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Neal H. Prochnow 01/19/2024

Neal Prochnow, 82 of River Falls, WI passed away after a long fight with prostate cancer surrounded by family and friends in his home.
His life was centered on his soul mate Caren, his family, gardening, the family cabin in Tomahawk, WI, fishing, cross country skiing, Packers, Hockey and a love of teaching, travel and good friends. He loved the Birkie and the Kortelopet and skied both. He was always optimistic with a good sense of humor, compassionate and active in the church. He taught Sunday School, was a trustee, deacon and moderator. He believed the world was bad enough as is and you had no right to make it worse.
He was born in Ladysmith, WI February 3rd, 1941 and raised in Gilman, WI where he achieved Order of the Arrow in Boy Scouts. At age 16 he started working summers at Harvey and Emily Warner’s Dun Rovin Resort on the Chippewa Flowage in Hayward, WI. He worked summers through high school and during college while at the University of Wisconsin River Falls. After graduating in 1962 he married his high school sweetheart Caren Joan Royce.
He received an Atomic Energy Commission Fellowship in 1962 to attend Vanderbilt University and graduated with a MS physics degree in 1964. The degree required working summers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. He started teaching physics at UW-River Falls in 1964 and worked as a Research Associate summers at the Savannah River National Laboratory in Aikin, South Carolina until 1968. He received a NDEA Fellowship and a Teaching Assistantship to Duke University in 1968. At Duke he earned a PhD in nuclear physics graduating in 1971 and returning to teach at UWRF.
In the late 1970’s he was a member of the National Bureau of Standards advisory committee for weatherization, a consultant to the Wisconsin Energy Corporation and Community Services Administration to develop, validate and implement residential energy audits and educational programs for low-income individuals. With his leadership, the students at UWRF won a National Society of Physics Students award for the work done on this project.
He was entrepreneurial and used his grant writing skills to generate special programs for teachers and students. Four special programs had a significant impact. He wrote Federal National Science Foundation (NSF) grants for elementary teachers, biology and agriculture teachers and NDEA grants to fund a summer’s only program to certify Wisconsin science teachers to teach physics. Over 140 teachers were certified through this program from 1986 to 2002. He worked hard for equality in the sciences and over 40% of those certified were women. He designed a three-year program for secondary teachers of English from Taipei, Taiwan to improve their ability to teach English as a second language (ESL) and complete a masters degree. This program was funded by the city of Taipei and 66 teachers completed this program.
He shifted his talent to administration later in his career and was chair of the physics department as well as Assistant Dean and Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at UWRF. He was also interim Dean of the School of Business and Economics, which he helped form, and Director of Extension. One of his mottos in the course of his work, and life was “Adapt, Migrate or Perish.”
He was most proud of winning the UWRF outstanding science teaching award twice, teaching in the Great Ideas in Science capstone course and teaching one year of general physics for premeds during the 8-week summer session. He received the Wisconsin Association of Physics Teachers award for excellence in or service to teaching at college level in 1995. He provided leadership to reorganize the College of Arts and Sciences including creating the School of Business and Economics as well as encouraging the development of new majors. He published a book “Graduate and Start a Career On Time – Tips for College Students and Parents” in 2014 and holds a patent on a new fishing tackle caddy.
Neal is survived by his wife Caren of 61 years and his children and grandchildren; Jen Brown and her husband Dan Brown with children Brandy and Maia, Jeffery Prochnow and his wife Stacey Prochnow with their children Kovi, Nickolas and Ty, Jamie Prochnow and his wife Nicol Prochnow and their children Marley, Radek and Alexi, his brother Larry Prochnow and wife Jeanne Prochnow as well as 14 nieces and nephews and several great nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by his parents Arthur and Gladys Prochnow, his sister Joan Prochnow Kuep and infant daughter and his nephew Caleb Horvath.
A wake was held at The First Congregational United Church of Christ located at 110 N Third Street, River Falls on Thursday, January 25th from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm. The memorial celebration of life was held at the same location Friday, January 26th with visitation at 9:00 am followed by the service at 11:00 am officiated by Rev. Chris Myers. Donuts and coffee was available during the visitation and lunch after the service. Memorials are preferred to the First Congregational United Church of Christ music or confirmation programs or can be written to Caren Prochnow to be given all at once to the UW-River Falls Foundation, 310 South Hall, River Falls, WI 54022.
He was an extremely giving and amazing individual that lived a life dedicated to family and service to others. He could be stubborn and organized with this being the only portion of his obit not written by him. He will be greatly missed by those whose lives he touched.

