Dr. Douglas Neckers ’60 of Perrysburg, Ohio, a 2015 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient whose accomplished career as a photochemical scientist included several years on the Hope College faculty, died on Tuesday, Nov. 22, 2022. He was 84.
He was retired from the faculty of Bowling Green State University, where he had established the Center for Photochemical Sciences. He was also the founder, and had been the longtime CEO, of Spectra Group, a photochemical sciences company specializing in materials for three-dimensional printing.
Neckers taught at Hope from 1964 to 1971, and in addition to teaching led an active research program involving students. He remained actively involved with the college and Department of Chemistry in the years that followed. In 2016, he wrote the book “Cal VanderWerf: Anchor of Hope,” celebrating Hope’s eighth president — who led the college from 1963 to 1970 — for emphasizing Hope’s academic quality and the model of collaborative faculty-student research for which the college continues to garner national acclaim.
“Doug left Hope to do big things and did, but he held Hope close to his heart as an alum and as a former faculty member,” said Dr. Elizabeth Sanford, professor of chemistry and current department chair. “He was personally invested in the Chemistry Department and the success of Hope as an institution. He loved the liberal arts and doing science in the context of the liberal arts.”
Former colleague Dr. Michael Doyle — who taught at Hope from 1968 to 1984, went on to other positions including the presidency of Research Corporation, and is now on the faculty at the University of Texas, San Antonio — credited Neckers with drawing him to the college.
“His success as a scholar at an undergraduate institution was a beaming example of the power of liberal arts colleges in using undergraduate talent to make new discoveries in science,” Doyle said. “He was a recognized national leader in the emerging field of photochemistry in the late 1960s, having not only published scientific papers in the area but also authoring a definitive book on organic photochemistry.”
Neckers, who majored in chemistry at Hope, attended the college as a third-generation student, the son of M. Carlyle Neckers ’35 and Doris Van Lente ’36 Neckers and grandson of Albert Neckers Jr., who graduated from the Hope Academy high school in 1891. He and his wife, Suzanne (Evans), a Hope classmate who majored in history, both came to Hope as transfer students, from Bucknell and Rochester, respectively.
Douglas Neckers returned to Hope as a member of the faculty after completing his doctorate in organic chemistry at the University of Kansas, He subsequently taught and conducted research at the University of New Mexico until joining the chemistry faculty at Bowling Green State University as chair of the Department of Chemistry in 1973.
He was at Bowling Green for the next 36 years, retiring as the McMaster Distinguished Research Professor emeritus in 2009. Under his leadership, the Center for Photochemical Sciences, which he founded in 1985 and directed until retiring, became the only Ph.D. program in the photochemical sciences in the United States. Across his tenure, he directly mentored 39 Ph.D. student graduates from 37 foreign countries, approximately 50 post-doctoral fellows and numerous undergraduates.
His research interests were in photochemical polymerization, additive photo assembly and three-dimensional printing. He founded Spectra Group — originally named Stereo Graphics Limited Partnership — in 1990 to develop the then-new technology of stereolithography in medical imaging. His labs were the first in the world to print MRI and CT data as 3D models using additive 3d printing. Other distinctive applications included having assembled three “near authentic” models of centuries-old mummies for the Toledo Museum of Art. He became Spectra’s CEO when he retired from Bowling Green.
Neckers won numerous awards, including several from the Inter-American Photochemical Society and Bowling Green State University. He was a Fellow of the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, received a National Science Foundation Creativity Award in 1994, was Morley Medalist of the Cleveland Section of the American Chemical Society, and was an Honorary UNESCO Professor at Mendeleyev University in Moscow and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. His work was supported at Bowling Green by the NSF; DARPA; Office of Naval Research; Petroleum Research Fund; and the State of Ohio, Office of Economic Development.
His community involvement included serving on the Executive Committee of the Board of Directors of the Toledo Symphony Orchestra and as the founder of St. Tim’s Discovers, a music series at his church, St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church, dedicated to discovering new and unknown musical talent for the Toledo community. He was also Henry T. King Fellow, and from 2015 to 2017 chaired the Board of Directors, at the Robert H. Jackson Center in Jamestown, New York. Jackson had served as United States Solicitor General, as United States Attorney General and as a Supreme Court justice, and was the chief U.S. prosecutor of the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg following World War Two.
His research and scholarly publications included hundreds of papers, a dozen books and more than 90 patents. In recent years he began writing columns on topics including education and social issues that were printed in publications including The Blade newspaper in Toledo, Ohio, and The Holland Sentinel.
He was preceded in death by his parents, M. Carlyle Neckers ’35 (July 24, 2009) and Doris Van Lente ’36 Neckers (Nov. 20, 1996); his wife, Suzanne Evans ’60 Neckers (June 17, 2021); and a brother, Craig Neckers ’71 (Oct. 7, 2021). Survivors include his daughter, Pamela Neckers; his son, Dr. Andrew Neckers; two granddaughters; his brother and sister-in-law, Bruce Neckers ’65 and Susan Sonneveldt ’67 Neckers; and sister-in-law, Joan Hendricks ’74 Neckers.
Visitation and funeral services had not been finalized as of this writing. The family suggests tributes to either the Suzanne and Douglas Neckers Fund at Hope or the Albert Neckers Jr. Endowment at the Robert H. Jackson Center.
More about his career, interests and impact is available in an article published in The Blade newspaper in Toledo on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2022.
In addition, the Fall 2012 issue of BGSU Magazine, also available online, includes a feature story about him.
A Hope feature about his book “Cal VanderWerf: Anchor of Hope” is available online.