I was born, April 29, 1941, to Fridolph Marvin Emanuel and Edith Evelyn Pearson Bengtson on the kitchen table in the house my grandfather built on the family farm near Wausa, a nearly invisible part of northeast Nebraska. My mom had been sick during most her pregnancy. Her nausea medicine was a tablespoon of whiskey every morning. The doctor had spent the night before my birth as was the usual practice. The day before I was born, my Dad had planted a grove of trees west of the house near the cattle shed. Now, somewhat past 50 years, I have the satisfaction of living longer than that grove of trees and the kitchen table is still in use every day.
My grandparents emigrated from southern Sweden (Skåne) near the end of the 19th century and began farming in northeast Nebraska after working in other locations. My grandparents had quite different personalities. As an example, gypsies would come by occasionally. Grandpa Pearson would greet them warmly, invite them to camp and looked forward to trading horses. When the gypsies camped on the grass road a half-mile west of the Bengtson house, Grandpa Bengtson would put up a sign near the house that said “Contageous Quarantine”. Unfortunately visits from the gypsies ended by the time I was old enough to remember. I have no memory of my paternal grandfather Bengtson as he died when I was three years old. The house where both my father and I were born was built by my grandfather about 1890. It was remodeled and a basement added in the early 1950’s. The fourth and fifth generation of the Bengtson family in the US is now living there.
The farm is located about 3 miles west of the town of Wausa, Nebraska, which at that time had a population of about 700 people, 2 or 3 bars and 3 churches. The only minorities in town were a few Catholic families and some families of German or Czech descent. Nearly everyone else was of Swedish descent and attended either the Mission Covenant, Lutheran or Methodist church, mostly depending on history or on your interpretation of how religion should affect day to day life. The Bengtson farm was a moderate size farm at that time (240 acres). When the farm was first purchased by my grandfather, about 1890, the sod had not been broken. My father was born in 1908 and began farming full time with horses and mules for his father when he graduated from the 8th grade. He spoke about driving the mules all day and dreaming about it all night. I don’t know if he was paid for his many years of farming for his dad. He continued on the farm until he retired at age 70. From the little I know, he was given 50 cents or a dollar on Saturday night to have a hamburger and go to a movie.
My mother went to Wayne State Teachers College for two years before she began teaching in a one room country school. She taught for four years, happy to have a job during the depression. Mom often spoke about when they married they had $400 that she had saved from teaching the country school. Her salary teaching school was $50./month. My paternal grandparents lived on the farm until they built a house in Wausa when Mom and Dad married in 1936 near the end of the depression and dust bowl. Their life choices from the shadow of the depression certainly had a big influence on me. Dad was a sharecropper until he bought the farm in 1967 when his mother died.
Growing up on the farm was an ideal childhood. I had lots of pets–cats, rabbits, dogs, calves and horses to ride, calves to feed and play with, and lots of chickens.. The first dog that I can barely remember was a big white collie named Pluto. Then, my dog was Teddy, a short-haired brown dog with a curly tail and a white ring around his neck. Teddy was my friend, but I don't remember him following me everywhere. I think he went along when it was interesting, but may often have had better things to do. I had lots of cats, perhaps as many as twenty some times. There was a disease that killed most of the young cats and so only a few reached adulthood. My first horse was an old black shetland pony named Susy. She was foundered from too much grain and so couldn't move very well. She trained me well as I learned to ride and to enjoy riding. My first big horse was a large white horse named Lucky. Lucky was quite gentle but most of what I recall was that he was hard to make move fast. Roger, Susy, cousins Corlynn and Deanna Nyman, and Roger’s sister JoAnn are shown at right.
