wife, Rosemary.
After graduation in 1957 Mel spent two years in the Navy, serving as an LTJG on the Calvert, a troop transport ship. He and Rosemary were married in 1958. After the Navy the couple moved to Champaign, IL, where Mel studied mathematics at the U of Illinois, earning a Ph.D. in math. Meanwhile, three boys were born before the family moved to Madison, WI, where Mel taught at the University of Wisconsin and their daughter was born. Mel’s last stop was the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.
He flourished at UNL. His passion for mathematics inspired his students’ learning. He reached beyond traditional university students with his leadership of the Nebraska Math Scholars and Western Math Scholars, teacher enhancement programs for secondary mathematics teachers. For these programs and others, in 1995 Mel was inducted into the Academy of Distinguished Teachers. In the previous year, 1993-94 UNL selected him for the Outstanding Teaching and Instructional Activity Award. His teaching also brought him recognition from the Carnegie Foundation in 1994 as Nebraska Professor of the Year.
In 2000 Mel retired. He and his wife then spent 20 years living in two places: their Lincoln home and a log cabin on the prairie near Valentine, Neb., where Mel honed his building skills to finish the inside of the cabin. He and Rosemary spent their retirement traveling, visiting their children in the four time zones and canoeing or kayaking on the nearby Niobrara National Scenic River.
Along with his wife and children, Mel was a member of the First United Methodist Church. The two also were working members of Friends of the Niobrara and Nebraska Wildlife Federation. Throughout his life Mel was a helper, a builder and a fixer, always willing to pay attention to others’ needs or problems. As a husband and father he was the best.
Survivors include wife, Rosemary Thornton, Lincoln; son, Jeff Thornton and wife Karen and grandchildren, Nolan, Declan and Charlotte, Croton-on-Hudson, NY; Joel Thornton and wife Melissa and grandchildren Cammy, Cara and Cade, Dallas; Jay Thornton and wife Crystal and grandchildren Rosemary and Madeline, Seattle; daughter Jennifer Thornton-Kolbe and husband Charles and grandchildren Emma, Evan and Elias, Denver. Other survivors are twin brother, Manly Thornton and wife Peg of Elkhart, IN; sister Mary Ruth Turner, Cedar Rapids; brother-in-law Gary Weeks and wife Jane of Guthrie OK.; sister-in-law E.J. Weeks Omaha and many nieces and nephews.
A private graveside service will be held for Mel. If you wish to honor Mel by a donation, you may send it to the Melvin Thornton Family for future designation.
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