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Columbia Missourian

Ardath Emmons, 89, was MU Research Reactor director and experienced pilot

By Rachel Swinney
July 23, 2013 | 8:01 p.m. CDT

COLUMBIA — Ardath Henry Emmons was a teacher and a traveler.

“It’s hard to sum him up,” his son Craig Emmons said. “He was a good man, and people just loved him.”

Dr. Emmons died Saturday, July 20, 2013, at his home in Sun City West, Ariz. He was 89. He was born March 12, 1924, in Albert Lea, Minn., to Clarette and Lawrence J. Emmons.

Dr. Emmons received his bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1948 from the University of Dubuque in Iowa and a master’s degree in chemistry in 1954. He received a fellowship from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee and worked there for four years. He received a doctorate in nuclear engineering at the University of Michigan in 1959.

In 1960, Dr. Emmons and his wife, Beth, moved to Columbia, where he began work on the design and construction of the MU Research Reactor, which was dedicated in 1966 and is still in operation.

Dr. Emmons' son said his father was very well respected at the reactor, and there is a plaque with his father's picture on a wall of the reactor.

Dr. Emmons was the first director of the reactor, and he was made vice president for research at MU in 1970. After Dr. Emmons retired, he continued to work as a consultant in the nuclear medicine field until he moved to Arizona.

Dr. Emmons was an experienced pilot, logging several thousand hours of flying time, and traveled to many places, often with his wife, also a pilot.

“He and Mom were inseparable,” his son said. “They were married for 68 years. They loved taking cruises. They went to Europe; they went to Japan several times; he’s been to all of South America. His last cruise with Mom was three or four years ago. They went to Greece and Italy.”

Dr. Emmons was also an avid reader and photographer and was always curious and filled with enthusiasm throughout his life.

“He read anything,” his son said. “He was very smart. He read, he played golf, he traveled; he went everywhere.”

Dr. Emmons was a caring and loving father, husband and friend.

“He was such a kind man,” his son said. “Everybody loved him. He had Alzheimer’s, and even with that, he was so nice to people.

"Hospice workers just loved him because he was such a good, kind-hearted man. I think anyone that knew him knew that.”

Dr. Emmons is survived by his wife, Beth; his five children, Larry, Craig, Chris, Kari and Wendy; seven grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at Sun City West Christian Church, 20803 N. 151st Ave., Sun City West, Ariz.

Online condolences and memories can be shared with the family at

Supervising editor is Hannah Wiese.