by Jennifer Epting ’03

With a C.V. that spans three pages and includes eight prestigious awards (most for his work in cosmology), you might assume that Thomas Kelsall ’55 is ready for a break. But even in retirement he continues tackling projects head-on, including building a house for himself and his wife. “We have finally been given permission to move into it,” he said. “I’ve been working on building this house for many years. I learned a great deal from my father about woodworking, painting, plumbing, etc. He instilled the belief you can do anything with patience and hard work - but building a house has curtailed my other hobbies.”

Thoams Kelsall ’55 with his wife Ann

But not entirely, for he cites another of his hobbies as “mentally trying to solve a problem that I started 41 years ago.” Using a type of mathematical technique developed by German professor Karl Stumpff, Kelsall said “I thought I could understand why the galaxy looks like it does and predict where things should be and why they should be there. Every once in a while I pick it up and try to apply it, then I put it down again. Hopefully, if I don’t die first, I’ll have a breakthrough!”

Regardless of whether he succeeds at cracking the code, no one would use the word “unsuccessful” to describe him. His most recent achievement is his being honored in June at his 50th reunion when he receives a Muhlenberg Alumni Lifetime Achievement Award. “His contributions to society, without a doubt, are unique and bring honor to his alma mater, his family and certainly to Tom himself,” Bob Buzzard ’62, Chair of the Alumni Achievement committee, said. “He employed his Muhlenberg College education, his life experiences, his personal talents and perseverance to produce accomplishments above and beyond the average contributions to the American society as a humble individual.”

Not bad for a man who almost didn’t even go to college. Kelsall was only able to attend Muhlenberg because he was graciously given the Haas Award, named after a past President of Muhlenberg. He scrounged up enough money to make the trip from Long Island to Allentown, and upon arriving on Chew Street, he went through an interview process even FAFSA applicants might shy away from. “The interview was friendly, but torturous, as various professors grilled me on every topic I had thought about and many that hadn’t crossed my mind,” he said.

Though he claims to have been “charmed” into his physics major by Muhlenberg professors Boyer and Raub, there’s clear evidence that studying the world and how it works was always an interest of Kelsall’s. From an early age, he recalls being fascinated by the physical world around him.

“My father was a caretaker on a summer estate in East Hampton and I remember being about 5 years old and watching him scrub down the sun porch and then drying it off by using the hose to push water off the porch,” he said. “I was stunned at the paradox and the realization that an immense array of possible peculiarities must exist in the physical world. I knew you would have to work to know and understand them.” Kelsall’s father also pushed him to use his brain during a conversation about mathematics when he was in the fourth grade. “He observed that, though mathematics was an amazing vehicle, the greatest infinity was the human mind, for every perception registered triggered new evaluations and perceptions and so it would for as long as I lived,” he recalled. “He said that those perceptions were passed on to others by talking and writing and would expand beyond my life, making for a continuous and endless chain.”


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