Faculty, Students Reflect on Life of Dr. Richard Adler

By AMBER AINSWORTH, Editor-in-Chief

A love of baseball pushed Dr. Richard Adler to order baseballs he collected to the University of Michigan-Dearborn to hide that he was ordering more of them from his wife and children.

According to Dr. Melissa Bowlin, an associate professor of biology, Adler’s baseball orders prompted the Department Executive Committee to have a discussion “about how ‘personal’ mail should be handled at work.”

“I don’t know if anyone ever told him we had the discussion,” Bowlin said, “but I think he’d have liked the story of us pondering over who should be allowed to open boxes that arrive at the department.”

“His love for baseball was always a nice distraction from the world of biology whenever he and I had time to sneak in a conversation or two on the matter,” said Mujahed Elhady, a former student of Adler’s.

Baseball was only one of Adler’s passions. As an associate professor of biology and microbiology at UM-Dearborn, he dedicated much of his time to projects and writing.

Adler joined the biological sciences department at the university in 1977 after spending two years with a fellowship at the Roche Institute of Molecular Biology in Nutley, N.J. and two years as a research associate in the Department of Human Genetics in Ann Arbor.

He studied Herpes Simplex Virus, as well as the history of microbiology, among other topics. At Dearborn, he studied the expression of viral proteins and the effects of anti-virals on replication with a group of undergraduate students.

He also wrote over 200 articles, some that ran in the Detroit Free Press, while most of the others were published in books. Additionally, he published several books not related to science, including one about baseball at the University of Michigan.

His book “Cholera in Detroit: A History” won a 2014 State History Award. The Historical Society of Michigan presents the award annually to those “that have made outstanding contributions to the appreciation, collection, preservation and/or promotion of state and local history.” According to the Historical Society, the award is the highest recognition one can receive from the state’s oldest cultural organization.

In “Cholera,” Adler wrote about cholera outbreaks in Detroit during the mid-19th century and the efforts to control the outbreaks. Cholera is a bacterial disease of the small intestine that can be contracted from contaminated water. Its outbreaks in 1832, 1834, 1849, 1854 and 1866 killed hundreds.

His storytelling ways benefited his students.

“He was a gifted writer of history, and brought that passion into the classroom,” said Marilee Benore, a professor of biology and biochemistry. “He was a storyteller, and made the science interesting from a different point of view.”

His work also involved mentoring youths that wanted to develop projects in microbiology for science fairs at local high schools. The students had to submit a proposal for a project. Adler then provided feedback for the students and met with them several times a week. He also was a judge for science fairs at Webster Elementary School in Livonia.

He was on the radio several times as well. He debated the topic of evolution on “The Bob Dutko Show” and was occasionally a microbiology consultant for WWJ radio.

Students and colleagues at UM-Dearborn recalled all that Adler had done for them.

“He was always encouraging, thinking about the other person, thoughtful and generous,” Benore said. Adler hired her 27 years ago.

Last summer, he bought her a book on women in science, engineering, technology and math that he had the author sign for her.

“It was a recognition that he understood that we all have different experiences,” she said. “We all have times we struggle, and that we are all in this together and should help each other.’

Elise Mara, a former student of Adler’s, said he was her mentor while she was at UM-Dearborn. She assisted him in research for a book he was writing and he allowed her to co-author a book on the history of typhoid fever with him.

“He challenged, encouraged and believed in me,” Mara said, “and we kept in touch even after I moved out of state to pursue a career in epidemiology.”

Benore said many graduates said that Adler challenged them to think critically, something that helped them in medical school and in their careers.

Bowlin, who knew Adler for six years, believes his best quality was his sense of humor.

“He didn’t take himself seriously, the way many professors do,” Bowlin said. “This allowed him to interact easily with students, faculty, and staff.”