We rarely left the farm except for Saturday night when we, and everyone else, went
to Wausa to take in the cream and eggs from the week and to buy what groceries were needed for the next week. The grocery bill was to be less than the cream and egg money. For a young kid Saturday night was a big event. Usually there was a movie (10 cents) and a bag of popcorn (5 or 10 cents). We usually visited Grandma Bengtson before heading to the excitement downtown
Sunday morning, usually at 10:00, was Lutheran Sunday school. My mother taught Sunday School so we didn’t miss many days. Dad would go downtown for a cup of coffee and to pickup the Sunday paper. The church service was at 11:00 am. For several years I was an acolyte and operated the tape recorder to record the church service. After the church service, we went home for a meal that had been cooking. We usually had a short nap and then went to visit Grandma and Grandpa Pearson at their farm which was about 8 miles east. I found this afternoon to be lots of fun. Mostly the enjoyment came from my cousins, Deanna and Corlynn Nyman and Vicky Pearson. There was an old convertible parked next to the garage which we drove on many long trips without ever moving. There was a large forest behind the house to explore and find interesting surprises such as an old threshing machine. There were two dams [small ponds held back by a dirt block] with bullhead fish that had been brought back from fishing trips to South Dakota. Occasionally, we even caught one, cleaned it, and took it home to eat.
The men sat in the dining room with a bottle of SevenUp topped off with whiskey. Topics of conversation were weather, crops, cattle prices and politics. The women were usually in the kitchen making sandwiches and reviewing current gossip. After a lunch of sandwiches and cookies, we would all go home as there were chores to do. The usual farewell was “Var sa Gut, Tak sa Mycket.” (Vær så god, tack så mycket—Your welcome, thank you very much.)
By far the biggest celebration of the year was Christmas Eve at Grandma and Grandpa Pearson. Basically, all the Pearson relatives within driving distance were there. It started late afternoon or early evening. As you approached the house from your car the strong smell of lutfisk overwhelmed your nose. The lutfisk (dried cod fish) started out looking like a wooden plank. It was then soaked in lye water for several weeks. It was cooked by putting in boiling water for about ten minutes. When it arrived at the table it looked like fish jello. In addition to lutfisk, dinner was boiled potatoes, corn, milk gravy, jello salad, rice pudding, ostakaka and lingonberries. Lingonberries are a berry native tp Sweden similar to cranberries. Ostakaka is the Swedish version of cheesecake. Grandpa Pearson’s rule was you couldn’t open your presents until you ate your lutefisk. Needless to say, much of the lutefisk was smothered in gravy and mustard just to be able to open presents. The kids sat around a card table away from the main table which was filled. There was a small Christmas tree in the living room with lots of presents under it. Kids couldn’t settle down until they had opened their presents. There had been a drawing a few weeks earlier determining from whom you were to get a present. All presents were to be less than $2.00. Around 10:30 PM, people started to leave to attend the midnight service at the Lutheran Church. At the church service, the choir sang some of the songs in Swedish. I don’t know if the midnight Christmas Eve service still exists. It would be a shame if it doesn’t. The midnight church service may have helped the kids sleep late on Christmas Day.
The weather in northeast Nebraska is easy to describe: hot in the summer, cold in the winter. This holds most of the time but occasionally there are seasons that are worse, for example the winter of 1948. There was an extreme amount of snow in total and it snowed regularly enough that the roads were always blocked. My dad bought a car about the beginning of November, 1948. He was not able to drive it to Wausa, 3 miles away, until January, 1949. The roads would be opened: this means the snow on the road was pushed up on the side of the road by a maintaineer. More snow and lots of wind then came and filled in the road that had been cleared, but now deeper because the snow was as high as what had been pushed to the side earlier. When the army Caterpillars came to open the road, the snow was now from 10 to 15 feet deep everywhere along the road. The snowdrifts outside our house covered the clothesline by at least 5 feet. If this rough winter were to happen today I think life would be much worse. We had food that we had canned during the summer, cows to milk and a tractor with loader to move small amounts of snow. I am aware of people airlifted out by helicopters if they needed to go to the hospital.
