DEARBORN — There’s a saying by French mathematician Jean D’Alembert that Al Turfe is fond of passing on to his mathematics students at the University of Michigan-Dearborn: Algebra is generous; she often gives more than is asked of her. Yet, it’s Turfe himself who has been generous this year, giving back much more to his students than they’ll ever know. Turfe, a lifelong Dearborn resident, recently gave $80,000 to UM-Dearborn to both establish a scholarship in his name and to have a classroom designated in memory of his parents. The Al Turfe Scholarship Fund will provide need and merit-based support to students in the College of Arts, Sciences, and Letters (CASL). Turfe designated $30,000 for scholarships. “I really feel for students today. They need all the help they can get,” said Turfe, who has taught at UM-Dearborn for three years and admires the academic atmosphere and the seriousness of the student body. The remaining $50,000 will be placed in the CASL Dean’s Strategic Initiative Fund to provide critical academic support for the college. Turfe’s gift named Room 2062, where he taught his first class at UM-Dearborn. The room, where many of UM-Dearborn’s calculus classes are taught, has been named the “Sir Isaac Newton Classroom” after the physicist/mathematician who is one of the founders of calculus. Outside the classroom, a plaque indicates the room is dedicated in memory of Turfe’s parents, Mr. and Mrs. Alie D. Turfe. “Al’s gift will support CASL students in achieving their potential,” said John Gillespie, chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at UM-Dearborn. “His commitment to mathematics students is evident in this and many other ways. We’re very grateful.”
An educator for more than 30 years, Turfe has been fascinated with academic life for as long as he can remember. Growing up in Dearborn, he attended Salina Junior High School and Fordson High School. When Turfe’s father suggested in 1970 that he work in a factory over the summer to learn the importance of an education, Turfe already had other plans. “I didn’t need to work in a factory to understand the value of education,” he said. “I frequently went to the library and read books about math and physics. I knew I wanted to be part of that.”
Turfe earned undergraduate and graduate degrees in mathematics and physics at Wayne State University. Over the years, he’s taught a whole range of mathematics courses, including developmental mathematics, calculus, linear algebra, differential equations and statistics, to thousands of students at numerous colleges in metropolitan Detroit. Turfe is currently a part-time professor at Lawrence Technological University in the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, where he has given $75,000 to various programs. Turfe, who enjoys the challenge of the New York Times crossword puzzle, often quotes philosopher John Dewey in his classroom: Education is not a way of life, education is life itself. “My heart and mind are really into education,” he said.