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Jack Storlie: UW-L's high-tech visionary

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John "Jack" Storlie's eyes light up and his voice gets gradually more intense when he talks about computers.

Now 80, Storlie has the same passion he did about 40 years ago when he tirelessly worked to start what is now Wisconsin's second-oldest computer science department at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

Storlie started at UW-L in 1959 as an associate professor of chemistry. He taught the first computer science class in 1968 and retired in 1987 as the director of what is now Information Technology at UW-L. He directed the university's data processing center and was chairman of the computer science department.

Storlie intuitively saw a need for computers both administratively and academically at UW-L, particularly after taking a six-credit course in computer science at the University of Southwestern Louisiana in the summer of 1965 as part of a National Science Foundation grant.

He returned to advocate to UW-L faculty and administration the need for computers.

"The vision I had is that computer use was global," said Storlie.

The computer was about more than how to solve a mathematical formula or print out a list of classes, he said.

That wasn't a common thought in the early 1960s, when computers were thought of as something highly academic and cost a hefty sum nn at least $1 million for the computer and then additional funds for supplemental equipment and technicians to work on the machine, said Storlie.

Bringing in computers took some convincing of faculty and staff at UW-L, said Storlie.

Storlie provided outstanding leadership in the development of computer use on campus, said Carl Wimberly, dean of the college of letters and science at UW-L when Storlie was starting the computer science department.

"Ultimately we all began to realize how significant the computer was going to become," said Wimberly. "Jack certainly took the lead on that."

Storlie successfully convinced UW-L administration and faculty of the need for computers on campus.

Wimberly recalls the day they went to purchase the first computer for campus, which was set up in the basement floor of what is now the Wing Technology Center.

Later, the city, county and school district in La Crosse started computing on the school's machines before they acquired their own facilities.

Yet, machines were not the most important ingredient in the successful formation of a computer center and the computer science department, said Storlie.

"It was the people and the people-oriented people that made it a success," he said.

Storlie's work has not been forgotten. On Nov. 1, UW-L Chancellor Joe Gow presented Storlie with a plaque that is mounted outside room six in the Wing Technology Center on campus. The room was dedicated to Storlie to acknowledge his contributions to UW-L as creator of the Computer Science Program and director of the Data Processing Center, now known as Information Technology Services.

One of Storlie's proudest achievements, however, extends beyond the UW-L campus, as he created the La Crosse Computers in Edu-cation network, which placed computer terminals connected by telephone lines in classrooms all over Wisconsin, Iowa, Minnesota and Illinois, giving teachers the opportunity to use computers for instruction at a low cost.

Storlie's desire to work with computers has never died. He still does computer consulting and is the program chairman of two La Crosse-based groups geared toward learning about computer-related topics - the Digital Duffers at UW-L and the La Crosse PC Club.

KJ Lang can be reached at (608) 791-8226 or


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