Grade School and High School Education
I started in the first grade at age five at a country school a half-mile away, Lincoln School, District 158. Photo at left is of Lincoln School students in 1946. I was the only one in my grade for all eight years, and there were from 5 to 9 kids in the school from nearby farms. There was no water at the school; a part of the teacher's duties was to bring a pail of water each day for drinking and washing hands. There were two outdoor toilets that were often tipped over at Halloween. The teachers in the school changed nearly every year, usually to get married. All of the teachers that I can recall had not moved far from their roots. Miss Ottoson was from a farm a mile away, my cousin, Joan Peterson, grew up less than a half mile from the school, Miss Larson was from Wausa, all of three miles away. Mardell Wrick had gone to the Lincoln school and lived with her parents about a quarter mile south of the school. By modern standards, our education was lacking. There was an old encyclopedia in the school. The books were in good condition, but old. You certainly did not ever write in a book. Everyone at the school seemed to succeed. Often two or three grade levels would be learning the same thing. Yet when we made the big step to Wausa High School, we may have felt we were at a disadvantage socially, but were able to get good grades there, too. My estimate is that over half of the kids in Lincoln School while I was there went on to college or professional training. I am aware of a pharmacist, nurse, accountant, and two college professors from that school.
The big events of the school year were the Christmas play and the track meet. From a young kid’s point of view, the Christmas program was a night of terror. The schoolhouse was fixed up with a stage separated from the audience by sheets hung on wires. The audience was enormous, probably at least 25 people including your parents and the parents of your classmates. You had to say a piece and then, maybe, be in a short play and sing songs. As I remember, we must have spent full time for two weeks rehearsing for the Christmas program.
The other big event, the track meet, was held in the spring of the year. The snows and mud were usually late so we felt we didn't get enough time to practice to prepare for the meet which was held in Wausa for all of the nearby country schools. There must have been at least a hundred kids at this meet and we all wanted to win something. I don't remember winning many races.
One of the activities that was important to me was the Riding Viking 4H club. There must have been about 15 members of the 4H club. Most had their own horse, and our main activity was riding pattern drills. We were in lots of parades in different town celebrations. An additional part of our activity was in music competition where we had a small Dixieland band. We must have been better musicians than in conducting horse drills as we went to the state fair as musicians.
My first job was working for our neighbor, Jim Lingren, a quarter of a mile east of our farm. I was paid 10 cents a day to ride my horse over to chase his cattle home from the corn stalks and count them—about 35. I was rich. I must have been 9 or 10 yeas old.
School District 158 closed in 1960. I went there for all of my grade school years. My sister, JoAnn, only attended for seven years. I certainly do not regret going to the country school. Modern economics certainly will not allow for that personal an education now. Each time I go back to the farm and see the empty pasture where I first enjoyed learning, I feel sad. Even the big trees are gone.
Life at Wausa High School was exciting after country school. Our class had 24 members; most had attended the grade school in Wausa, with about a third of the class coming from country schools. Fortunately, I was able to handle the academic challenges, made the honor roll most of the time, and graduated as salutatorian. My cousin, Vicky Pearson, was the valedictorian. I generally found math and science classes easy and fun. English and writing were not a pleasure though I liked to read a lot. One of the advantages of a small school was the chance to participate in lots of things. I took clarinet lessons and joined the band. My clarinet was handed down to later generations and was used until 2010. I tried to play basketball, football, and baseball but wasn't very good. My lack of speed and coordination kept me on the bench or on second team most of the time. However, I enjoyed pushing my body then, and still do. I sang bass in the chorus, not because of a great voice, but because anyone who wanted to could participate. (Roger regularly supported the Wausa Public School Foundation.)
I went to college at the University of Nebraska thinking I would be a mechanical engineer. I don't know why I picked the University of Nebraska other than I had a few scholarships, and it seemed more exciting than Wayne State Teachers College. I had no idea what mechanical engineering was, but soon into the semester, I found several parts of engineering that I didn't like–drawing and estimating the cost of bridges. All other classes were going well so I switched out of engineering and became a math major. I later added physics as a second major. Ironically, much of my later physics research as a Physics Department member, required me to make drawings for the machine shop and to estimate how much it would cost to build equipment.
