On a sunlit Saturday afternoon, with a temperature not uncommon for April days, a quiet group of family, friends and colleagues gathered at Lincoln's Sheridan Lutheran Church to remember the life of Theodore Prey Jorgensen, a retired University of Nebraska-Lincoln physics professor.
Jorgensen died last Tuesday at the age of 100.
``Those who knew Ted professionally will no doubt remember his intellect,'' said Jim Pelton, one of Jorgensen's stepchildren.
And those who remember him best acknowledged his ability to transform brilliance into action, not only as an educator, but also as a musician, chef, author and role model.
Jorgensen was born in Connecticut in 1905 as the oldest of five children.When he came of age in 1923, he decided to follow in the footsteps of his mother - noted Willa Cather scholar Annie Prey Jorgensen - and enrolled at UNL.
After receiving his bachelor's degree in 1928 and his master's in 1930, Jorgensen traveled to Massachusetts, where he attained his doctorate in theoretical physics in 1935 from Harvard.
He eventually returned to UNL to begin teaching and researching in 1938, but upon the outbreak of World War II, his expertise took him to Chicago and then to Los Alamos, N.M., where he worked on the top-secret Manhattan Project, measuring photo exposures to estimate the yield of the atomic bombs that eventually would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan.
``He was certainly a central figure in that,'' said Tim Gay, a UNL physics professor.
Jorgensen returned to Lincoln a few years after the war and designed and built his home, which featured a tilted roof - the specifications of which he calculated himself - that allowed sunlight to shine inside the windows during the winter months but not during the summer.
After his first wife died, Jorgensen married his second wife, Dorothy, in 1960 and brought three stepchildren into his family.
``He interacted with the children best,'' said Jorgensen's son-in-law Peter Kaestner. ``He was absolutely enchanted with children and was always trying to teach them something.''
Tom Pelton, another one of Jorgensen's stepchildren, recalled an afternoon when Jorgensen returned home early from a day of teaching at the university.
Tom was in seventh grade at the time and was busy trying to memorize a frustrating list of prime ministers and political leaders from around the world for a social studies quiz the next day.
When Jorgensen found out what Tom was doing, he said, ``That's silly, these people change all the time. ... If you need to know who they are, you can just look them up in a reference book.''
Tom was forever changed by this piece of advice, and during his exam the next day, he wrote, ``Professor Ted Jorgensen and I feel this is pretty silly. ... These people change all the time, and if we need to know who they are, we can look them up in a reference book'' in lieu of an answer.
Luckily, Tom said, Jorgensen came to his rescue as he faced the consequences of his teacher's reaction.
Jorgensen didn't think memorization was the only way to get an education.``What he did require from students was that they understand principles and learn to apply them,'' Tom said.
Jorgensen's ``style,'' according to Jim Pelton, was to motivate the minds of his students and teach them to think for themselves.
``He wanted to inspire curiosity,'' he said.
Anthony Starace, a UNL physics professor, said Jorgensen didn't teach students by turning his back and writing formulas and equations on the blackboard but talked directly to students, making his teaching less focused on lecture and more focused on conversation.
Jorgensen's ingenuity also brought thousands of dollars worth of federal research grants to the university following World War II. His efforts helped turn a physics department that had been languishing in mediocrity because of the economic depression, lack of leadership and the war into one of the nation's most notable programs, said Duane Jaecks, a UNL visiting physics faculty member.
``He brought the physics department into the modern era,'' Jaecks said. ``We need more people like him.''
Roger Kirby, UNL physics department chairman, agreed and said that while science has moved beyond the research methods used by Jorgensen and his colleagues, the impact on the field left by Jorgensen is one that will not soon disappear.
``We remember the people who came before us,'' Kirby said.
``And Ted is one of them. ... We will remember him for a long time, and he will remain a significant part of our history for the foreseeable future.''