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Obituaries for April 2020

1 April 2020 No Comment

Peter Francis Merenda

Contributed by Lisa L. Harlow and Grayson L. Baird

    Peter Francis Merenda—statistician, psychometrician, quantitative psychologist, professor, dean, Navy captain, father, and husband—passed away October 19, 2019, at the age of 97. Peter is survived by his three daughters, three granddaughters, and three great-grandchildren.

    Born in Everett, Massachusetts, in 1922, Peter was the first son of Sicilian immigrant parents and raised by an extended family of his mother, grandmother, and aunts. He earned his BS (1947) and MA (1948) degrees in mathematics and education, respectively, from Tufts University. While at Tufts, Peter participated in the Navy ROTC program, eventually becoming an ensign and serving the US Navy during World War II. After the war, he married Rosie Cafasso. He enrolled in a psychometrics graduate program at Harvard under Philip J. Rulon, taking courses from Kenneth Vaughn, David V. Tiedeman, and Julian Stanley. In 1951, he left this program due to an invitation to work as the director of research and sole psychometrician for the newly established US Naval Examining Center. During this time, he worked on his doctorate in statistics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, completing his PhD in 1957 under Chester Harris and Julian Stanley.

    Soon after, Peter accepted a position as director of research for Walter V. Clarke Associates in Rhode Island, a national and international consulting firm for psychometrics and statistics. In 1960, he was approached by Kenneth Carpenter of the University of Rhode Island (URI) to co-found the department of psychology, thus splitting his time between URI and Clarke Associates. In 1968, while serving as the dean of the graduate school at URI, Peter co-founded the URI Department of Computer Science and Statistics with William Hemmerle, who was the recently hired director of the computer laboratory and who also became the first chair of the new department.

    The creation of the computer science and statistics department was a reaction, in part, to URI accidentally renting an IBM 1410 commercial computer, which was underpowered to do research, instead of a 1620 scientific computer. Ultimately, through the advocacy of Peter and others at URI, the computer mix-up helped serve as the impetus for the formation of what is now the Academic Computer Center and a vibrant and successful department of computer science and statistics that currently has more than 20 faculty working on research in computational statistics, big data, machine learning, and high-performance computing, among other areas.

    In all, Peter was with Clarke Associates for 40 years (1957–1997) and was a professor at URI for 25 years (1960–1985), although he became professor emeritus and remained involved at URI well past 1985. During much of this time, Peter was active in the US Navy Reserves, rising from ensign (1944) to captain before retiring in 1980 (between 1950–1980 as a line psychologist in the Navy Reserve).

    Not surprisingly, Peter received many honors during his long career. He was a senior Fulbright-Hay Research Scholar (Italy, 1967–1968, 1974–1975) and a Pacific Cultural Foundation Grantee (Taiwan, Republic of China, 1981–1982). In addition, he received the Karl F. Heiser Presidential Award for Advocacy in Professional Psychology, the New England Psychological Association Distinguished Contributions Award, the James McKeen Cattell Fellow Award for Outstanding Contributions, an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from the University of Rhode Island, and the prestigious American Psychological Association Messick Award for Distinguished Scientific Contributions in methodology and statistics. Peter was also an engaged member of the American Statistical Association for 68 years (1951–2019).

    His prodigious scholarly research included three books and more than 250 articles, book chapters, book reviews, technical research reports, and test critiques. His expertise was substantial, providing greater understanding to a multitude of areas. In his later years, Peter’s work continued to contribute much to the field, particularly as he shared his experience and vision with an overarching and historical focus, such as in his 2003 article, “Measurements in the Future: Beyond the 20th Century.”

    Among his notable achievements, Peter made it a priority to recognize and reward those young emerging statistical scholars who had just received their PhDs. To this end, he established the Peter Merenda Prize in Statistics and Research Methodology at URI that generously awarded more than 30 students an annual prize and check for $1,500. The prize winners have gone on to highly successful careers, with more than half of them each publishing from 50 to 100 or more major articles in their fields. In an ongoing commitment to mentoring, Peter also made opportunities to invite colleagues and students over to his home for a sumptuous meal and wine, where vibrant statistical discussions punctuated the air.

    In closing, Peter Merenda will always be remembered for his many remarkable accomplishments, including his encouragement and nurturance of the interests and achievements of students, faculty, and other professionals in the wonders of statistics and research methodology. He left a legacy built on enormous expertise and myriad meaningful contributions that spanned more than six decades, long into his retirement. Read more about Peter’s life.

    Roger C. Pfaffenberger

    Roger C. Pfaffenberger, 76, died at his home in Kailua Kona, Hawaii, July 12, 2019, after a brief illness.

    Roger was born in Los Angeles, California, February 14, 1943. He earned his PhD in statistics from Texas A&M University in 1971 and spent the next 30 years as a beloved and gifted teacher, researcher, and textbook author.

    His career led him to Penn State, the University of Maryland, and Texas Christian University, where he was professor of decision sciences at the Neeley School of Business from 1978–2001. In July 2001, Roger began a new career with the tax services and consulting firm of Ryan, LLC, based in Dallas, Texas, directing its audit sampling and statistical analysis practice for 18 years.

    Roger was passionate about baseball from an early age. He liked to say his aptitude for calculating baseball statistics as a child led to his eventual career. He loved to travel and his favorite destination was Hawaii, where he was determined to one day live. That dream was fulfilled in 2012 when he and his wife moved to Kona.

    Roger is survived by his wife, Barbara; his daughter, Janelle Bretten, and her partner, Chris Knox, of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and brother, Bryan Pfaffenberger of Virginia.

    Those who wish to remember his legacy may donate online or by mail to The Ryan Foundation, Attn: Amy Lee, 13155 Noel Road, Suite 100, Dallas, TX 75240 and designate their gift for “The Roger Pfaffenberger Endowed Scholarship at TCU.”

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