SCIENCE-AND-TENNIS BRIDGE

by Kaye Bennett

2008:  High school senior and scholar-athlete Alex Dombos from Kalamazoo decides to go to Kalamazoo College so he can major in science and play tennis.

1942:  High school senior and scholar-athlete Victor Soukup from Chicago decides to go to Kalamazoo College so he can major in science and play tennis.

The connection:  Victor Soukup is Alex Dombos’s grandfather.

Dombos is following in some mighty footsteps, not only those of his grandfather, Victor Soukup ’46, but also those of his late grandmother, Shirley White Soukup ’45.  

Shirley White came to “K” from her Chicago high school to major in biology and chemistry.  A few months later, in an organic chemistry lab, a young man was the only one in the class who could answer a question posed by the professor.  That young man is bright, observed the teacher; we should keep an eye on him.  So Shirley did just that.

Victor Soukup also came from Chicago, where he had been a tennis phenom in high school.  Everett Hames, Kalamazoo College’s director of admissions, came to his school during Soukup’s senior year.  “When he found out I wasn’t settled on a school,” Soukup recalls, “he made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.” 

Soukup was destined to spend just a year and a half at “K,” an interruption caused by World War II.  (It was not uncommon for “K” to list students as alumni when, like Soukup, the War forced them to finish their studies at other schools.)  But he was there long enough to know that Shirley White was the girl for him. 

He was also there long enough to play number one singles for the Hornet tennis team.  When Soukup enlisted in the Navy the next year, he was assigned to the V-12 Navy Training Program.  Oddly enough, that gave him a unique athletic opportunity.

The first part of his V-12 training was at Western Michigan University, where he played number-one singles on the WMU tennis team.  Soukup became the first (of only two) persons who played that position on teams from both “K” and WMU. 

Soukup’s military training took him to the University of Michigan, where he completed his undergraduate degree, then to Princeton and the Naval Academy.  While he was in Ann Arbor, says Soukup, he regularly hitchhiked back to Kalamazoo to continue courting Shirley White.  He had no place to stay when he got to the campus, he says, so “. . . I used to climb the outside wall of Mandelle Library and find an unlocked window.  Then I’d go inside and sleep overnight.”

Shirley White meanwhile was leaving her own mark on Kalamazoo College’s tennis program, even though she didn’t play.  During summers, Shirley lived in a rented house across the street from Dr. Allen B. Stowe, long-time professor of chemistry and tennis coach.  The tennis team at the time was still playing on courts next to the railroad tracks, but Stowe wanted to change that.  One evening, says Victor, Dr. Stowe and Shirley sat down and together outlined plans for what is now Stowe Stadium.

Finally, the War over and their undergraduate degrees in hand, Victor and Shirley married in 1946, then headed to the University of Wisconsin, in Madison.  Ultimately they both earned doctoral degrees, hers in endocrinology and his in organic chemistry.  By the time they had their Ph.D.s, they also had the first two of their four children.

After graduating from Wisconsin, the Soukups were off to Cincinnati, where Victor had a job with Proctor and Gamble.  From P&G, Victor went to Cincinnati Milacron, where he worked as director of research until he retired in 1973.

Shirley spent her career doing research at the Children’s Hospital/Children’s Research Foundation/Center for Developmental Studies in Cincinnati, where she worked with Dr. Joseph Warkany, considered to be the father of mammalian teratology and cytogenetics.  Though she was a full professor at the Medical School of the University of Cincinnati, research in chromosomal abnormalities was always her passion, her family says.  She passed away on December 15, 2011.

Victor remained active and successful in both tennis and badminton for many years.  He earned many titles, including state championships in badminton in Wisconsin and Ohio.

A chemist by training, Victor Soukup has had a life-long passion for botany, becoming a world expert on plants in the orchid, trillium, and jack-in-the-pulpit families.  His daughter Ann Soukup says, “I grew up thinking Saturdays were for field trips with the wildflower society.”

For more than 30 years, Victor Soukup has been volunteer associate curator of McMicken College’s herbarium, at the University of Cincinnati,
"Kalamazoo College is one of the most special places on earth..."
where he also serves as an adjunct professor of biological sciences.  His expertise in chemistry and botany has led to ongoing research into the analysis of seed lipids in the jack-in-the-pulpit family.  Even now, he spends 40 hours a week at the herbarium and is president of the Ohio Native Plant Society.

Through an odd twist of fate, the Soukup’s only daughter, Ann, having grown up in Cincinnati, ended up living in Kalamazoo.  Ann met Michael Dombos, now an attorney, while she was at Albion College; it was Michael who brought her to the town where her parents had attended college.  Ann Soukup is now a physician’s assistant at the Edison School-Based Health Center.

When the Dombos’s sons, Andrew and Alex, were ready for college, they both chose “K.”

Andrew ’09 majored in religion and theater.  He now works for the Episcopal Church Diocese in San Francisco.

Alex’s '12 “K” experiences have been, in many ways, similar to those of his grandfather seven decades earlier.  Having been a champion tennis player while attending Kalamazoo Hackett High School, Alex has played for “K” throughout his college years; he was recently selected to the 2011 Capitol One Academic All-America Second Team.  Also like his grandfather, Alex will be going on to graduate school after leaving “K.” 

Victor Soukup is now 87 and still lives in the house that he built for his family in 1954-55.  Looking back on his own “K” experiences in the 1940s, Victor says that the liberal arts education he received at “K’ was a great beginning for his career as a chemist.  He says that, whenever he speaks to students, he stresses the importance of not only knowing science, but also of being able to express results precisely in writing.

From her viewpoint as the daughter of two “K” alums and the mother of two more, Ann Soukup says, “Kalamazoo College is one of the most special places on earth…. It instills in its students the love of life-long learning as it prepares them to be successful throughout their careers.”

Photo 1 - Tennis, science, and family connect Victor Soukup ’46 and his grandson Alex Dombos ’12.

Photo 2 - Shirley White Soukup ’45 (far right) and a group of students on the patio of Hoben Hall in the early 1940's.


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1 RESPONSE TO SCIENCE-AND-TENNIS BRIDGE
Bob Johnston '48 on January 18, 2012 at 12:35 pm
Vic and I are long time friends and played tennis together at K back in 1942. I left for the Air Corps in early '43 and returned to K in '45. The house Vic built in Cinci was partly fabricated and delivered to his home site, by a company I was part of. I questioned his choice of a lot which was located at the bottom of 2 hills. The road in front made a 90 degree turn right at his front yard. I pointed out to him that cars coming down either hill had to make that 90 degree turn, and if going too fast could wind up in his yard, or worse, his front room. His response was that he had already checked out the acident records of just such accidents, and in all of such incidents, the cars had made the first part of the 90 degree turn and landed in the lots on either side of his lot. Not to worry, that trend would likely continue in the future. I haven't talked with Vic in many years, and I wonder if his prediction held. Bob Johnston '48
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