Department, family remember mathematics professor Dale Umbach


Online condolences from The Meeks Mortuary

"We have lost a true friend. Words fall short of explaining our sorrow. We will remember and cherish all our memories with Dale. He will always stay with us. We will think of him with a smile, remembering his humor, his friendship. We love you Dale. Rest in peace." - Giray and Askim Okten

"I am so sorry for your (our) loss, and wish words could somehow help. Dale was a great and constant friend to me during our years together at BSU - the world is a poorer place without him here, but I look forward to that grand time of reunion someday." - Kerry Jones

"I was incredibly saddened to hear about his passing. I was a student of his and thoroughly enjoyed the time I spent in class with him. He actually taught me more about life than he did math, reminding me to stay happy and positive even in difficult situations. The Ball State Math Department will not be the same without his goofy, fun self walking the halls of Robert Bell. I have been praying for him since I arrived at Ball State and will continue to do so as well as pray for his family and friends during this difficult time." - Kari West

Umbach's career

• Bachelor's degree in mathematics from University of Cincinnati in 1972

• Master's degree in statistics from Iowa State University

• Ph.D. from Iowa State University

• Assistant professor of mathematics at the University of Oklahoma from 1976 to 1979

• Joined Ball State in 1979

• Promoted to associate professor in 1983

• Promoted to professor in 1989

• Served as chairman from 1997 to 2005

The day after Dale Umbach died, a group of volunteers showed up to help fix his garden.

It was the garden that he had been staring at from his hospital bed set up in the dining room. He picked that spot because of the windows that faced outside.

Umbach and his wife spent years tending to it, but as his health began to decline, he was unable to give the garden the time and effort he had in previous years.

A group of friends offered to help. They planned it for Aug. 30 and got tools from Minnetrista.

After seven years of battling brain cancer, Umbach died at age 64 at home the night before.

Still, about 15 people showed up to pull saplings and weeds the next day. They wanted to keep the garden beautiful for Umbach.

“It helped a lot of us deal with [Umbach's death],” said John Lorch, chairman of the department of mathematical sciences said. “By allowing it to go forward, it helped other people feel like they were doing something.”


Umbach worked at Ball State for 35 years, since 1979, and had come back to teach during the 2014 Spring Semester. He served as chairman of the department from 1997 until 2005.

He earned his bachelor's degree in mathematics from the University of Cincinnati in 1972, his master's in statistics from Iowa State University in 1974, and his Ph.D. from Iowa State in 1976.

Before beginning his career in Muncie, Umbach taught mathematics at the University of Oklahoma for three years.

Amy Flynt, Umbach's daughter, also a statistician, said her father’s first love was always teaching.

“You could always see how passionate he was in the classroom,” Flynt said. “He always had time for his students.”

He would go as far as helping Flynt’s friend with resumes and cover letters in graduate school, most of the time without his daughter knowing.

“He was always willing to help people, and he didn't do it because he expected anything in return. He was just that kind of person,” Flynt said.

Ralph Bremigan, professor of mathematical sciences, said Umbach had a “welcoming” sense about him.

For the last few years, members of the Bangladeshi community, a community heavily represented within the department, would host a dinner with a series of festivities. One year, Bremigan said, Umbach learned to recite poetry in Bengali, and sang a Bengali folk song at the event.

He made a point to learn how to say “hello” in as many languages as he could, and made sure to properly pronounce his students' names.

“He wanted us to be a place of peace and welcome,” Bremigan said.

When people retire, the department throws a retirement dinner and presents the retiree with a blanket depicting different scenes of Ball State.

Although Umbach was not healthy enough at the time for a retirement party, he was given a blanket the day before he died.


Umbach enjoyed his career and worked hard, but didn’t let the little things get to him. 

“He was serious about his work, but he liked woodworking. He liked to go scuba diving,” Lorch said. “His ship wasn’t going to sink because of some wacky thing that happened in the department. He was very balanced.”

Outside of the university, Umbach was a proud grandfather of five, avid gardener and die-hard Cincinnati Bengals fan. He was a member of St. Francis Assisi and Parish and participated in a skiing club called “The Penguins.”

He wasn't, however, a very good gambler despite studying games of chance. One year, he saved a few hundred dollars to spend on the craps tables in Las Vegas, hoping to turn a simple trip into an experiential learning opportunity.

The dedicated statistician, with all of his experiential knowledge, lost all of the money within 15 minutes.

“That sums him up perfectly. He was good at what he did, but he was human,” Lorch said. “Talking to him, you never felt like you were in an intellectual battle with him.”


When Umbach was first diagnosed, colleagues remember it as a shock. He was expected to live six to nine months.

In 2011, Umbach filed for a patent for a shirt he had designed for medical patients and others with implantable ports. Many cancer patients, and others who routinely receive intravenous care, have implantable ports placed in their chest or abdomen. Umbach created a shirt that allowed easier and more comfortable access to these ports, and received the patent in 2012.

After a series of surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatments, Umbach finished treatments in August 2013. There was a party to celebrate him going off chemotherapy and being cancer free.

The next scan showed the cancer was back.

“At the end, he had all kinds of reason to just enter black depression and be bitter, I didn't see evidence of that,” Lorch said. “That was never the way he was.”

Lorch said he was never short of people who wanted to help him, and he let them be there. Instead he was humorous and tried to help people through their sadness.

“I can't even begin to think that there is anybody on the face of this Earth that handled it better than he did,” Lorch said. “Nobody.”


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