Theodore Oegema Jr. ’67
On November 2, 2020, Dr. Oegema, age 75, passed away and went to be with our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Ted is the proud and loving father of two children: Dr. Karen Oegema (Dr. Arshad Desai) and Jeffrey Oegema (Dr. Christina Eugster). He has three wonderful grandchildren, Khalil and Ayla Desai and Franka Oegema. He will be dearly missed by his wife of 56 years, Carol. He is also survived by four brothers: Dr. David (Flo), Daniel (Sherry), Timothy (Cindy), Steven (Joan), and one sister, Deborah Oegema.
Dr. Oegema was born in 1945 to Rev. Theodore and Geneva Oegema in Kalamazoo, MI. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Hope College in Holland, MI in 1967 and received his PhD. in Biochemistry at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 1972. He completed his postdoctoral training at the Dental Research Institute also at the University of Michigan. In 1975, Dr. Oegema joined the faculty at the University of Minnesota Medical School and College of Biological Sciences, with joint appointments in Biochemistry and Orthopedic Surgery. Dr. Oegema received the Kappa Delta Young Investigator Award from the American Association of Orthopedic Surgery and the Volvo Award for Spine Research in 1981. He also served as Associate Director of the schools’ MD/Ph.D. program. In 2002 he became the John W. and Helen H. Watzek Chair of Biochemistry at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago, Illinois and, in 2010, he was promoted to Emeritus Professor in the Department of Biochemistry.
Dr. Oegema is internationally recognized as an expert in understanding the relationship between trauma and the development of osteoarthritis as well as in cartilage carbohydrate biochemistry. His research interests included proteoglycans and glycoprotein structure and synthesis. Dr. Oegema was the author or co-author of over 120 research publications. He was elected chairman of the Gordon Conference on Proteoglycans in 1990 and served as President of the Orthopedic Research Society. He co-organized the Midwest Connective Tissue Workshop four times and served on the editorial board and as co-editor of the Journal, Connective Tissue Research.
A colleague of Dr. Oegema has said, “Ted was the best chairman I ever had. He was exceptionally intelligent, caring, and a great scientist. He was a scientist to his bones.” Throughout his career Dr. Oegema passed his scientific curiosity onto a new generation, mentoring and guiding many young scientists through their careers. He was known to be an exceptional leader who brought out the spark of inspiration in those around him. Another colleague and friend, on hearing of his passing, stated, “He was a dear friend, a brilliant scientist, and a man of solid values.”
Dr. Oegema’s scientific passion grew out of his childhood fascination with the natural world and his innate curiosity about how things worked. He enjoyed the outdoors, taking his children camping and hiking in Michigan and canoeing in the Minnesota Boundary Waters. He was a loving and encouraging father and provided his children with everything they needed to follow their own paths while showing them the wonder of the world. His love for biochemistry was paralleled at home with an interest in cooking – he was always the one to make the turkey and stuffing for the family feast. He loved reading, especially science fiction and detective novels, and was an avid Star Trek fan.
Dr. Oegema’s achievements are particularly remarkable given his diagnosis with chronic myelogenous leukemia at the age of 33. Expected to only survive a few years, he persevered through many challenges to achieve a life of great professional and personal distinction.