Bradford math professor Richard Melka made everyone feel welcome

Richard F. Melka, faculty member in mathematics and computer science at Pitt–Bradford for 40 years, died April 11, 2021 at 87.

Hashim Yousif, physics faculty member at Bradford since 1989, recalls the welcome he received from Melka and their many collaborations.

Right away, says Yousif, “he talked with me, he brought me to his office and he expressed interest in having a common project between us.”’

Through the years, the pair undertook research and wrote papers together, and designed and taught courses together, including a course on Melka’s long-standing interest — the intersection of mathematics and religion. Melka’s passion for learning never waned. After retirement, he took physics classes from Yousif at Bradford, and was attending Yousif’s optics course at the end of his life.

“He was a very knowledgeable and very hardworking guy,” Yousif says, and a mentor to students, working closely with them and directing student research. 

Yong-Zhuo Chen, chair of the Division of Physical and Computational Sciences and mathematics faculty member, met Melka when he joined the faculty in 1989 as well.

“He was a very dedicated mathematics teacher,” Chen says. “He spent seven days a week in the school.” As a colleague, Melka “was friendly and was very willing to help people. When I first came here, he helped me a lot and helped me to get used to the work in Bradford.”

Chen notes that Melka designed the campus’s applied mathematics program: “It still has his personal imprint on it.”

Michael Klausner, a Bradford sociology faculty member, came to campus in 1976 — the same year as Melka — and they became close friends.

“He was somewhat of a renaissance person,” Klausner notes, remembering how the pair discussed theology and mathematics on long drives to New York border towns for shopping that was unavailable nearer campus.

“He had a nice sense of humor.” Klausner says. “He was a very delightful person to be with. He had a very creative mind. He was not locked into a particular discipline, but was able to see relationships between math and theology.”

Melka also was very active in the community, his church and on campus, where he chaired his department and was active in University governance as Bradford’s senate president.

Melka was born on Sept. 17, 1933, in Buffalo, N.Y. After high school, he joined the Army, then earned his bachelor's degree from Michigan State University (1960) and his master's degree (1965) and Ph.D. in applied mathematics (1969) from Purdue.

His began his teaching career at Michigan State and Rutgers before joining Pitt–Bradford in 1976. His mathematical interests centered on math modeling, differential equations and the history of mathematics, and he authored or co-authored dozens of academic papers. He received emeritus status on his retirement in 2016.

He is survived by his children Christopher, Lauren (Allen Black) and Katrina and a niece, Cheryl Germony.

Memorial contributions are suggested to St. Francis Church, where Melka served as a lector and eucharistic minister.

— Marty Levine