Joseph M. Hornback

joseph hornback

Joseph M. Hornback was born in Middletown, Ohio on September 16, 1943. He received a B.S. in Chemistry, magna cum laude, from the University of Notre Dame in 1965. He then attended the Ohio State University where he received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry in 1968. He completed his postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In 1970 he joined the Department of Chemistry at the University of Denver. His research interests were in the areas of synthetic organic chemistry, organic photochemistry, and chemical education. He served in a number of administrative positions including Associate Dean for Undergraduate Studies; Associate Dean for Natural Sciences, Mathematics and Engineering; and Director of the Honors Program. But his first love has always been teaching; he was a passionate organic chemistry Professor to many hundreds of undergraduates throughout his tenure. He received the University of Denver Distinguished Award, the Natural Sciences Award for Excellence in Teaching, and the Outstanding Academic Advisor Award. He authored a well-received textbook, "Organic Chemistry". He retired from the University of Denver as Professor Emeritus in 2012. Joe is survived by his wife Melani Poundstone, his two sons Joe Jr and Pat, his daughter Jordan, and four grandchildren: Cullen, Noelle, Brennan, and Finnan. He enjoyed sports and outdoor activities, especially fishing and golf.

A Celebration of Joe's Life will be held on Friday, January 9, 2015 at 4:00 PM at the Evans Chapel at the University of Denver. 




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Memories Timeline


  1. Joe was a wonderful and valued colleague for many years.   We are very sorry to hear of his passing.

  2. Dr. Hornback was the best professor I had at the University of Denver. He cared so much about his students and always wanted for us to succeed. He was so incredibly kind to all of us, and taught us all so much, and he is the reason that I found a love for the sciences. He truly touched my life and the lives of all of the students he taught. There were nothing but positive things to be said about him by any of his students, and he will be missed.  I am so incredibly sorry for you loss.

  3. Joe Hornback was a kind and thoughtful person.  I am thankful that I was able to work with Joe in the Chemistry department before he retired.

  4. Dr. Hornback made such an impact on my time at DU and, like Erin said above, was my favorite professor. He not only helped his students understand complex material, but he taught them how to master and enjoy it. Dr. Hornback helped me realize my potential when it came to the sciences and was one of the important individuals who helped me get into dental school. I am so saddened by his passing. I owe him so many more thanks for everything he gave my peers and me.

  5. Joe was a genius. I had the distinctly unique experience to be in his physics class at Fenwick. He knew all the answers and I was so clueless I was finally excused from the class permanently. Sister Noel was about 100 yrs old and I never understood a thing she was saying. Joe had a grasp of the subject even with a lousy teacher. He mastered everything with such ease and never let his talent change his fun-loving, gentle nature. He made his mark in the world and he will be sadly missed by all the people he taught and influenced along the way.

  6. I am so sorry to hear about your loss. Dr. Hornback was truly a remarkable professor. I loved going to class every morning and I was sad when organic chemistry was over. However, our relationship did not end there – Dr. Hornback was kind enough to write me a letter of recommendation for veterinary school. I am currently in my 3rd year and still am thankful to him for giving me such a great education. I still have his organic chemistry book and I will keep it forever! He will be remembered by me very fondly.

  7. Joe and I played golf every Thursday, with the same foursome, for almost 20 years. He had to quit golfing about 3 years ago, for health reasons, and we miss him every week. He was always the “smartest guy in the room” and lots of fun to be around. I was sorry to hear about his passing and offer my condolences to his family and the rest of his friends.

  8. Melanie, Joe Pat and Jordan,

      I am still having trouble wrapping my mind around Joe's death. He was an amazing man and a fun and great brother

    I know all of you will miss him terribly and I will too. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

    Much love,

    Mary Ann

  9. I am so sorry for your loss.   Joe was such a special person in so many lives.  My sincere condolences to all his loved ones.

  10. Joe was a wonderful colleague and great mentor to me during my time as a faculty member at DU. His impact as an educator now influences my teaching in San Diego. Joe will be fondly remembered and greatly missed.

  11. I have known Joe for over 30 years,having first met him at the ymca, playing basketball and later playing golf every thursday with him.We have developed a great relationship thru the years and I will miss him dearly. God speed my friend and all my sympathy to Melanie and her family.

  12. Dr. Hornback was a great teacher and an even better man.  His kind words, fairness, and teachings will follow me for the rest of my life.

  13. I'm terribly saddened to learn of Dr. Hornback's passing.  I worked for Joe as a teaching assistant for several years in graduate school at DU. He was one of the pillars in the foundation of the professor that I have become.  I owe many aspects of how I approach teaching to his patient guidance and student-centered example.  He has touched so many lives, my condolences to all those you love and cared for him.

  14. I was very sorry to learn of Joe's passing. As a colleague, I always regarded Joe as a fine teacher and a man of integrity. In fact I wish he had been my organic chemistry teacher; I might have turned out differently.