The first two years at Nebraska, I played clarinet in both the marching band and concert band. I greatly enjoyed the music activities but realized that my talent level was lower than some of the people around me. I dropped band my last two years because of heavier course loads and work. I held lots of part time jobs during my four years at Nebraska. I was a dishwasher, labor at the college bookstore, tutor, and computer programmer early in the computer age. I first met Billie while stocking books at the Nebraska Book Company. She chewed me out because she bought the wrong book for one of her classes and had already read the book before the first day of class. It was the start of a relationship that has lasted over 60 years.
The first computer I worked on filled a large room and had only paper tape input. What a change. I now have a computer with a thousand times more power sitting on my desk. The second semester at the University of Nebraska I pledged Theta Xi fraternity and lived in the fraternity house for two years. The main reason I joined a fraternity was that the people around me in the dorm didn't do anything–just sat around and complained. I preferred to study hard and to play hard.
Billie and I continued to date during my senior year. We decided that we enjoyed and liked each other, so we should continue our relationship after I graduated and went to work. She visited the farm and observed such important things as pigs have hair and learned that life on the farm was different than life as a military dependent.
One important influence in my life in Lincoln, Nebraska was my aunt and uncle, Hazel and Moni Anderson. Moni had been a farmer in Wausa but developed his artistic talents and was a photographer and artist at the monthly publication, Nebraska Farmer. Moni had a darkroom and enlarger in the basement where I first got hooked on photography, a pleasure which has been with me for the rest of my life.
I graduated from the University of Nebraska in May of 1962 with BS in mathematics and physics. I went to work at the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Langley Research Center, Hampton, VA as an aerospace engineer. I took that job because it offered the best chance of graduate school. I took classes part time, went to Virginia Polytechnic Institute full time for one semester and completed an MS in physics in 1964. Billie and I were married in June 1963 in Bellevue, Nebraska (Offutt Air Force Base) where her stepfather, Ray Spies, was stationed. Our honeymoon was driving back to Williamsburg. Billie completed her last year of college at William and Mary in Williamsburg where we lived a block away from College Corner and the restored area. One of the pleasures of living in Williamsburg was Arlyne and Edmund Derringe. Arlyne was my cousin; she had grown up 3/4 mile away from the Bengtson farm, but ran off and got married before I really knew her. Edmund had gone to Georgetown University and signed a contract to play professional football. He was the business manager of the athletic department at William and Mary and a football coach as well. We greatly enjoyed living close to the Derringes and their kids.
Living in Virginia was certainly a big change for me. I had little understanding of the racism in Virginia at that time. Few of the staff at Langley Research Center were black except for a group of black women that carried out calculations that would now be done on a computer. These were the women who were the subject of the hit film, "Hidden Figures". There were almost no blacks as technicians or engineers.
Billie and I left the Tidewater VA area in fall of 1964 to attend graduate school at the University of Maryland. I began working on a PhD in physics and Billie was a speech therapist in Prince Georges County. The basic insecurities moving from a one-room country school were multiplied many times when I began classes at UMD. In conversations with fellow students, I heard comments such as "I don't expect this to be a hard course–I took it last year as an elective at MIT," or "I'm just taking this course to brush up for the qualifying exams." However, I managed to survive the course work, the qualifying exam, and the other stresses of graduate school to complete a PhD degree in August 1968. In retrospect graduate school was a wonderful life; we had no money, lots of stress, but wonderful friends and a good social life. We first found out about our penchant for wandering during graduate school. After I passed my qualifying exam, and Billie finished her MS in Speech Pathology, we took off for 2 + months travel in Europe. We had a few dollars—a thousand—and lived frugally enough to stay for the entire summer. We bought a Volvo which we picked up at the factory in Gothenberg, Sweden. We spent two weeks with my cousin, Lois and Paul Lasse in Oslo, Norway where Paul was at the US Embassy. We drove over the northern part of Europe, shipped the car back to the US and returned to graduate school.
During the last year of graduate school while writing my dissertation, I decided I didn't want to go back to NASA. I basically felt there might be more exciting things to do, so I resigned. I wasn't aware of a big job crunch for physicists coming up but was lucky enough to get a job as a faculty associate at The University of Texas at Austin. The difference in salary was about 40%, so showing my good financial sense, I took the lower paying job at the University of Texas. My thought was to sample academic life for a few years and then take a high-paying job in industry. I remained at UT for 46 years.
