Former math professor counting his blessings as he hits 100

Max Stein
Max Stein dons his Navy hat from World War II during a recent conversation at his Fort Collins home. Stein, an emeritus professor of math at CSU, turned 100 Feb. 17.

World War II veteran and longtime CSU sports fan will be honored during
CSU-Wyoming basketball game.

The first time Max Stein drove along College Avenue, on his way to Casper, Wyoming, he remembers being interrupted – the city’s one and only stoplight, at the corner of College and Mountain avenues, had turned red.

“I remember thinking at the time, that’s a place I’d like to teach,” he said. “It was Colorado A&M back then, but it was a really pretty campus, and Fort Collins just seemed like the type of place I’d like to spend the rest of my life.”

Max Stein
Stein, shown here in his CSU office in 1977, was a longtime season ticketholder for CSU football and men’s basketball.

A few years later – in 1955 – Stein’s premonition came true. He accepted a position as a professor of mathematics at the soon-to-be renamed Colorado State University, and he and his wife, Judith, moved into a small house on West Olive Street, just two blocks from City Park. Fort Collins had fewer than 20,000 residents, and the university had 4,992 students.

Fast-forward 64 years: Fort Collins’ population has exploded to more than 160,000, and CSU has nearly 35,000 students. And there are now more than 180 traffic signals in Fort Collins.

Throughout that time there has been one constant: Stein, who just celebrated his 100th birthday and still lives, by himself, in that small house on West Olive Street.

“I’ve been lucky enough to visit 47 countries and been all around the United States, and I’ve never found another place I would rather be – especially Wyoming,” he said with a laugh, poking fun at son-in-law Steve Smoot, a Wyoming resident and loyal Cowboys fan.

Humble beginnings

Stein was born in a small Missouri town in 1919. He loved sports – especially basketball – and had a gift for mathematics. His high school was so small it had no gym, and he remembers playing games against other schools on dirt courts outside.

He went to college and tried out for the basketball, track and football teams – which is interesting.

“I had never seen a game of football in my life,” Stein laughed. “I got quite an education.”

Always a teacher

He taught math and coached high school basketball for a time before earning his master’s degree from the University of Iowa. By that time, World War II was raging, and he was legal guardian to his younger brother (both parents had died). He registered for the draft in 1941 and was deferred because of his teaching and guardianship, but opted to enlist shortly after marrying Judith in 1943.

Max Stein
Stein with his wife, Judith, during World War II. They were married nearly 50 years before Judith’s death in 1993.

Stein’s talent for math and college degree allowed him to enter the Navy as an ensign, and he was assigned to a unit being trained to teach radar systems to pilots. He spent the rest of the war in Hawaii.

He vividly remembers the day Japan surrendered, ending the war in 1945.

“I was rooming with a bunch of pilots, and there was quite a celebration,” he said. “They had used up all of their rations to get beer, and they were pretty wild. I have never had a drink or smoked a cigarette in my life, but I used some of my rations to get them some more beer.

“I’m not sure if non-drinking has contributed to my longevity, but I do know I’ve been to a lot of funerals of drinkers and smokers.”

Coming to CSU

Stein returned to the University of Iowa to earn his Ph.D. in mathematics before accepting a teaching position at CSU, where he became a force on the faculty. He not only helped establish the master’s program in math and mentor its first students, he established the Ph.D. program and was advisor to CSU’s first mathematics doctoral candidate.

He went on to teach 35 years before retiring in 1990. When he started at CSU, he was making $110 per month on a nine-month contract. When he left, he was earning $33,000 per year.

“I was so rich I had to retire,” he quipped.

Founding father of math grad programs

One of his former neighbors was fellow math professor Rick Miranda, who went on to become dean of the College of Natural Sciences before assuming his current post as CSU’S provost and executive vice president.

“Max was one of the folks hired to really launch the graduate and research side of the department,” Miranda said. “His arrival transformed the department; he was really the pioneer of our modern math department. I know I very much appreciated his leadership in the program.”

Stein wrote two math textbooks and more than 40 scholarly papers while at CSU, but mostly he loved to teach – and his students loved him. One former student, Myron Henry (M.S. ’65, Ph.D. ’68), was so impressed by Stein’s teaching that he set up an endowed scholarship in his name in 2012: The F. Max Stein and Myron S. Henry Scholarship for undergraduate math students.

Lifelong sports fan

Stein’s love of sports has been a big part of his life. He bowled and played golf into his 80s, and recorded a hole-in-one at the old Link-N-Greens in Fort Collins. He’s also climbed Longs Peak twice, was an avid tennis player, and rode his bike to work every day at CSU. He watches every Broncos, Rockies and Nuggets game on TV.

Max Stein
Stein started watching CSU football games at the original on-campus stadium, Colorado Field. He still lives in the same west Fort Collins house he purchased in 1955.

Some of his best memories are of watching CSU teams compete. Stein was a longtime season ticketholder for both football and men’s basketball and vividly recalls the famous “Bounce Pass Game” when CSU upset Wyoming in 1966 at old Colorado Field. He also remembers watching Boyd “Tiny” Grant both as a player at South College Fieldhouse and as the Rams’ coach at Moby Arena.

He keeps his mind sharp by visiting the Fort Collins Senior Center every Tuesday to play bridge, and very often wins every table. He’s also written more than a thousand humorous poems and loves to share them with visitors, including one about an African antelope that ends with the line “what the new gnu knew.”

Remarkable life

Stein’s wife died in 1993, two months shy of their 50th anniversary. He has two children – Karen and Kenneth – six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Stein is in remarkably good health for his age, although he’s had a few surgeries. He has all but one of his original teeth and, save for diminished hearing, his senses are all good, including his eyesight.

“My life couldn’t have been better, really,” Stein said. “I am thankful for living in this time when doctors are able to fix me up and keep me going.”

And he has some valuable advice for those wondering about his secret to long life.

“People are always asking me how I’ve lived so long,” Stein said. “It’s simple, really: Just keep breathing.”