Obituary photo of Arnold Seiken, Albany-NY
In Loving Memory of

Arnold Seiken

1928 - 2022
Obituary photo of Arnold Seiken, Albany-NY
In Loving Memory of

Arnold Seiken

1928 - 2022

Services & Gatherings

Services & Gatherings

Visitation:
Sunday, April 24, 2022 from 9:00am to 10:00am
New Comer Cremations & Funerals
343 New Karner RD
Colonie, NY  12205
518-456-4442
Service:
Sunday, April 24, 2022 at 10:00am
New Comer Cremations & Funerals
343 New Karner RD
Colonie, NY  12205
518-456-4442
New Comer - Colonie Area (518-456-4442) is assisting the family
Arnold Seiken Life story video
Arnold Seiken, a professor emeritus at Union College and acclaimed former chairman of the mathematics department, passed away at home Monday surrounded by his loving family. He was 94.

True to form, he was telling jokes to the very end. When his son arrived from out of town after learning of Arnold’s illness, Arnold looked up from his bed and said with a wry smile, “I’m afraid our long-term plans aren’t going to work out.”

As a mathematics professor, he was a renowned performer. “I always thought I could keep them entertained,” he said recently.

As Chairman of the Union College Mathematics Department, he brought harmony and “healed the serious wounds” of a department that had been factionalized, according to the department’s official history, which dates back to 1797.

In a chapter called “The Seiken Years,” the official history recounts how Union in 1967 conducted a search for a new department chairman “and the process yielded, in a stroke of good luck for the College, Arnold Seiken.”

The history recounts a particularly tense meeting where math majors, including one who had won the U.S. Mathematical Olympiad as a high school student, were protesting the denial of tenure to a popular professor.

“Seiken’s performance in the meeting with the students was a masterpiece. He brought four calculus books, one from each of the preceding four decades, to the meeting, and he used them to make it clear that since a tenure offer commits the College to perhaps forty years, someone who had crystallized four decades earlier could have serious trouble being either an effective teacher or a successful researcher. The students, to their credit, were convinced.”

Arnold taught mathematics at Union College for 28 years, including 13 as chairman of the department. He began his teaching career as a Ph.D. student at the University of Michigan, later working as a professor at the University of Illinois at Alton, Oakland University in Michigan, and the University of Rhode Island.

Arnold was born in the Brooklyn, NY, in 1928. He graduated from the prestigious Bronx High School of Science and enlisted in the Army during World War II. He graduated from Syracuse University, becoming the first person in his family to graduate from college. He then earned his Ph.D. from the University of Michigan.

It was during his studies at Michigan that Arnold had what he considered his luckiest break. He and his best friend, Bob Szczarba, one evening stumbled upon a hamburger joint called Jumbo Burger. They said hello to the waitress and sat down to order. When she returned with their hamburgers and a smile, Szczarba turned to Arnold and said, “That’s strange. Your hamburger is so much bigger than mine.”

They returned the next night. And the next. Each time, they ordered the same burger. Each time, Arnold’s arrived super-sized.

Finally, on the third night, Szczarba said: “You know what’s going on, don’t you?” Arnold shook his head, clueless.

“That waitress likes you.”

And that’s how Arnold met the love of his life, Ione Benson, a farm girl from tiny Rock Valley, Iowa. She was studying at Michigan for a graduate degree in Japanese Studies. Ione, 89, survives him. They were married for 67 years.

He also is survived by a daughter, Dabra, of Portsmouth, NH; two sons, Aron of Los Angeles and Jason of Chevy Chase, Maryland; adopted children Patrick and Sharyn; five grandchildren, Benjamin, Nicholas, Samuel, Isaac, and Helena; and four great-grandchildren.

In retirement, Arnold and Ione remained in Schenectady, residing in the house they had lived in for 55 years and where they had raised their children. In recent years, they became fixtures at the gym at Sunnyview Rehabilitation Hospital, where they had many friends and were the oldest couple regularly using the gym.

In addition to his devotion to his family, friends, and the math department, Arnold was passionate about a series of hobbies. In his younger days, he and his family sailed Narragansett Bay in his 19-foot Thistle-class mahogany cold-molded sailboat that he diligently maintained.

Later, he became a mainstay of the Central Park tennis courts, where he was known for his powerful forehand and serve.

He also was an accomplished amateur photographer and poet. The American Mathematical Society book “Bourbaki: A Secret Society of Mathematicians” included one of Arnold’s poems.

And, of course, his sense of humor was a part of every activity. Math department colleague Julius Barbanel recalls meeting Arnold when he went to Union for a job interview in 1979.

“I was fresh out of graduate school. Arnold was the chair of the mathematics department. Of course, I was quite nervous during my interview. After going through all of the details of the position with me, Arnold proceeded to tell me two additional benefits. First, he told me that if I should die during my two years at Union, the college would provide free burial in the college cemetery. Secondly, he told me that one of the benefits of being a faculty member at Union is that I can freely graze my sheep on college grounds.

“As was usually the case with Arnold’s humor, he said this with a straight face. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but it sure was not the usual explanation of benefits I expected.”

A former Union College mathematics major, David Strom, wrote an essay in 2020 titled “Do You Really Need to Take Calculus?” A snippet:

"I asked Arnold Seiken, one of my former college math professors, why anyone should take [calculus]. He was mostly bemused by the question: “Calculus was always part of the requirements for graduation – students assume that it is part of the burden of life and just grin and bear it. I assume you took my courses because you liked the jokes. I can’t think of any other reason.” He was right: he was always a crack-up, in class and now in retirement. Interestingly, he told me that he got into math by accident in high school because he couldn’t do the science labs. “Math was a fallback for me, I was always breaking stuff in the labs.” He was an excellent teacher, BTW."

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you consider a donation to Marion Medical Mission or Doctors Without Borders, or to a cause close to your heart.

Send sympathy flowers

Services & Gatherings

Services & Gatherings

Visitation:
Sunday, April 24, 2022 from 9:00am to 10:00am
New Comer Cremations & Funerals
343 New Karner RD
Colonie, NY  12205
518-456-4442
Service:
Sunday, April 24, 2022 at 10:00am
New Comer Cremations & Funerals
343 New Karner RD
Colonie, NY  12205
518-456-4442
New Comer - Colonie Area (518-456-4442) is assisting the family

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