Our first child, Nissa, was born while we were finishing up our time at University of Maryland. Sadly that was the weekend that Robert Kennedy was assassinated. I defended my thesis a week later, so that was a stressful time. Arlene Derringe drove up from Williamsburg for a day and made us feel a lot better about the state of the world. We spent the summer at The University of Maryland: I published papers and Billie took care of Nissa. Billie and Nissa flew to San Antonio to be with her parents and buy a house while I drove to Austin. Roger and Nissa are shown at right.
The University of Texas at Austin
Billie bought our first house in Austin while I was still in Maryland. We lived in that house for seven years and then moved to Eanes Independent School District for better schools for the kids. Billie later worked as the Director of Community Education for the school district. She set up evening classes, so worked most evenings.
Life at the University was a real pleasure. I would wake up excited to go to my office; there were stimulating people to talk to; interesting research and fun students. There was a big gym only a few blocks from my office where I would go every noon. My activities at Gregory Gym ranged widely, from running to handball, squash, racquetball, weight lifting, exercise classes–basically whatever looked like it would be fun. Quite often, I would play a student in my classes and get to know them better. Several of my friendships came from initial contact and competition in the gym.
Two more children were born in Austin. Eric Lars was born in 1970 and was killed in an auto accident near Ardmore, Oklahoma. later that year. Billlie suffered serious injuries. Flashbacks of the accident and recovery were with me for the next 20 years. After some time, we were able to return to a more or less normal life. Our son, Hans, was born in 1971 and is now a pain management specialist in Austin.
Research work at UT evolved from atomic spectroscopy in my thesis to mostly plasma physics. I found what I enjoyed was the connection between macroscopic parameters and microscopic details. When I arrived, my start-up package was $30, 000—a far cry from the present million dollar packages to get someone set up and going. The good thing about having a limited budget was that it forced you to hustle research money. During my stay at UT, my research was funded by Air Force Office of Sponsored Research, Department of Energy, Department of Defense, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Sandia National Laboratory, Ad Astra–a privately funded start up company, and Welch foundation. Maybe there were more that I have forgotten.
My research interests varied from edge turbulence in a tokamak, plasma diagnostics, radio frequency heating, laser-produced plasmas in a high magnetic field, and plasma rockets. Yes, I am a rocket scientist and a space cadet. Some of the research that I feel good about is the connection between edge turbulence and plasma confinement, our work on helicon plasmas, and research for the development of a plasma rocket. One of the pleasures of the research work was the people involved–thinking about a single big problem by smart people with different backgrounds and skill sets and watching the knowledge grow. A major part of the research was with students, mostly grad students and a few undergraduates. I felt an enjoyment in watching the students evolve as I was learning from them. Roger and Bille traveling in Canada pictured at right.
One of the benefits of life as a faculty member at the University of Texas was Gregory Gym, a short walk from my office, which had handball and racquetball courts along with lots of other activities available to work out. I went to the gym nearly every noon to enjoy a workout. While I never became an outstanding handball player, I was able to win a few games in a state level B division tournament. Many of my closest friends came from the noon hours in Gregory. One memory stands out: as we were waiting to get our court assignment, two young guys came up and asked if they could join us in a doubles game. We agreed and began playing. They were faster than most players we had ever played, but surprisingly we won. After the game, we found out that they were new football coaches and last year had been playing pro football. I doubt that we would ever win any more games from them, but it was fun when our experience could overcome their greater athletic ability.
