Deaths in the family

Author: Notre Dame Magazine staff

J. Robert Wegs, a professor emeritus of history, engaging lecturer and founding director of Notre Dame’s Nanovic Institute for European Studies, died July 14, 2010, at a hospital in Fort Wayne, Indiana, of lymphoma. He was 73.

An internationally recognized authority in the social and economic history of 20th century Europe, his major writings covered topics ranging from war mobilization to criminal justice, mainly in Austria. He taught at Notre Dame from 1977 until his retirement in 2006. His textbook, Europe Since 1945, is now in its fourth edition.

A small-town Illinois boy who cultivated passions for tennis, opera, jazz and good wine, Wegs also possessed gifts as a speaker that served him well in the classroom. And his talks on the history and culture of the Danube valley during an alumni cruise so impressed Robert S. Nanovic ’54 and his wife, Elizabeth, that the couple endowed a new institute in 1993 which was dedicated to the promotion of European studies on campus and to life-changing educational experiences for ND students in Europe.

Wegs is survived by his wife, Joyce, their daughter, Alison, and two granddaughters.

Rev. Michael J. Murphy, CSC, ’45, ’51 a professor emeritus of geology, University administrator and residence hall rector, died on July 11, 2010, at Holy Cross House near campus. He was 87.

Born in Butte, Montana, Father Murphy received his early education in Portland, Oregon. He studied for the priesthood at Moreau Seminary and was ordained in 1949. He finished his graduate studies in 1953, and his tenure on the geology faculty included 16 years as department chair.

Among Father Murphy’s academic accomplishments were the establishment of a new science course called Environmental Problems for the fall semester in 1970 — as legislation creating the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency was moving through Congress — and the creation of several professional development programs for high school earth science teachers. He received a Presidential Award for distinguished service to the University in 1986 and retired to parish work in 1989. He returned to Notre Dame in 1995 and moved into Holy Cross House, the order’s nursing home, in 2007.

Tom Pagna, the loyal understudy of legendary Irish football head coach Ara Parseghian, died July 6, 2010, of congestive heart failure at South Bend’s Memorial Hospital. He was 78.

Pagna was a three-sport standout at his Ohio high school when Parseghian, then an assistant coach under Woody Hayes at Miami University, recruited him to play running back. Pagna’s brief pro playing career ended with injury and he rejoined his former coach as an assistant at Northwestern, eventually moving with him to Notre Dame. Pagna coached quarterback John Huarte to a Heisman Trophy in 1964 then put together backfields that propelled Parseghian’s Fighting Irish to consensus national championships in 1966 and 1973. Many, including Parseghian himself, considered Pagna the natural successor when Parseghian retired after the 1974 season, but Pagna was passed over, reportedly because of his lack of head coaching experience. Pagna, who briefly served as head of the Alumni Association, later acknowledged that he had turned down head coaching offers out of loyalty to his boss and to Notre Dame. After 1985, younger Irish fans came to know Pagna as the color commentator for Tony Roberts’ Westwood One broadcasts of Irish home games.

Pagna is survived by his wife, Shirley, their two daughters and two grandsons.

Pit-Mann Wong ’76Ph.D., a professor of mathematics who described his field as a “beauty contest” and whose zeal for young people was conveyed in his enthusiastic teaching style, died of liver cancer on July 3, 2010, at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center in Mishawaka. He was 61.

Born in Shantou, China, Wong emigrated to the United States to study at Notre Dame under Professor Wilhelm Stoll. He joined the math faculty in 1980 and built an international reputation as a researcher and a campus-wide reputation for good teaching. He believed even the least mathematically gifted students, those who presumably would never understand his work in complex analysis or complex geometry, could nonetheless come to appreciate math’s splendor. He won four University teaching awards in the last decade. Students and family remember him as a humorous storyteller, a lover of science fiction, history and classical music who equally enjoyed coaching youth soccer.

Wong is survived by his wife, Priscilla, who directs crosscultural programs in Notre Dame’s Campus Ministry, and their two children.

Sperry E. “Bud” Darden, a professor emeritus of physics and dedicated community volunteer, died in South Bend after a long illness on October 23, 2009. He was 81.

Darden joined the physics faculty in 1957 after a year at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico. He was an important second-generation architect of Notre Dame’s developing nuclear research facility until his retirement in 1994, leading the polarized beam program and helping to secure essential research support from the National Science Foundation. Darden’s family always accompanied their father during his sabbaticals abroad, with years in Switzerland and Mexico giving the polymath an opportunity to become fluent in German and Spanish.

Several South Bend organizations, from the Center for the Homeless to the old Chapin Street Clinic, benefited from Darden’s penchant for community service. He served on his parish council and school board and had worked to help Laotian refugees make their homes in the area.

Darden was born in Chicago and grew up in Sioux City, Iowa. He is survived by his wife, Marcia, and their four children and eight grandchildren.