Profile Plus - Spring 2018

REMEMBERING BERT THIEL

By Dr. George R. Plitnik, Professor of Physics

Bert and I both arrived at Frostburg State College for the fall semester of 1970; we both came from Utah, he from Salt Lake City where he worked as a technician at the Hanson Planetarium and I from Provo where I had just finished my doctoral research. He came with the newly hired planetarium director from the Hanson Planetarium, who had as a condition of accepting the position at FSC that his technician also be hired in order to create special effects for the planetarium. Bert, having only a BS degree, was hired to be a half-time planetarium technician and a half-time maintenance person for the audio-visual department. As luck would have it, our offices were directly across from each other on the far end of Tawes Hall; consequently we would often share ideas about education and science. I was impressed by the breadth and extent of his knowledge about many fields, including geology, chemistry, astronomy, physics, and music. As a member of Mensa he was not afraid to advertise his intelligence; his license plate read “HI IQ”. One year I was attempting to fit music to various topics in our general studies course, Cosmic Concepts; he was able to provide appropriate music for any topic from his vast collection of classical CDs.

During his early years at Frostburg he used his knowledge of electronics to build the first, although rather small, computer on campus; he then taught himself basic computer programming and decided that he wished to teach in the nascent computer science department. In order to do so, he needed a master’s degree, which he commenced to pursue in business administration. After one year he dropped out of the program because he was appalled that everything was based on profit. “Why does there need to be a profit?” he asked. “Why not just break even with everyone getting a fair salary and have no money remaining?” In this regard he was ahead of his time, because today we realize that profit implies continuous growth which is unstainable in the long run. He therefore switched to a master’s in education, a philosophy he could espouse.

During the late 1970s he helped me design a solid state system for controlling pipe organs, as I used to rebuild organs during the summer vacation. I laid out, etched, drilled, and inserted components in copper-clad boards for this purpose. In 1978, in order to learn more about digital electronics, I took a course he was teaching on this subject. Since it was an evening course, we would buy food, prepare dinner, and then go to class. Bert was an excellent cook; as in many areas he taught himself culinary skills by watching TV shows, obtaining the recipes, and then preparing them from scratch. During the 1990s, after he moved to Garrett County, I would go to his place Friday evenings where he would entertain the “Friday Gang” with libations and snacks. After most of the gang departed we would prepare some recipe for supper, followed by watching a movie. I have acquired many excellent recipes from this weekly event. Friends also benefited from his culinary skills during the Christmas season when he would bake cheesecakes as Christmas presents.

Most people did not know that in addition to his other talents, he was a talented artist who painted pictures for his own enjoyment. Most of these were somewhat abstract, but his keen eye for color and design was readily apparent. Since the dozens of paintings he created during his lifetime were simply stored in his attic, it was obviously a labor of love.

Bert loved teaching and was always ready, willing, and able to assist his students with problems in their computer programs. When he taught the programming language C++, he thought that students had difficulty with the concepts because the text did not present the material well, nor in the most logical arrangement. His solution was to write his own book which was used successfully for the course until it was no longer offered by FSU.

In summary, Bert had a keen intellect and a large heart. He once told me that he got his intelligence from his German father and his heart from his Italian mother. I replied, “It’s a good thing it was not the other way around!”

 

Photo of Bert Thiel

Bert Thiel

Thiel art

Artwork by Bert Thiel

Thiel artwork2

Artwork by Bert Thiel