- October 15, 2023
Pete Wickham, 88, of Cedar Rapids, passed away peacefully on Oct. 6, 2023, surrounded by family. He was born in Montclair, N.J., and raised in Upper Brookville, N.Y. He graduated from Amherst College and MIT, earning a bachelor’s and Ph.D. in chemistry. He married Louise Vail in Plainfield, N.J.
After working as a pharmaceutical researcher in Albany, N.Y., for several years, he found his true calling as a professor of chemistry at Coe College in Cedar Rapids. Pete taught there from 1969 until his retirement in 2000, helping countless students on their way to careers in science and medicine. In 1987, he was honored with the Charles J. Lynch Award for Outstanding Teaching, which is awarded by students. In 1998 he was granted an endowed chair and was named the Henry and Margaret Haegg Distinguished Professor of Chemistry. He also served as the Chemistry Department chair for nine years.
Pete enjoyed birding and hiking in the woods in Eastern Iowa. He also took birding trips across the U.S. and around the world with friends and family. He teamed up with friends to break records for the most species of birds seen in a 24-hour period in Iowa and neighboring states. In 1999, he wrote an influential editorial to The Gazette which helped save Wanatee Park (then Squaw Creek Park) from development, preserving the natural ecosystem in a beautiful area. Shortly after retiring, he and Louise reached their goal of seeing 100 species of birds in every state in the U.S.
Pete had a smile and positive energy that lit up a room. He was known for his kindness, optimism, and hilarious sense of humor, which frequently centered around puns. Although toward the end of his life he had a lengthy illness, he continued to be upbeat, happy with his life and had no regrets.
He was predeceased by his parents and wife, Louise.
He is survived by his longtime special friend, Eva Stark; siblings, Virginia (Tom) Uhl, Sarah (Lou) Gicale and Chris (Stephanie); children, Mark (Amy) and Nancy; grandsons, Martin, Charlie and Henry; and many nephews, nieces and cousins.
The family would like to thank the employees of Cottage Grove Place and St. Croix Hospice for their wonderful care of Pete.
In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made to Cedar Rapids Audubon Society, which will coordinate a donation to the Linn County Conservation Department for a memorial tree and bench at Wanatee Park. Please mail any memorial donations to: Cedar Rapids Audubon, Attn: Pete Wickham Memorial, 1460 Douglas Ct., Marion, IA 52302.
A memorial service celebrating Pete’s life will be held at the Cedar Memorial Chapel of Memories in Cedar Rapids on Oct. 21, at 11 a.m. Later that day, at 3:30 p.m., a memorial hike will be held at Wickiup Hill Learning Center in Toddville in Pete’s honor. To join the hike, meet in the parking lot by the Learning Center.
Online condolences may be directed to the family at www.cedarmemorial.com under obituaries.