    I can remember the early days as an assistant professor when Joe and I, as well as several other faculty, played basketball at noon time in the old gym. Those were the great days of faculty and staff esprit de corp.

    I'll miss you Joe

  15. I have known Joe for almost 25 years; his passing is a terrible loss for all of us.  Too early.   Joe was a great example of a Professor who had deep knowledge of organic chemistry and talent to “explain stuff” to students at any given level of complexity.  He also was a great colleague with this direct and wonderful no-nonsense worldview.  My office was adjacent to Joe's for 17 years and I have a lot of good memories of him to cherish…

  16. Dr. Hornback was my O.Chem professor during my first year at DU. I remember him being a very intelligent, kind, and patient individual. I am very sorry to hear of his passing.

  17. So sorry and just saw!! Was checking on reunion and found out! Joe was a great friend at ND and we stayed in touch for years but not recently!! Was so hoping to catch up and now will add him to my prayer list!! Joe rest in peace and you were a super person!! So many memories and remember visiting in Middletown!! God bless!!

  18. I only today learned of Dr. Hornback's passing. I am so saddened as he truly impacted my life as a model teacher and friend. I cherish memories of organic chem lectures in of main and his charismatic way

  19. I just learned of Joe's passing today. Joe was my OChem professor and advisor at DU in the early 70's. I loved working with him in his lab, and he sparked and nourished my love of organic chemistry. I greatly appreciated his efforts in helping me select and get admitted to graduate school. More than anyone else, Joe had the most impact in shaping the course of my academic and professional careers. He will be missed by all of us whose lives he touched.

  20. I never got the opportunity to meet Joe directly but I have had several conversations with him on the phone and we also communicated via e-mail.  I began admiring Professor Hornback after I started using his Organic Chemistry book in my class back in 2006 and continue to use the book.   Without a question, it is the best organic chem text book out there.  We communicated about strategies of teaching organic chemistry and many aspects of the textbook.  He was one of the kindest colleagues I have met – was generous in providing us with many extra materials to make my teaching easier.  He seemed to genuinely care about how students learned and made the book accessible to all levels of students.  

    My sincere condolences to the family!

    Mel Govindan

    Fitchburg, MA

  21. I recently dreamt about Dr. Hornback (1st ever) so looked him up and found this obit.  My deepest sympathy to his family.  He was my Honors Program O Chem professor and I worked under him on my thesis.  He was a great teacher and invited us to his home each spring to play croquet and have a meal with his family.  When I was deciding between a job at Coors or graduate school, I asked him why he didn't go into the business world with his talent.  He told me he wanted to be his own boss and control his time and what he worked on in Chemistry.  We were so fortunate to have his talent so long at DU. RIP Dr. Hornback

  22. I attended the University of Notre Dame with Joe. Freshman year we were in adjoining rooms in Breen Phillips Hall. More than that, I was from Dayton and he was from nearby Middletown. We used to go back and forth to school, sometimes on the Indiana Cardinal bus lines, sometimes with his dad (Cletus) driving, sometimes with my dad (Joe) driving. We took trips to Bloomington Indiana to see Fred Noori who was there on a baseball scholarship. I drove down to Middletown a couple of times. What many of his students may not have known is that Joe was a very good athlete. He played football at Middletown Fenwick. We played a lot of basketball at ND. He was a very muscular, strong guy. After ND we fell out of touch but I am saddened by his passing. My best to his widow and his children and grandchildren. Doug Branson

  23. Dr Hornback was a giant in my early development as a scholar and physician. As a freshman at DU he fostered an interest in basic science that still to this day runs strong. He mentored me through my 4 years and gave me a special research project that to this day I fondly remember. He is the chief reason that I was able to get into Harvard Medical School and I own my entire career and professional life to him. My love for chemistry, genetics, cell biology, and cancer pathways came from his tender mentoring. I only now wish that I could have expressed this to him before his death. My patients have benefited from my time with him and I pray for his family, his soul, and I hope the world sees many more professors in his mold.

  24. My sincere condolences to the family. I apologize for the late posting, but I just learned of Dr. Hornback's passing. Dr. Hornback was my Organic Chemistry professor in 1979 as well as my Chemistry Department advisor. He was my favorite instructor in my entire academic career. He genuinely cared about his student, and had a knack for making the most difficult subject matter easy to understand. After graduation, I headed back to the East coast. I kept in touch through letters, updating him about my dental education and life in general. Whenever I would visit Denver, I would make it a point to track him down on campus, and catch up. I last saw him in 1993, during my last visit to Denver. He seemed happy with his life, and family. We talked for maybe 20 minutes and had a good visit. We corresponded through the nineties, but lost touch. I was planning to visit Denver for the first time in almost 30 years, and thought I would look up Dr. Hornback and was saddened to learn of his passing. A great educator, and a wonderful man who is missed by many. I'm proud to have been your student and friend. Rest In Peace.
    Evan Scott

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