Henry C. Wente
1936 - 2020
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(News story) Henry C. Wente, a University of Toledo distinguished professor of mathematics emeritus who won international renown with his "Wente torus," a counterexample to a long-open conjecture involving a soap bubble's curvature, died Monday in Mercy Health St. Anne Hospital. He was 83.

Mr. Wente of West Toledo had developed complications of pneumonia, said Louise Schlatter, who sang with him for more than 40 years in the Hope Lutheran Church choir.

In 2013 he was named an inaugural fellow of the American Mathematical Society. He presented papers at professional meetings stateside and worldwide, delivering lectures in Germany, Spain, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea.

"I took 12 classes from him. Anything I could get," wrote Robert Ghrist on social media. "Henry Wente was the first person who taught me that mathematicians do research - that there's more to discover - that even when the rest of the world says a thing shouldn't exist, it may yet be found."

Mr. Ghrist, a mathematics professor at the University of Pennsylvania, started his student career in engineering studies at UT. He wrote that he never thought about being a mathematician.

"But Henry Wente more than anyone taught me that there's this vast unknown world of crazy objects that we can just barely imagine with enough effort," Mr. Ghrist wrote.

Mr. Wente, whom UT hired in 1971, wrote on his 2013 curriculum vitae that his research focused "on the mathematics of soap films, liquid drops in equilibrium, and capillary theory."

He received wide attention starting in 1984 when he discovered counterexamples to the then 40-year-old Hopf Conjecture. The problem long confounded mathematicians. Mr. Wente's counterexample was a torus, which he described to The Blade in 1984 as a bulging doughnut shape, that could be stretched, intersecting itself, while keeping a constant mean curvature. Mathematician Heinz Hopf early in the 20th century had said that only spheres - soap bubbles - could keep a constant mean curvature.

Mr. Wente worked on the problem for years, largely in secret.

"I was afraid to say anything. I was afraid to get scooped," Mr. Wente told The Blade.

"I don't know if there was a certain day when I could say 'Eureka!' but certain calculations fell into place perfectly and at the time I felt, 'Gee it should work,'" he said in 1984.

Mr. Wente received one of UT's first outstanding faculty research awards.

"UT was lucky to get somebody like Henry Wente," said Ivie Stein, Jr., a UT associate professor of mathematics. The colleagues through the years played tennis together, cross-country skied at Oak Openings Metropark, and attended music events at the Peristyle.

"He was a great teacher, researcher, and person," Mr. Stein said.

He was born Aug. 18, 1936, in New York City to Sophia and Edward Wente. He grew up around Summit, N.J., and attended Summit High School, where he excelled in track and field events.

He received bachelor's and graduate degrees from Harvard University. Studying under Garrett Birkhoff, he received a doctorate of mathematics in 1966 from Harvard. He taught afterward at Tufts University.

"He was well disciplined, and he was good in many things," Mr. Stein said.

Mr. Wente, formerly of Springfield Township, also played flute, piccolo, and piano. He sang baritone in the Hope Lutheran choir and, on occasion, played flute with the choir, said Ms. Schlatter, a member of the church and choir family.

"He's always been very delightful," Ms. Schlatter said.

Surviving is his brother, Edward Frank Wente.

Funeral services will begin at 1 p.m. Saturday at Hope Lutheran Church, where friends will be received starting at noon. Arrangements are by Walker Funeral Home.

Tributes are suggested to Hope Lutheran Church.

This is a news story by Mark Zaborney. Contact him at mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.
Published in The Blade on Jan. 25, 2020.
12:00 - 01:00 PM
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Memories & Condolences
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3 entries
January 2, 2021
A great teacher. Thank you for laying a solid foundations in Mathematics for many students, including myself. A teacher indeed, affects infinity for his influence knows not time or space limitations.
MK Quweider
A student of Dr. Went in the. 1990s
Mahmoud Quweider
January 29, 2020
I was a student of his, at the University of Toledo, back in the late 1970s.Aside of teaching me Calculus, he taught me to think in more than one dimension. Dr Wente had a tremendous impact on me as well as all who were fortunate to be taught by him. He will be missed.

OJ Ivey
Orlando Ivey
January 24, 2020
Henry was a very nice person who always greeted me with a hug. May he rest in peace!
Sheila Anderson
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