Denis Overholser knows a thing or two about great performances. A 1958 graduate of the College of Engineering, he has seen-or been a part of-some of the best.
Denis is the son of Dr. Milton D. Overholser, Ph.D., M.D., who was professor of anatomy and chairman of the anatomy department at the School of Medicine for 35 years. "Obie," as he was affectionately called, was not only a renowned physician but also a popular local thespian.
As a youngster attending the University's Laboratory School, Denis recalls attending many local plays, including those featuring his father. Dr. Overholser even performed in a play with George C. Scott, then a little-known actor. Scott, of course, was the immensely talented actor and Mizzou alum who later won an Oscar for his portrayal of General George S. Patton Jr. Denis followed Scott's career closely and was fortunate enough to meet with him on several occasions after he rose to fame. "He was so very good," Denis recently commented, "and we would look forward to the plays because Scott could act any character required. But we had no idea he would become such a big star."
Denis himself had a flair for the arts, performing in numerous operas, musicals and choral groups at Stephens College and Mizzou. Ultimately, though, he chose engineering as a career path, earning many honors on his way to a degree in electrical engineering. When asked about a favorite professor, Denis remembered Donald L. Waidelich, whose teaching on antennas and microwaves was particularly enjoyable. Denis is also grateful for a lesson in investment performance given by another engineering professor, Harry K. Rubey.
"He impressed on us young engineering students the importance of investing in the stock market to keep up with inflation," he said. "I took his advice by dollar-cost averaging during my entire ?career. And he was more than right!"
Denis' Mizzou education served him well with his employers, which included General Dynamics, RCA and General Electric. He worked on a variety of projects that represented some of mankind's greatest engineering performances-most notably the Saturn/Apollo manned space program that took men to the moon. He also was involved in the accelerator project located at Princeton University (converting heavy hydrogen to useful energy using fusion) and the Lockheed C-5A cargo aircraft. Many years were spent in the fields of radar simulation and electronic countermeasures associated with Air Force fighter aircraft.
Earlier this year Denis set the stage for perhaps his own greatest performance-one on which the curtain will never come down. He began to think about the role Mizzou has played in his life and how he might help others in the future. His mother, Virnelle Overholser-herself a 1941 graduate-had given him some valuable advice before her passing, suggesting that Denis leave a bequest to the University. "Our whole family had very close ties to MU and reasons to give back," he says.
The estate gift planned by Denis will eventually support the newly established M.D. Overholser Engineering Scholarship Fund. But Denis also made a cash gift so that his endowment fund could start making awards right away. This fall, Steve Apperson, a senior majoring in electrical engineering, became the first recipient of the award.
"I am very grateful for the scholarship," Steve said, "I have decided to attend graduate school....[T]herefore, the money means a lot, since I am going to have a lot of school to pay for."
Most performances are soon forgotten. The best may be remembered for a few decades. But Denis Overholser has discovered a way to impact others for generations to come. His planned gift will provide support for students in perpetuity. It's a fitting legacy to Denis, the Overholser family and their love for Mizzou.
Return to Mizzou Legacy Stories.