Click here to watch the live-stream of Neal’s service.



  • Glenda Zielski Posted January 20, 2024 7:39 am

    Neal was one of a kind. There will never be another like him. He combined talent, versatility, and skill with passion and joy. The world was a better place when he graced it with his special touch.

  • Jan Filipiak Posted January 20, 2024 9:01 am

    Neal was a classmate (1958) of my husband, Bill. He and his Father were very respected in the Gilman High School community. My sincere sympathy and condolamces to,his family. Sincerely, Jan Filipiak

  • Thomas Horvath Posted January 20, 2024 11:50 am

    Neal has been part of my whole life, marrying my sister, Caren, when I was 10 months old. By far, he’s the most intelligent person I’ve ever met; however, you wouldn’t know it if you just met him. He had a way of making a person comfortable and welcomed, something I thought of many times in my career as a law enforcement officer, supervisor and administrator . I’m thankful I could call him a brother. He will always be part of my life and bring a smile to my face. I believe my father has been sitting in the back of the boat, in heaven, waiting for Neal to take him fishing.

    Thank you Neal!

  • Thomas Horvath Posted January 20, 2024 12:25 pm

    I’ve had the awesome pleasure to have Neal as part of my family for my entire life. He’s the most intelligent person I’ve ever met, yet so approachable for someone he’d never met. I know my father is sitting in the back of the boat, just waiting for Neal to take him out on the water.

  • David Woeste Posted January 20, 2024 3:54 pm

    Neal was a dear friend for 40+ years. We were glued to the hip for most of them. He was a friend, mentor and confidante. He was kind, listening, hard working, fun loving, adventuresome. If something wasn’t being addressed to his satisfaction, he would jump in and lead the charge. He knew his time was up and resigned himself to that. He was brave to the end. May he Rest in Peace! Love ya, Neal! Thank you

  • Charles Corcoran Posted January 20, 2024 3:54 pm

    I was blessed having worked with Neal in the early years of my career at UW – River Falls. He’s the best Dean I worked with in 36 years here. Smart, firm, fair, practical, with a keen sense of perspective. As a junior faculty member, I never felt diminished in his presence. He was easily approachable, whether talking shop or about Nordic skiing (at Telemark, of course, where he had a second home), a passion we both shared. Happy trails, Neal!

  • Raymond Kozub Posted January 22, 2024 10:18 am

    I was very saddened to hear of Neal’s passing. He and I were physics majors together at UWRF (class of 1962). I always liked him, and I think the comments made by those above are very descriptive and appropriate.

  • Faye Perkins Posted January 22, 2024 12:27 pm

    Dr. Prochnow was a campus icon as the Dean of the College of Arts & Sciences. As a faculty member at UW-River Falls, I was always impressed with Neal’s leadership skills. Although I was in another college and wasn’t directly under Neal, his reputation as an honest, fair, collaborative and approachable administrator was recognized across campus. He was student-centered and cared deeply about the welfare of students. He authored a book, “Graduate and Start a Career… On Time,” in order to help undergraduate students be successful. I bought several copies and shared the book with some of my nieces and nephews. I enjoyed our chats on campus and running into him at the coffee shop after he retired. UWRF and the River Falls community is a better place because of Dr. Prochnow. May he Rest In Peace.

  • Dave Kranz Posted January 22, 2024 1:10 pm

    Neal opened up his home and family and welcomed me in for my 5 years of college life. Rooming with his son Jeff throughout college made me feel like I had a brother that I never had before and with that, Neal and Caren were my adopted college dad and mom. Everything from family suppers in River Falls, family trips to the cabin in Tomahawk, skiing trips to Telemark and Thanksgiving in Boulder, CO, I was welcomed into their family; a home away from home. After having a family of my own and going back to RF to visit, I truly appreciated our conversations about being a husband and raising a family which was always done with wisdom and his infectious laugh. These are the things I remember most about Neal Prochnow. May you rest in peace.

