Ram Legacy: Elmer Remmenga, Department of Statistics

Historical photo of Elmer Remmenga with Genevieve Garst

Elmer Remmenga is remembered by those who love him as many things – an avid hunter and fisherman who always knew the best spots, a devoted father who put family before everything else, and an applied statistician who was integral to the establishment of the Department of Statistics at Colorado State University.

A passion for applied statistics

Arriving to work in blue jeans and a T-shirt, Remmenga took his job as an applied statistician very seriously. He began working at CSU in 1955 after completing his Ph.D. in agronomy at Purdue University in Indiana. In his early work, as a statistician in the Department of Mathematics, Remmenga collaborated with agricultural researchers to perform data analysis. In this work, he emphasized the need to understand the science behind the data.

“Dad’s approach was you needed to get out in the field and see what the researcher was doing,” said Marta Remmenga, Remmenga’s daughter who carried on her father’s passion for statistics into her career as a mathematical statistician with the United States Department of Agriculture. “That was always one of his big lessons, you really couldn’t be an effective statistical consultant if you didn’t take the time to understand something about the science that you were providing that support in.”

His influence on statistics at CSU grew as his career progressed. In the late 1950s, Remmenga established scientific computing at CSU. He helped bring the first computer to campus and hire the first computer scientist, Genevieve Garst.

In 1960, the Department of Statistics was founded, and Remmenga was part of the first cohort of professors in the new department. Throughout his career, he continued to do statistical consulting and teach applied statistics classes.

Family first

While Remmenga’s impact on statistics at CSU is profound, his impact on his family and friends is even greater.

“We always asked Elmer why he didn’t write a textbook,” said Shirley Remmenga, his wife. “His answer was that he would rather spend his time with his family than spending time writing a textbook. That is where his priorities were.”

The couple’s relationship began with a photograph. Elmer served in the Marine Corp with Shirley’s brother and through that friendship, he was in touch with her mother. In one of his regular letters, he sent along a photograph of himself.

“I had begged my mother for his picture, I said, ‘Oh let me have the picture,’” said Shirley with excitement, recalling the memory.

Their relationship took off when they met in person and Elmer worked up the courage to ask Shirley on a date. When the relationship progressed too quickly, Shirley broke things off. But he waited for her.

“I was amazed that he waited for me, but he did,” she said. “We had 51 and a half years together.”

During their marriage they had many adventures – from raising five kids to traveling the world through sabbaticals in Australia and Switzerland.

Elmer’s friends remember him in much the same way that Shirley does.

Max Stein and David Bowen, both of whom work with Remmenga at CSU, recalled going on many fishing and hunting trips with Remmenga and remember him as a proud family man.

Elmer retired from CSU in 2001 and passed away in 2005.

In honor of his contributions, Shirley set up the Elmer E. Remmenga Scholarship in Applied Statistics to encourage students to pursue the field that he was passionate about. The scholarship was first awarded in 2005 and has supported 19 students in the Department of Statistics, so far.