Professor of Mathematics
Saturday, May 2, 1998
Irving O. Bentsen ’54 was born in Brooklyn, New York, on September 23, 1927, the son of Otman and Aline Pedersen Bentsen of Norway. After an accident at age 14 led to blindness for Bentsen, he enrolled at the New York Institute for the Education of the Blind, and graduated in 1950. That fall he entered Hobart, where he was elected to Phi Beta Kappa as a junior, and as a senior was tapped as Druid. Bentsen graduated cum laude with a B.A. in mathematics in 1954, and the following year married Jane Hoose, William Smith ’54. They have two sons, James and Eric.
Professor Bentsen received his master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Rochester in 1956, and served as an instructor of mathematics at Hobart and William Smith, from 1958 to 1964. Awarded his Ph.D. in 1965, Professor Bentsen taught at the University of Vermont from 1964 to 1966. He returned to the Colleges as assistant professor in 1966, became an associate professor in 1970, and a full professor in 1976. When he retired in June, 1991, the Board of Trustees named him Professor Emeritus.
Professor Bentsen’s primary research area was abstract partial difference algebra, and his principle results were published in a prestigious mathematical journal. He enjoyed teaching all mathematics courses, but especially abstract algebra, number theory, topology, and post-calculus probability. Highly regarded as a dedicated and enthusiastic teacher, a former student commented, “Dr. I. O. Bentsen was the most effective teacher I had at Hobart.” Students responded to his love of mathematics and stretched to meet his high expectations. He was always accessible, giving generously of his time and energy. Students appreciated his fairness, his patience, and his good nature, adjusting readily to his classroom style and participating actively in the solving of problems and development of proofs. He would say everything he wrote on the board, which paced his presentation and helped in taking notes. A former student says, “Dr. Bentsen...not only sees, but gives sight to others.” He was awarded an Alumni Association Citation in 1979 as an “outstanding scholar” and “revered teacher.”
Professor Bentsen severed the Colleges community with the same energy, enthusiasm, and attention to detail characteristic of his teaching. The chair of the Department of Mathematics and Computer Science for seven years, he also served on many faculty committees, one of which improved the faculty retirement plan. Bentsen was awarded the Faculty Community Service Award in 1981 in recognition of “his judgment and fairness on all his numerous committee assignments...the inspiration he provides for all of us.” He also served as a past president of Zeta of New York, Phi Beta Kappa, and as the first president of the Druid Society when it returned to campus in 1981.
In the dedication for his calculus book Richard Peller ’71 wrote “Dr. Bentsen served to help me appreciate the beauty of mathematics, to view its richness, and to understand that new results are discovered and not invented. The patience and time that he gave me while I was studying with him in college was significant, and its effects long-lasting. He is generous, sincere, and creative.”
With his character, teaching, leadership, and loyalty to the Colleges, Professor Bentsen has touched and been an inspiration to Hobart and William Smith students, his colleagues, and his community.