My life in the Physics Department at the University of Texas at Austin was an ideal job for me. I woke up every morning looking forward to going to work. My colleagues were smart, talented and stimulating. The experiments I had to work on were far better than any toys I had ever had. While initially teaching was not something I looked forward to, it was both the best thing that ever happened to me and the hardest job I ever had. The details of grading, and the bureaucracy detracted from the pleasure of teaching. The longer I taught, the more I enjoyed it–maybe I learned to understand the students more and felt more comfortable with the physics. My favorite courses to teach were upper level physics major courses such as modern physics where the students were learning new stuff and how to apply the many math skills they had developed. I particularly enjoyed junior lab where the students were pushed to do an experiment, analyze it and write about it in a lab report. For most students this was the first course that pushed them to be a lab physicist charting their own way. I found the students interesting and smart, so ended up enjoying teaching. I mostly taught upper division physics courses or physics grad courses.
The Physics Department was definitely a publish or perish environment, which was fine with me. While writing was painful for me, I was usually happy with the result. I ended up with nearly 200 publications along with lab manuals for the labs where I supervised the graduate student teaching assistants. Working with graduate students on their research was the best part of physics department life. I supervised over 30 PhD students and several MS and MA students. With almost all students, we became good friends and remained in contact long after the students left The University of Texas. After leaving UT, my ex-students became researchers at national labs, chip builders, provosts at universities, vice presidents at high tech companies, staff members and head of the US fusion program, modelers for financial companies and designers of state of the art lighting. Several ex-grad students were present at my retirement party and said things that made me feel good. At one time my ex-student was the Department of Energy supervisor for the entire US fusion program.
Teaching at UT was both the best thing that ever happened to me and the hardest job I ever had. In total, teaching was enjoyable, students were bright, mostly worked hard and wanted to do well. Not all fit this description but enough to make teaching fun. The details of grading, and the bureaucracy detracted from the pleasure of teaching. The longer I taught, the more I enjoyed it–maybe I learned to understand the students more and felt more comfortable with the physics. My favorite courses to teach were upper level physics major courses such as modern physics where the students were learning new stuff and how to apply the many math skills they had developed. I particularly enjoyed junior lab where the students were pushed to do an experiment, analyze it and write about it in a lab report. For most students this was the first course that pushed them to be a lab physicist charting their own way.
From April 1, 1984, to summer 1988, I was chairman of the Physics Department. It was a great time. It was during this period that I saw the University primarily as a teaching institution, rather than a research institute. Its constituencies were parents, legislators and donors, along with a faculty, staff and students of many hundreds. Occasionally, I had to deal with an SOB, but in retrospect, none were 4πSOBs. Being the public face of the Physics Department exposed me to many different views the public held about The University of Texas at Austin and the Physics Department. The primary difficulty in dealing with faculty was reminding them that the resources of the Physics Department were such that very little could be done to aid their research programs directly. It was a great learning experience both about the world and about myself, but after three years, I realized that being chairman was not what I wanted to do when I grew up. In particular, chairman duties cut into family interactions. Since Billie was working nights, there were many evenings when I would get a call from Hans, “Come home and cook, I am starving.” So I completed a little more than a four-year term as chair then, took a sabbatical in Munich.
After the chairmanship, I received a semester off with pay. I choose to spend it at The Institute of Plasma Physics (IPP) in Garching, Germany, just a few miles north of Munich. Hans and I spent August through December, 1988, in Munich. We rented an apartment in northern Munich from an employee at IPP who was on leave. There was a high school within a block that Hans attended. I think his main activity at the high school was reading books in English. He did become fluent in speaking German, but writing was difficult. Billie came over to visit us once and we drove to Vienna, Austria, and attended a concert. I enjoyed the time in Munich but was ready to go back to Austin and the University of Texas and to the best job in a university–a faculty member interacting with students.
Much of my time and energy when I returned to UT was with the upper division physics lab that every physics major was required to take. It was a significant writing course because of the six lab reports the students had to complete each semester. A part of my efforts was putting all the reference material on the computer so the students could easily find what they needed and it was always available. There were usually three graduate students involved in the details in the lab and assisting in the grading. Grading the many lab reports each semester was a demanding task because you graded both the writing style and the physics the students accomplished in their experiment.
So now that I have retired after 46 years at the University of Texas at Austin, what am I going to do? In many ways, I don’t know. I want to do more photography and woodworking. I have taken up tennis as the arthritis in my wrists brought an end to handball. Billie and I have been traveling, and there is a lot more enjoyable traveling to do. There are so many things I want to do and the same number of hours in a day as before my retirement, so I can’t imagine being bored.
