Brother Alden L. Winn ’37, Professor Emeritus
Col. Alden L. Winn, Ret. ’37, who was professor emeritus of electrical engineering at UNH, died peacefully on Aug. 27 while watching a Red Sox game. The game was a lengthy, agonizing Red Sox defeat, but Winn was more of a UNH football and New England Patriots fan, so he was probably bored rather than disgusted when he died, his daughter, Kathleen Jackson, says. He was 89.
Winn, who was born and grew up in Portsmouth, N.H., used to say “not everyone can be a John Wayne,” but in his long and remarkably productive life, he displayed responsibility, integrity and precision behind the scenes whenever he was faced with turbulent times.
In high school, he showed an aptitude for science, acing a national chemistry test. When the principal asked him to explain how he knew things that his teacher hadn’t taught him, he pulled out a chemistry book he had been reading in his spare time.
At UNH, he majored in electrical engineering and joined the Army R.O.T.C. After graduating, he earned a master’s degree at MIT and studied radar systems, a technology that was in its infancy. He married Patricia Butler in 1941; she predeceased him in 1987.
During World War II, he was able to use his knowledge of radar as a technical officer in the 9th Defense Air Command. During the Battle of the Bulge, his brigade was charged with the crucial duty of setting up antitank defense positions. Because of the impenetrable fog, the Germans had suspended air attacks and had tanks poised to push through to Antwerp. Winn had never seen the antiaircraft guns that he now had to place in anti-tank positions, but he set up the radar and mapped out positions for the troops. Not one German tank broke through the radar network. For his efforts, he was awarded the Bronze Star, the highest honor a noncombatant American serviceman can receive.
After the war, Winn came back to UNH to teach in the electrical engineering department, which he chaired for many years. He was a creative and dedicated teacher who had the ability to adapt his teaching methods to theneeds of the student; anyone who sought out his help received it. Former students, remembering how he got them into graduate school with a telephone call, were impressed with his prestige in the engineering field.
In 1961, Winn was chair of the Faculty Welfare Committee during a civil disobedience protest on campus. New Hampshire Gov. Wesley Powell had ordered a statewide civil defense alert, and hundreds of students marched down Main Street to protest both the alert and nuclear weapons. English professor Gwynne Daggett was accused of inciting the protest, and the university’s administration was pressured by the media and the state government to fire him. In response to the controversy, the administration withheld Daggett’s pending salary increase and promotion.
The committee had the task of reviewing the case, and Winn was pressured by many different factions to find Daggett guilty. Winn’s son, Christopher Winn ’69, ’75G, remembers that his father’s own career was threatened. Although Winn’s name is absent from accounts of the incident, he spearheaded the committee’s findings, which rescinded Daggett’s reprimand and convinced the trustees to grant Daggett his raise and promotion to associate professor. It was a significant victory for academic freedom.
He was also active in Durham town politics. As chair of the Board of Selectmen in 1975, when the town was in an uproar over Aristotle Onassis’ attempt to build an oil refinery on Great Bay, Winn prevented legal reprisals against the town by the state government by his simple but unpopular insistence that the board give Onassis’ representatives a fair hearing.
Winn was the kind of man who kept his head when all about him were losing theirs. In 2000, the same year he was inducted into the UNH ROTC Hall of Fame, he wrote an autobiography, edited by his daughter. In a postscript, she wrote, “Some of our best heroes are those hardworking individuals who, at the right time and in the right place, quietly make things go right.”
( from UNH Magazine, Winter 2006)