Juha Heinonen
(1960 - 2007)

Beloved husband and father, esteemed professor of Mathematics, passed away on October 30, 2007, after a courageous battle with kidney cancer. Born July 23, 1960 in Toivakka, Finland, Juha cultivated his love of people growing up in the village old age home where his mother Liisa served as the sole staff member. His father Vilho was a lumberjack and a well-respected socialist politician for the tiny town. Juha first fell in love with Ann Arbor as a visiting graduate student in 1985. He later returned in 1988 as a post-doctoral scholar, intending to stay only a year or two. Plans changed, however, when he met his future wife, math PhD student Karen Smith. Married in 1991, the young couple lived in Ann Arbor, West Lafayette, Indiana and Boston before eventually settling into professorships at the University of Michigan math department in 1996. They welcomed their daughter Sanelma in 1998, and their boy-girl twins, Tapio and Helena, in 2003.

A gifted athlete, Juha is still revered as a local sports celebrity. Many Finns remember his achievements in cross-county skiing, including Finland's 1976 gold medal in the 5 km race in his class. More recently, he traveled around Finland and North America to compete in orienteering, placing in nearly every major US competition he entered. He is widely remembered in US orienteering circles for winning both the US and the North American gold medal in his class in the year 2000, but also for his outgoing and upbeat personality that made competing with him a joy.

Juha was a brilliant mathematician who made significant contributions to geometric function theory. He was invited to address the 2002 International Congress of Mathematicians, and was inducted into the Finnish Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2004. Also an inspirational teacher and generous collaborator, Juha was widely admired by the countless young mathematicians he mentored.

Juha was a vibrant, balanced, satisfied person. He loved the outdoors, particularly Michigan autumns and Finnish winters. A devoted father, Juha read animatedly to his children, taught them to bake authentic Finnish rye bread, and shared his love of nature by taking them on hiking from the days he carried them on his back. He also enjoyed the company of his children on everyday errands, and was often spotted with a child on the AATA bus or on his bike-seat. His Finnishness remained deeply important to him; he taught his children, and his wife, to love Finland and to speak Finnish. Each time he spoke of his family, the pride was evident through the twinkle in his eye and his broad grin.

Juha was widely loved for his positive attitude, sparkling sense of humor, and genuine kindness towards others, traits that he maintained throughout the difficult trials of his illness. He wanted everyone who knew him to know that he died with out a single grudge against anyone; he loved us all. He is deeply mourned by his wife and children, as well as his mother Liisa Heinonen, sister Maritta Nukarinen, niece Marianne Nukarinen.

A memorial service will be held Sunday, December 9, at 2 p.m. in the Michigan League Ballroom on the University of Michigan campus. Arrangements with Muehlig Funeral Chapel Ann Arbor.

Published in the Ann Arbor News on MLive.com on 12/2/2007.

 


 

 

 

 

   

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