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John Wettaw

A surprised John Wettaw accepts the honor of 2002 homecoming dedicatee, presented to him by members of the 'Chain Gang.'

John Wettaw, former Northern Arizona University professor and legislator, died Sunday at the age of 79.

Wettaw moved to Flagstaff in 1967 and taught chemistry at NAU for 47 years before he retired in 2014. In recognition of his services to the university – where he is said to have taught more than 15,000 students – the NAU Biology and Biochemistry building was named after him in 1999.

“Today the Lumberjack community mourns the loss of a university icon, John Wettaw,” NAU President Rita Cheng tweeted Sunday. “John dedicated his life to the sciences long before STEM was a regularly used term. He made an impact in his field and in the classroom, and he changed the lives of students who crossed his path.”

During his time teaching, Wettaw also became the longest-serving Republican state legislator in Arizona history, serving 20 years in the Arizona House of Representatives and eight in the senate. He advocated for higher education and improvements to the state’s physical infrastructure, while also securing funding for NAU’s biochemistry building and the Walkup Skydome, according to his profile on the NAU website.

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His emphasis on personal relationships defined him as both an educator and a legislator.

“I like to get to know students, and I like them to get to know me,” Wettaw is quoted as having said. “They have to get to know you as a human being – that you can laugh, and that you can be tough. Everybody wants to treat people as they would want to be treated.”

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