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Beloved math professor remembered as a “man of joy”

Vincent DimiceliAs Vincent Dimiceli, Ph.D., raced into chapel, he asked a colleague for an unusual favor: help with a math problem.

For the next 30 minutes, Dimiceli and Andrew Lang, a fellow ORU math professor, worked diligently on a paper cluttered with numbers and symbols.

Lang remembers the “anointing was thick” in that service to unearth the complex answer.

Finally, they decided the problem was unsolvable.

Laughing, both realized Dimiceli had already assigned it to his Calculus III class in a take-home test.

“It was the best chapel ever,” Lang recalled during Tuesday’s memorial service for Dimiceli.

The associate professor of mathematics passed away June 9 after a life-long fight against childhood kidney and liver disease.

“He always made me laugh and was a great friend,” Lang said. “He was a man of joy.”

About 150 ORU students, faculty and family members gathered in Christ Chapel to remember the funny professor, talented cook, compassionate father and husband they had come to know and respect.

When Lang told the story about the math problem, laughter rippled in the crowd. Several students smiled, looked at one another and whispered, “I think that was our class.”

“His students knew him as being not an easy teacher, but a fair one,” said Dr. Debbie Sowell, vice-president of academic affairs and acting provost.

Sowell originally helped hire Dimiceli in 1997.

A man of perpetual humor and optimism, Dimiceli brought warmth  into the classroom.

Students said he often arrived singing. A Facebook post written Dec. 8, 2010, glistens with this enthusiasm for teaching: “Done grading for the semester,” he wrote. “Time to continue research. Been a great semester! I love my students! ORU students are the best!”

With a Master’s Degree in Mathematics and a Doctorate in Mathematics Education, Dimiceli was an expert in using technology to teach mathematics, a skill he put to good use at ORU.

Open a “Math and Society” textbook and flip to the title page. Dimiceli’s name is printed in the middle. He helped rewrite and tailor the curriculum for his classes.

But his time at ORU must be understood in the context of his Texas roots.

“Vince’s success was a result of his efforts, but it was also a family affair,” Sowell said. “They gave him an adult life.”

Dimiceli’s medical battles began before he turned 2. When the doctors found out about his kidney ailments, they offered little hope.

“You have six other healthy children,” they told his mother, Betty Dimiceli. “Why don’t you just let him go?” She wouldn’t.

Neither would his younger twin brother, Charles, or “Chuck.” When he was 18, Chuck offered him one of his kidneys. After the transplant, Dimiceli attended Texas A&M, solidifying his loyalty to the Aggies.

There he met his wife, Linda, in a prayer group. He called her “the woman of my dreams.”

Their children, Peter, 12, and Emma, 9, enjoyed their dad’s cooking and his enthusiasm for their sports teams. He coached them in football, baseball and basketball.

Sports aside, representatives from the National Weather Service insist his contributions to meteorology not be overlooked.

Dimiceli took a sabbatical in 2010 to work at the National Weather Service. His research may reduce heat-related illnesses.

Meteorologists knew him as their math guy, the one who made meaning of the numbers and equations behind their weather instruments.

Everyone knows if mathematics were a language, Dimiceli could use numbers to craft poetry. But he was also a lover of poetry in the traditional sense.

With Lang, he shared a zeal for 18th century Scottish poet Robert Burns.

During the memorial service, Lang unfolded a paper to recite lines from Dimiceli’s favorite Burns poem, “To a Mouse.”

It reads, “But little Mouse, you are not alone, / In proving foresight may be vain: / The best laid schemes of mice and men / Go often awry, / And leave us nothing but grief and pain, / For promised joy!”

Even through the tumult of health  battles, Dimiceli’s friends and peers said his joy was infectious.

To his family, this joyful man is “Vincent.”

To his ORU colleagues, “Vince.”

To weathers researchers, he is “the polynomial master who helped crack the code to measure heat.”

And in the eyes of others who knew him, Vincent “Vince” Dimiceli’s days glinted with optimism and pulsed with the cadence of a life well-lived.

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