Remembering Steve Yamamoto (B.S. 1965, Ph.D. PSU)

Family ties to Wisconsin and UW–Madison create enduring legacy

By Mason Braasch
Department Communications

Man holding dog
Steve Yamamoto

At his 45th high school reunion, Steve Yamamoto said that he had “gone on to try just about everything,” and looking at his life, this was not an exaggeration.

Steve grew up in Madison. His father, Shinji Yamamoto, was a Wisconsin state architect who managed construction of many familiar and important state and university buildings. Robert J. McMahon, professor of chemistry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, explained that Madison was an important place for the family, especially for Steve.

“He was very proud of Wisconsin because it was the place that offered his father a job after he was freed from a Japanese internment camp in Utah during World War II,” McMahon said.

Steve’s mother, Hifumi Yamamoto, was a familiar face on campus. Working for UW housing, she became a beloved figure, especially in her athletic activities such as volleyball, tennis, line dancing, yoga, cross country skiing, and Senior Olympics.

Steve and both of his siblings, Diane and JoAnn, received their bachelor’s degrees in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin-Madison before going on to get doctoral degrees in the field. Steve went to Penn State to earn his Ph.D.

Steve had a successful career in the chemical and chemical information science industries, working as a research chemist for Eastman Kodak Company, an associate professor of chemistry and administrator of the cooperative education program at Rochester Institute of Technology and senior editor of Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry. He also helped develop chemical databases for DuPont Company and served as an internet consultant.

After retiring in 2003, Steve purchased an acre of fruit trees and coconuts in West Palm Beach, Florida, where he also worked as an adjunct professor of chemistry at community colleges in Broward and Palm Beach counties. After he was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, he constructed and maintained a Japanese restorative garden to help with his own battle with cancer and to assist others.

Steve unfortunately passed away in 2019 at the age of 76; however, his legacy, and the legacy of his family lives on at The University of Wisconsin-Madison. The Yamamoto Family Professorship recognizes the significance of both the State of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin to the Yamamoto family.

“The Yamamoto Family Professorship provides an enduring legacy of Steve and his family,” McMahon said. “This endowed professorship enables the department to recruit and retain outstanding faculty members.”

two men in a lab
Prof. AJ Boydston and Steve Yamamoto

Today, AJ Boydston, who joined the department in 2018, holds the role of the Yamamoto Family Professor of Chemistry.

“The Yamamoto Family Professorship is a generous show of support and faith in our department’s mission,” Boydston said. “It’s a way to carry on a legacy of excellence in science as well as humanity. As I learn more about the history of the Yamamoto Family and their motivations for creating the professorship, it encourages me to take note of my roles on campus, as a mentor, educator, and researcher, and how I might be able to serve in the spirit of their name.”