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IMSA founder, Nobel winner honored before retirement

 (l-to-r) IMSA Founding President President EmeritDr. Stephanie Pace Marshall (left) IMSA Board Trustees Member SheilMB Griff IMSA President Dr.

(l-to-r) IMSA Founding President and President Emerita Dr. Stephanie Pace Marshall (left), IMSA Board of Trustees Member Sheila MB Griffin , IMSA President Dr. Glenn W. "Max" McGee and IMSA Board of Trustees Member Jack McEachern, Jr.(right) applaud Dr. Lederman (center) following the ribbon-cutting of the Lederman Science Wing for Creative Inquiry at IMSAin Aurora on Wednesday, May 16, 2012. | Chris Reader~IMSA

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Updated: June 29, 2012 9:15AM

The Illinois Math and Science Academy paid tribute to its founding father Wednesday afternoon when the school dedicated a new science wing to Resident Scholar and Nobel Laureate Leon Lederman.

The “Lederman Science Wing for Creative Inquiry” will be a reminder of his work with the school, its students and the community. Lederman, 89, is an experimental physicist who was awarded Nobel Prize in Physics in 1998 for his work with neutrinos. He is director emeritus of Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory in Batavia and has served as IMSA’s resident scholar since 1998.

“Even as you physically leave Illinois and this place, your indelible legacy of awesome science will remain,” IMSA Founding President Stephanie Pace Marshall said Wednesday. “We rededicate ourselves to what you called us to do and called us to be.”

Marshall said as the school says goodbye to one of its most acclaimed staff members, it looks forward to a bright future. That future, Marshall said, is one Lederman envisioned nearly three decades ago.

He first shared his vision with the Valley Industrial Association in 1983, then continued to be a major voice for the school during some initial hesitation by legislators.

In mid-1985, when the state allocated the first $500,000 in seed money for IMSA, founding board members had a short window to buy a building, recruit students, hire teachers and purchase equipment, or lose their school.

West Aurora High School’s former north campus seemed the obvious site. The school — built in 1977, but closed in 1982 when enrollment took an unexpected downturn — gave IMSA a building and up to 93 acres of land. On Sept. 8, 1986, the pioneer class of 210 students arrived.

Today, Lederman’s dream has flourished, and his vision has come to fruition. Jack McEachern, Jr., who sits on the IMSA board of trustees, applauded Lederman’s influential role in science, and the teaching of the subject.

“Thirty years ago, (Lederman) said if we do this, and if we do it right, we can change the world and the way we live in it,” McEachern said. “Well, Leon, you did it right. You changed the world we live in.”

On Wednesday, students from Lederman’s past came back to wish him well. A smile spread across his face as he listened to his colleagues speak. His personality is simply contagious, said school president Max McGee.

“Everybody does know Leon, and as internationally known as he is, his heart is always at IMSA,” McGee said. “When he’s here, the academy feels different. He brightens the place up. ... I’m so grateful for your spirit, and your presence, and your dream.”

Lederman will retire to Idaho where he plans on doing a lot of relaxing, he said. His mind, though, will never be far from the students whose lives he has impacted and changed.

“It’s unbelievable for high school students to have the ability to meet and talk to a Nobel Laureate on a daily basis,” said IMSA mathematics facilitator Michael Keyton. “(Lederman) is a superb scholar, and a great friend to everyone.”

Although she has graduated from IMSA, Vashti Aguilar said that Lederman’s life has changed hers indefinitely.

“IMSA has seriously provided me everything I need for college,” she said. “It is a part of my identity, and I talk about it all the time. Coming back is my way to say thank you.”

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