Picture at right was taken in a slot canyon near Escalante, Utah. The caption might read “between a rock and hard place–just like being a chair of Physics Department”
End of Roger's autobiography.
Acknowledgement: During the last year of his life, Roger began work on a more detailed autobiography. He promised to share with me to include with the writeup above. Sadly he passed away before completing it. Fortunately he shared a copy with his sister JoAnn Bengtson Wamberg and she kindly shared it with me. The above writeup is a melding of the two accounts of his life.—Mel Oakes
Following his retirement, Roger established the Roger Bengtson Undergraduate Research Endowment. The gift purpose is "... to create a permanent endowment for the use and benefit of the Department of Physics within the College of Natural Sciences to encourage joint faculty and undergraduate research. Funds distributed from the endowment shall be used to support undergraduate students majoring in Physics. Preference shall be given to students who have demonstrated financial need, a minimum 3.0 GPA, and current or previous experience of research collaboration with faculty in the Department of Physics. Research support may be renewed."
On August 11, 2022, Billie Bengtson, Roger's wife, died in Austin. Here is an obituary for her:
Billie Ann Griner was born on October 9, 1942, in Bell, Orange County, California, to Rondo and Wilma (Wilson) Griner and died August 11, 2022. Billie lived for several years with her Grandmother Wilson in Fontana, California. Because her stepfather was in the Air Force and stationed in many different places, Billie had been to 14 different schools in Japan, California,Texas, and Nebraska when she graduated from Bellevue High School, Nebraska, in 1960. She attended the University of Nebraska and majored in speech therapy. She met Roger Bengtson and they were married June 15, 1963. Billie spent her senior year at William and Mary College in Williamsburg. VA but graduated from the University of Nebraska in June, 1964. She received a masters in speech therapy from University of Maryland in 1966. Their first child, Nissa Christine, was born June 5, 1968, in Washington DC. In fall 1968 they moved to Austin, Texas. Their second child, Eric Lars, was born Jan 25, 1970, and died later that year. Their third child, Hans Eric, was born on November 15, 1971, in Austin. Billie worked at Texas School for the Blind and was Director of Community Education for Eanes Independent School District. Billie had a stroke in 2015 which compromised her balance and short term memory, and she suffered from dementia in her last years. Billie enjoyed traveling, reading, cooking, and talking with friends. She greatly enjoyed her grandchildren. Billie is survived by her husband, Roger, her daughter Nissa (Chad) Allred, her son, Dr Hans (John) Bengtson, two grandchildren, Carrick and Annie Allred, a great grandson, Sawyer, and several half siblings.
Roger did find time for some woodworking projects during his retirement. Here is a photo of the last one, a butcher block for Mel and Pat Oakes.
In 2022, Roger suffered a health problem that required him to move near his daughter in Provo, Utah. In May of 2023, sadly, he suffered further decline and never fully recovered. He died on May 8, 2023. Roger is survived by his daughter Nissa (Chad) Allred, his son, Dr. Hans (John) Bengtson, two grandchildren, Carrick and Annie Allred, a great grandson, Sawyer, and his sister JoAnn (Terry) Wamberg.
Roger's passing is mourned by many friends, colleagues and students. His mentoring of his graduate students long after they had left Austin was exceptional. An example of the depth of their affection can be seen in the comment of former students,
Ed Synakowski, Stevens Institute Vice Provost for Research and Innovation : "He has been a wise and loving presence in my life. I always felt an indication of his kindness and strength as a quiet leader could be seen in the community of students he assembled."
Mark Meier, Professor of Physics, U. of Houston: "Roger and Billie were among the most gracious and thoughtful people I have known. Roger was a great help and influence on my doctoral research work. I very much enjoyed interacting with him personally and as a student, and greatly benefited from his forthright and always constructive criticism, and his gentle and calm manner."
Bengtson Photo Album
Pretext Tokamak Photo Album