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Ivan Finkle, Class of 1950, was born in the Bronx the year these images of Uni were taken

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For the first time in my life, I really wish I’d worked harder in physics. If I had, I would surely have been able to ask Ivan Finkle, class of 1950, more intelligent questions about the work he did in physics.  But I did the best I could to find out about the life of an important member of the Uni High Education Foundation.

Ivan was born in the Bronx in 1933.  This year was a fateful year for the future of humanity, and the events of that year would have something to do with Ivan’s work in the field of physics. It was the year that Adolf Hitler seized power, ensuring the inevitably of a war that would see its final conclusion in catastrophic atomic energy.   It was an important year in another sense as well. It was the year Ivan was born in the Bronx, where he took root before being transplanted to East Los Angeles and enrolling in Belvedere Junior High in the fall of 1946.

When he came to California, he found himself sitting in classrooms where the windows were left open, and the smell of orange blossoms wafted through them.  It was an entirely different ethnic enclave from his neighborhood in the Bronx where one could bet on encountering the same trifecta of cultures: Jews, Irish, and Italians. If his Bronx childhood was anything like the Brooklyn ones my Italian father and Jewish mother described, it was a world of exciting predictability, a movie in which anything might happen but you could nearly always predict how the characters would behave.  Suddenly, he found himself an outsider in a long-established Hispanic community that was slower paced with an entirely different cast.

The following year, he moved to West Los Angeles and began high school at Uni.  There too, he had to learn the rules of an equally new game. His first day of school his mother ironed a garment they had not hitherto encountered: a pair of Levis.  He arrived at school with a crease down the center of each pant leg. People at Uni were very nice to him as he acclimated to this new cultural landscape, but he was incredibly shy.  Every Saturday, he would go to the gym at Uni to play pick-up games of basketball, but he was much too shy even to consider going out for CEE basketball.

Within a few years, he found his Pacific sea legs.  After the summer of 1950, he began at UCLA with most of the other local kids and joined a fraternity. He even met a girl, Bobbie, whom he eventually married. He felt like he was in heaven.  His newly discovered social life led to disastrous grades and he found himself drafted! While his military career only took him to Detroit, he asks us to consider that Detroit was not invaded during his tour of duty.  Such humor is the only showboating Ivan will ever display. 

He downplays his many accomplishments, which are manifold.  After completing correspondence courses while in the military, he returned to UCLA, earned his Bachelor’s degree in Physics, began working at the RAND Corporation, and then completed his Master’s in Physics, also at UCLA.  Since he knew physics and computers at the early end, he was put to work developing nuclear weapons effects simulations. These helped scientists predict the resulting temperature and air pressure of a nuclear explosion. At a young age, Ivan was already working to understand the threat of nuclear war, which had come into being in large part as a result of Hitler’s rise to power the very year Ivan was born.  While he might not have saved Detroit from a potential amphibious invasion on the banks of the Detroit River, he did play a role in securing our country at this point in his career.

After a while, he left RAND and spent some time managing NASA’s Goddard Space Flight a Program Manager for Planning Research Corporation in Washington D.C.  Upon his return to Los Angeles, where he worked for nearly eighteen years before retiring in 1995 as Director of Data Systems for the EDSG division.

Ivan is not comfortable talking about his accomplishments, but this is no way due to some sort of false modesty.  The man is a physicist, so he is genuinely interested in the effects of actions, and this plays out in everything he does.  He seeks not to be the greatest person, but to have the greatest, measurable effect.  When he attended his 50th reunion in 2000, he learned more about the Uni High Education Foundation and saw a way he could give back.  He realized that he could easily use his computer skills, and joined a team of classmates, including Charles Corbato, Larry Porter and Ed Zwieback working to find lost classmates (Alohans) for their 55th class reunion. Ivan eventually joined the board of the Uni Education Foundation and eventually created a relational database to help maintain contact information with Uni alumni. 

Not only has he had a measurable effect on UHEF’s ability to fundraise and help Uni students over the last nineteen years, but he has also had a less quantifiable one by connecting people who wanted to find one another.  We will never be able to measure the impact of making it more possible for long-lost friends, lovers, and even enemies to reconnect, rekindle, or even bury old hatchets that had might’ve hacked away at people through the years.  These moments occur privately, but the true extent of the ripple effects of connecting our community along with supporting Uni’s students and staff can only be imagined.

Ivan’s impact extends beyond Uni to our global community.  In 2005, he went on a trip to Egypt, Jordan, and Israel with 15 Muslims, 15 Jews, and 15 Christians.  This experience had a profound effect on him, and he, in turn, wanted to see what he could do to produce the same effect in others.  His journey home from that trip turned into a journey as an avid interfaith advocate.  Now he serves on the board of the Academy for Judaic, Christian and Islamic Studies at UCLA  They sponsor a course called Religion 120, which is a comparative religions course.  He describes this course as, “Dropping pebbles as it ripples out into society to create tolerance.”  When you go to the Academy’s website, you will see this biblical quote, “God has told you what is good, and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love and kindness, and to walk humbly with your God. –Micah 6.8.”  This religious and spiritual quest seems so fitting, for Ivan is a man who understands effects with his mind and his heart. We are lucky that he dedicates both to Uni and to the larger world.  He is a model for our students, many of whom will no doubt be making their own contributions decades after they leave the halls of Uni.


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