The Man Behind the Nameplate

There are perhaps as many reasons people give to a favorite charity or organization as there are grains of sand on a beach. Here is the story of one incredibly generous WSU benefactor, Dr. Paul Haake, as told by his son, Dr. David Haake, and what motivated his father and mother to give what is, to date, the largest single gift received by WSU.

Speaking at the dedication of the new Haake Hall, David began, “I’m extremely pleased to make a few comments and to help solve a mystery that you may be wondering about: ‘How is it that a residence building at Winona State University has become known as Haake Hall?’ Well, there are three clues: History, Education, and Opportunity.”

History: The history of the Haake Family goes back to the emigration of the three Haake brothers, Paul, Ernest, and Frank, from Germany to Winona more than 100 years ago. The brothers engaged in farming, the grocery business, and banking, all which proved successful for the hard-working and growing Haake families.

Paul, David’s father, was born in 1932 at the start of the Great Depression. “This difficult time left a tremendous impact on my father, who was by far the most frugal person I have ever met,” commented David. “For example, when we went on road trips with dad we would never stay in a hotel, just near a hotel. It was our standard practice to sleep in the car in the Howard Johnson parking lot.”

Education: Education was extremely important in the Haake household. Paul’s mother, Clara, was a very bright Scandinavian woman who grew up in a small village a few miles south of Winona, in Pickwick. To attend Winona High School, the young Clara Olson walked five miles to the train that still runs along the Mississippi River and paid five cents to ride to Winona,” said David. “After high school, she graduated from Winona Business College, which must have been a remarkable accomplishment for a woman back in 1920.”

Clara emphasized the importance of education to her children, both of whom attended Winona High School. Athletics were also an important part of Paul Haake’s early years, as it was the key to a healthy body and mind. And with that healthy state of mind, he dedicated himself to his studies and earned a scholarship to attend Harvard.

“Dad told me many times how hard he worked to graduate from Harvard,” said David. His father then went on to earn a doctorate in chemistry. After a year of postdoctoral work at CalTech, he began teaching and conducting research at UCLA, where he was awarded an Alfred P. Sloan fellowship and then tenure.

In 1968, Paul moved to Wesleyan University, where he was a beloved teacher, colleague, and researcher for almost forty years. His research on the kinetics and mechanism of chemical reactions resulted in one hundred scholarly articles and books, including “Hydrolysis and Exchange in Esters of Phosphoric Acid,” which has been cited 250 times since it was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. This remains a seminal paper in the understanding of how living things store energy.

Opportunity: Paul’s career took him all over the U.S., yet he never forgot his Winona roots. He remembered what it was like to grow up alongside the graceful Mississippi River in the shadow of Sugar Loaf. More than anything else, Paul was always grateful for the strong foundation in education that he received in Winona. That education became the opportunity to live a very full and rewarding life.

In an effort to repay his debt of gratitude to Winona and create opportunities for young people growing up here, he created an endowment to support a poetry competition at Winona middle and senior high schools. He also established the Clara & Arnold Haake Memorial Scholarship for student athletes at Winona State University.

Over time, Paul concluded that WSU would be the best place to leave a legacy that was both impactful and meaningful. The lessons he learned growing up in Winona in frugality, hard work, and educational values allowed him to be in a position at the end of his life to leave a major gift to Winona State University.

“So in the end,” said David, “it was my father’s history, his education, and his opportunities that led to there being a Haake Hall at Winona State University. How thrilled my father would be, knowing that his gift will benefit so many students, creating opportunities for them to live their lives to their fullest potentials.”

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Cassandra Douglas

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