Wim Houwink honored with memorial endowments

An award for outstanding teaching in The College of Business has been established in honor of the late Willem "Wim" Houwink, a professor of economics in the University of Nevada, Reno College of Business from 1957 to 1983. Additional contributions in memory of the widely respected and admired professor are being accepted to create a scholarship endowment for students at the University whose studies include travel to or from foreign countries.

Born in Meppel, Holland in 1920, Wim excelled in both athletics and academics and was the youngest graduate in his high school class with the highest grade point average. He began his undergraduate studies at the University of Rotterdam, but his education was derailed by the arrival of World War II. During the war, Wim was a member of the Dutch underground resistance and was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and interred in the Nazi-controlled Dachau concentration camp from 1943 to 1945. He survived Dachau, and the experience instilled in him a respect for moral strength and character that defined the remainder of his life and career.

Houwink earned his doctorate in 1947 from the Netherlands School of Economics, where he worked for Professor Jan Tinbergen, the first person to receive the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences. Houwink first came to Nevada in 1949 to visit a friend, and his credentials as a student of Tinbergen earned him an invitation to give a talk to the University's Department of Economics. After a stint in espionage behind the Iron Curtain, he was granted entry into the United States through a congressional bill signed by President Truman and became a U.S. citizen. He then worked six years with what is now Citibank on Wall Street and returned to Nevada in 1957 to accept a teaching position in the University's new College of Business.

At Nevada, Professor Houwink was an energetic and engaged faculty member who maintained lifelong friendships with many of his students. He played a leading role in launching the Nevada Business Review, served on the Economic Education in Public Schools Committee, became chairman of the Department of Economics, established the University's Honors Program and was a visiting professor in Turkey, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, England, Egypt and Mexico. He lectured throughout the United States on international economics and free enterprise. In 1983, Houwink left Nevada to take a position at the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing, where he became one of the first westerners to teach free market economics in China. In 2010, he was recognized as one of the top 29 most influential overseas experts on China. After more than two decades of teaching in the country, Houwink retired. He was living in Walla Walla, Wash., when he died on March 25, 2016, at the age of 95.

In the wake of Professor Houwink's death, the University received many donations in his memory from former students, colleagues and community members who had known him as an extraordinary mentor and friend. The first project to be funded by these gifts was the Willem Houwink Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence Endowment in The College of Business, which will be presented for the first time in the 2018-2019 academic year. Designed to honor Professor Houwink's commitment to academic achievement, ethics and civic engagement, the award will be given to professors nominated for their professional skill, demonstrated understanding of the importance of moral strength in human relationships, and passion for mentoring students to become leaders in a global economy.

In addition to the teaching endowment, memorial gifts are being used to create an endowed scholarship fund to help University of Nevada, Reno students either going to or coming from countries abroad. This will honor Professor Houwink's work to give students a deeper understanding of the global community in which they live. Once these gifts total $12,500, a former student and friend of Houwink's who became director of the Nevada Department Commerce, Larry Struve '64 (political science), along with this wife Colleen '69 (English), '76 M.A. (English), have committed to match those gifts to create a $25,000 endowment fund. This will allow a scholarship to be awarded each year in perpetuity to students who exemplify Professor Houwink's commitment to moral strength, rigorous pursuit of knowledge and the desire to better understand other peoples and cultures that is a building block for peace and harmony among nations.

In June 2016, a number of Houwink's lifelong friends gathered in Reno to celebrate his life. "The prevailing memory of Wim centered not on the specifics of what he taught us but on how he made us feel confident, capable and purposeful. It significantly enhanced our careers and life choices," said Larry Struve.