  • Bob Baker Posted January 22, 2024 8:33 pm

    In the late 1980’s I had the privilege of attending a Lily Endowment workshop in Colorado Springs with Neal Prochnow, Doug Johnson, and Phil George. Our focus for the workshop was a total revamp of the UWRF Senior Capstone course. The workshop lasted two weeks and included focus groups on numerous topics and evening movies on timely issues including race relations and immigration. One very fond memory was the night we went to dinner at a restaurant called The Navaho Hogan which had been recommended for authentic Mexican food. The food was outstanding and Neal was in rare form, clearly enjoying presiding over the feast.

  • Russell B Hanson Posted January 23, 2024 7:14 am

    As a physics major 1965 – 69, I had Neal for several classes. He was an excellent teacher, always nudging us to to better and to think. He recruited me for a 1 credit honors class to write a computer program to design a transistor amplifier, simulating the circuit with a set of equations, giving me an understanding of how computers could be used to simulate the real world and a love for computer programming.
    He was the primary person to push physics students into using the IBM computer, first at RF in 1965, to do our analysis rather than slide rules and logarithm tables. My career in computer applied medicine, I attribute to Neal and his encouragement to use computers.
    Neal was only 5 years older than his students in 1965, youngest of a mostly young department. I remember at a physics picnic playing touch football with Prochnow, Larson and Suckow and being bowled over by Neal, just a few years out of high school football himself.

  • Craig and Rosanne Power Posted January 23, 2024 8:39 am

    Neal and Caren were two of our closest friends in the over twenty years we lived in River Falls. One of our fondest memories was Neal as Carnac the Magnificent which he imitated perfectly with his turban hat as he and friend John Shepherd performed skits at parties. We can just hear his laughter and see the twinkle in his eye. We have such fond memories of ski adventures and card games with them. We send our deepest sympathy and love to all the family.

  • Vincent Crispino Posted January 23, 2024 2:57 pm

    I met Neal nine years ago when I joined the Thursday morning McDonald coffee meetups. While I did not know him as a physicist, educator or dean as many of you posting here, I did know him as a genuinely kind and compassionate man.. This world needs more people like him. He will be missed. Godspeed to you, Neal, as you take your place in eternity.

  • Daniel Zierath Posted January 24, 2024 9:55 pm

    In 1983, I was a student in Neal’s physics lab for freshman (Remember the incline plane experiment?). Neal’s teaching style engaged the students and made the class interesting. He fostered my curiosity and expected detailed results. He initiated my interest in physics. Not long after, Neal became my advisor and mentor. What an outstanding gentleman. Who could have asked for better guidance? This chance, this opportunity in life, came to fruition. He provided guidance which lead me to graduate school where I met my wife and later embarked on a very successful multi-decade career in the semiconductor industry. Neal, thank you. Thanks for the opportunity. Thanks for the support. RIP. There are still plenty of young kids to mentor where you’re going.

  • John Shepherd Posted January 25, 2024 3:34 pm

    Bev and I are fortunate to have known Neal as a wonderful Friend and Colleague.

  • Kathy Svoboda Posted January 26, 2024 9:04 am

    Keeping Caren and family in my thoughts and prayers during this difficult time. I had the privilege of working with Neal in the CAS Dean’s Office at UWRF. I’m sure that you are smiling reading the little “extra” that your family added to your obituary. Rest in peace, Neal.

  • Nanette Jordahl Posted February 5, 2024 2:17 pm

    So sorry to hear about the loss of my dear friend and colleague. I dont think I have ever laughed so hard as those times when Neal and I both served as Ass’t Deans under the leadership of Dick Swenson. Neal was one of a kind! Look at all of his tremendous achievements and the only thing I ever heard him brag about was the tacklebox he invented!

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