Dr. Wilfred Konneker
Dr. Wilfred Konneker
NOTE: This is Part 2 of a series leading up to the Highland County Historical Society inducting four more people into its Hall of Fame on Aug. 18. This week, we profile the late Wilfred R. Konneker (1922-2016).

Ladies and gentlemen, McClain High School graduate and local philanthropist Dr. Wilfred Konneker was born Feb. 20, 1922 and grew up in Greenfield, then earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree from Ohio University.

Along with his wife, Ann, Dr. Konneker is the namesake of the Konneker Education Museum in Greenfield, which is operated by the Greenfield Historical Society. The museum is the former Old Seceders Presbyterian Church and an early two-room school.

Dr. Konneker was also a founder of the Manasseh Cutler Scholar program at his alma mater Ohio University, according to the Cutler Scholars website (cutlerscholars.org). Since the program’s founding in 1995, Konneker has funded scholarships to McClain High School students pursuing higher education at OU.

An Ohio University press release issued when he passed away in 2016 at the age of 93 said that Dr. Konneker “made a lasting impact on Ohio University.”

“During his lifetime, the Konnekers donated more than $15 million to Ohio University,” the press release said.

Dr. Konneker went on to earn a doctorate in nuclear physics from Washington University in St. Louis, Mo. in 1950, earning him the affectionate title of “Dr. K.” among many in the community. He served as a trustee of the university and earned its distinguished alumni award in 1991.

A pioneer in nuclear medicine, Dr. Konneker started several successful companies, including Nuclear Consultants in St. Louis, a radio-pharmaceutical firm that was sold to Mallinckrodt Chemical Works in the 1960s. Dr. Konneker continued to run the company’s diagnostics division and later served on advisory boards for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the former U.S. Atomic Energy Commission.

Dr. Konneker’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was 4. Like other children at the time who were exposed to the disease, he was relocated to a sanatorium, where he lived for two years. He was then reared on the values of hard work and kindness by his grandmother and aunt in the farming community of Greenfield.

Dr. Konneker developed a blend of creative and scientific instincts at Ohio University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. After graduation, he served in the Army during World War II, working on the secret Manhattan Project to develop nuclear weapons. Dr. Konneker then returned to Ohio University and earned a master’s degree in atomic physics.

The university’s alumni center is named for Dr. Konneker and his wife, Ann Lee, who donated more than $15 million during his lifetime.

According to Ohio University, “In 1980, the Konnekers made a generous gift to the University to purchase what is now known as Konneker Alumni Center. The Konneker Research Laboratories, located on The Ridges, opened and was dedicated in 1996 in recognition of Will Konneker’s leadership and service to the University. A gift from the Konnekers to the Foundation created the Konneker Fund for Learning and Discovery, a quasi-endowment dedicated to supporting innovative research, graduate education and undergraduate learning initiatives at the university.

“In 2012, the Ohio University Foundation established the Konneker Medal for Commercialization and Entrepreneurship to recognize current and former faculty or students who have demonstrated excellence in innovation, invention, commercialization and entrepreneurship. The medal honors Will Konneker’s achievements in these areas.”

After receiving his doctorate from Washington University and launching his companies, Dr. Konneker stayed in St. Louis, where he and his wife became involved in many cultural and business endeavors. Dr. Konneker liked to joke that he flunked retirement because of his active roles with the St. Louis Symphony, the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, the Missouri Botanical Garden, the Sheldon Concert Hall and others. He enjoyed knowing how nonprofit organizations worked and helped them on the business side.

“He was interested in conservation efforts and science that happened at the zoo,” said Jeffrey Huntington, director of development at the St. Louis Zoo. “He was always very humble, genuine, smart and engaging.”

Dr. Konneker’s hobbies included training and showcasing Doberman pinschers, international travel and gemology.

As chairman of the board of directors at the Sheldon Arts Foundation, Dr. Konneker led a $3 million fundraising effort. At the completion of the campaign, a song was written for Dr. Konneker.

“In writing the lyrics, I learned there’s only one word that rhymes with Konneker,” said Paul Reuter, executive director of the Sheldon. “And so the refrain ended, ‘and king should be his moniker.’”

In addition to Dr. Konneker, the Highland County Historical Society will induct Jack Hope, Willard Parr and the late Arthur Milner into its Hall of Fame.

The ceremony will be held at the First Presbyterian Church on Aug. 18 at 2 p.m., with a reception and social hour immediately following at the Highland House Museum. The Highland County Historical Society cordially invites the public to attend and honor this outstanding group.

For more information on the society or the upcoming Hall of Fame ceremony, please call (937) 393-3392 or email the society at hchistoricalsociety@gmail.com.

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at roush_steve@msn.com.