Alumnus considers freedom and education great equalizers

College of Arts and Sciences College of Education, Health and Aviation Graduate College OSU Institute of Technology Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources Extension Research Science Education

As a young child, J. Paul McIntosh never imagined he would have a distinguished career in science education, much less that Oklahoma State University would play a key role in that calling. His life has taken him all over the world, with a stop in Stillwater, Oklahoma, that would spark a lifelong passion.

Comprehending his enthusiasm for science education, however, requires a little understanding of his roots in rural Nebraska.

McIntosh, the middle of five siblings, was raised on a farm near Pilger, Nebraska, during the droughts, grasshoppers and dust storms of the 1930s. His parents had met while his mother was the principal at his father's high school. His grandmother encouraged his mother, whose father died when she was 6, to use education as an avenue out of poverty.

His mother earned a degree from Nebraska Wesleyan University and a master's degree from Peru State College in Nebraska. Because of his mother's background and the tough times the nation was facing during the Great Depression, education was very important in the McIntosh household.

"Use your talents, don't bury them, my mom would tell me," McIntosh says. "If you don't use what God has given you, it will be lost. The most important thing that ever happened to me was my 'choice' of parents. We had everything but money. The next most important event of my life was my decision to try to follow Christ's teachings as the model for my life, and the third most important part of my life was meeting and marrying Eleanor."

Early on, McIntosh was identified as a high-performing student. However, the attack on Pearl Harbor, postponed his plans of higher education, and he was set on enlisting in the Army as a fighter pilot. He received Congressional appointments to military academics, but his low vision scores thwarted his acceptance. McIntosh tried to enlist twice, but to no avail.

"It seemed to me, at the time, that my whole future had fallen apart," he recalled.

Heeding his mother's advice, McIntosh realized that if he couldn't go fight in the war, he should at least continue his education. With his interest in agriculture and science, he enrolled in the University of Nebraska's College of Agriculture as a student and lab assistant until the Army finally accepted him for limited service near the end of World War II.

In the Army, McIntosh served with the Special 396th Military Police Battalion, processing former Soviet soldiers who had defected to the German army in an effort to help the Germans defeat Stalin, so that they could reclaim their homes, farms and businesses from collective communism. Not trusting the Soviet defectors, the Nazis imprisoned and killed half of these unfortunate men and sent the rest to the Western Front, McIntosh says. When the Allied forces landed on D-Day, many German defenders were former Soviet soldiers in German uniform.

McIntosh says it weighed heavily on him that these former Soviet soldiers were sent back to their homeland, where many were executed as traitors for desertion.

"It's ironic when you think about it," McIntosh says. "These men, mostly Belarusians and Ukrainians, were trying to take back their country from Communism and just went about it the wrong way. Coincidentally, years later when the U.S. became involved in fighting Soviet Communism during the Cold War, I would again play a role in that panorama."

After he was discharged, McIntosh used the G.I. Bill to go back to the University of Nebraska, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1950 with dual degrees in natural science and vocational agriculture education. He became a teacher-trainer for the University of Nebraska Vocational Agricultural Program involving Future Farmers of America.

His plans to continue with his master's degree were interrupted by his desire to improve farmer livelihood through the use of better methods, including fertilizer. Fertilizer seemed like a radical idea to most farmers recovering from drought, but McIntosh had faith in its science and felt someone should demonstrate the advantages of using fertilizer to farmers.

J. Paul McIntosh

J. Paul McIntosh

The local co-op was not interested, so while teaching, he introduced anhydrous ammonia nitrogen to northeast Nebraska farmers in 1952 and quit teaching in 1953 to devote himself full-time to that enterprise. McIntosh says he redesigned the ammonia injection knife which was sold all over America.

A severe drought in 1955 forced McIntosh to go back to teaching to survive economically. A fellow vocational agriculture instructor in Norfolk, Nebraska, told him of a junior high school opening in the area, and he was immediately hired. Although he was assigned to teach social studies, he often found himself discussing science with his students and got into a little bit of hot water for talking about sending an artificial moon (satellite) into space.

In 1955, Americans were gripped in near panic as the U.S. government began looking for ways to stay ahead of the Soviet Union on the science and technology front as both sides raced to launch a satellite. Oklahoma A&M was chosen as one of a few locations nationwide to begin a National Science Foundation pilot program to train high school and college science and mathematics teachers to expand and intensify focus on those fields. It was the beginnings of the modern science, technology, engineering and math initiatives that work to get students interested in STEM careers.

McIntosh, while not technically a science teacher at the time, felt the need to apply. He was one of 50 science and mathematics teachers who were selected, and he went to Stillwater in the fall of 1956 to begin the intensive yearlong program. In 1957, Oklahoma A&M became OSU, and he graduated with a master's degree in natural science, which encompassed the fields of mathematics, biology, chemistry and physics, followed by a summer NSF program at the Oak Ridge Institute for Nuclear Studies in Tennessee. The success of these pilot programs led to the expansion of NSF programs into hundreds of universities nationwide that educated science and mathematics teachers about how to be more effective instructors.

"There's not many of our original group left," McIntosh says. "The program had a profound effect on me though. It encouraged me to keep on teaching and pursuing science, and in fact, became another 'life-changing' event in my life."

McIntosh returned to Norfolk, where he served as an advanced science instructor and guidance director until 1963. His involvement in the fertilizer industry continued to grow and expanded to include all types of farm fertilizers and chemicals as well as farm management and a daily radio agricultural advice program.

McIntosh had married his wife, Eleanor, just before going overseas in the Army. She was Czechoslovakian and, because of her ties to that part of the world and his involvement with the Soviet soldiers during World War II, he and Eleanor found themselves traveling to Eastern Europe often from 1965 to 2000. In addition to these travels and those with his companies, McIntosh also did missionary work in Africa and South America through the Methodist Church, along with enabling and sponsoring families and students from Vietnam, Africa, Albania and Eastern Europe.

J. Paul McIntosh and Rod Bates

J. Paul McIntosh greets Rod Bates, Rotary district governor for Nebraska and Western Iowa. Bates recently retired from Nebraska Educational Telecommunication, where he was executive director and McIntosh was president and chairman of the board in 2004–2005.

Throughout all his business endeavors and world travels, McIntosh never forgot his passion for education. After leaving as an instructor from the Norfolk school systems, he remained committed to education and over the last five decades has served on more than 50 boards and organizations devoted to improving the lives and livelihood of others. He has also given generously to educational programs of the Midwest, including a recent commitment of more than $1 million to establish the University of Nebraska Medical Center's J. Paul & Eleanor McIntosh College of Nursing at Northeast Community College in Norfolk.

McIntosh, a dedicated entrepreneur, branched into more than 20 diverse areas, including over 2,500 acres of center-pivot irrigated corn, a 5,000 sow farrow-to-finish hog operation, hundreds of housing units and banks. But in 1977, he sold his seven fertilizer locations, when, "I suddenly realized that I didn't 'have the business,' the business had me!"

Since then, McIntosh has indulged his passion for helping others succeed or reclaim their lives through his work with numerous educational groups, refugees, beginning businesses, Rotary International and mental health rehabilitation. His guiding mantra continues to be "freedom and education are the great equalizers!" He has a trunk full of awards and plaques, including Nebraska Entrepreneur of the Year (1999), Nebraska Philanthropist of the Year (2010), and Nebraskan of the Year (2013).

Paul and Eleanor McIntosh have become well-known for their charitable contributions throughout their nearly 70 years of marriage. OSU Institute of Technology President William "Bill" Path, who was president at Northeast Community College at the time of their nursing college donation, considers them close personal friends who are generous with their time, talents and treasure. Instead of leaving their money to their five children, Path explains that they have raised their children to be able to stand on their own so they can instead use their resources to provide opportunities for more needy students to advance.

"J. Paul really believes education is the great equalizer," Path says. "He and Eleanor have set up numerous scholarships over the years for young people. It's really become their passion in life. They want to leave their money and legacy to others in order to create opportunities to improve society."