Jacob L. Yamins ’36 died October 22, 2011.
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Jacob L. (“Jake”) Yamins ’36
My father died peacefully on Homecoming Day, October 22, 2011 at his home in Sunderland, MA. It was fitting that Dad was “called home” on Homecoming. That Amherst was vitally important to him was apparent starting when I was five years old and attended his 20th reunion with him and my mother. We subsequently visited Amherst from our Long Island, NY home almost every year for Homecoming football games, reunions, President Kennedy’s visit for the groundbreaking of Frost Library, and other events throughout my public school years. At Memorial Hill, he would point out to me the name of his classmate Athanasios Demetrios Skouras engraved on the memorial stone. That exotic name, which sounded to me as if it could have leapt from the pages of Homer, must have also resonated with Dad from his four years of Latin and Greek studies in high school. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that, together with classmate and longtime friend Horace “Bud” Hewlett, Amherst’s Director of Public Relations and Secretary for 30 years, Dad had established the Athanasios Demetrios Skouras Prize awarded annually to an Amherst student who has created an outstanding work of art or architecture.
Tellingly it was my mother who told me about his role in the Prize, not Dad himself. He never trumpeted his activities of this nature when I was growing up. But he was never more excited than in anticipation of those trips to Amherst. To him, important things happened there: minds and characters were shaped. There were people to see, conversations to be held, ideas to be hatched and developed. The buzz and festiveness of the gatherings and the beauty of the place energized him. He was never one to use the word “love” often, nor did he hesitate to speak his mind when he disagreed with the College about some policy or other, but there is no doubt of his lifelong love for Amherst.
Jake grew up in Fall River, MA in an orthodox Jewish family. He originally intended to major in classics at Amherst, but switched to chemistry and graduated cum laude. After Amherst, he attended MIT for graduate studies in organic chemistry and embarked on a long and distinguished career as a chemist and food scientist. During World War II he served on a confidential National Defense Project for reducing the amount of the strategic metal tin required for wartime products and worked in munitions research and development. After the war he turned to industry, where his professional achievements included the development of the first treatment for phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic neurological disease found in newborn infants. Jake received a commendation for this work from New York Governor Nelson Rockefeller, who subsequently signed a law requiring screening of all infants for PKU. PKU screening on all newborns has since been adopted in all U.S. states and most developed countries.
Jake supported Amherst actively and passionately throughout the 75 years since he graduated. He served his class as Vice President, Reunion Chair, and Class Agent and Associate Agent for the Alumni Fund, and led his class to a record-breaking 98% participation rate and the J. Alfred Guest Award for Alumni Fund Participation. He served a term as Vice President of the Society of Alumni. He was the longest serving member of the Friends of Athletics and was also a member of the Friends of the Library and the Friends of Music. In addition to the Skouras Prize, Jake helped establish several other prizes and scholarships in memory of classmates. He regularly recruited and advised Amherst students. For his dedication, persistence, and good will, Amherst awarded Jake its Distinguished Service Award in 1986.
In 1980 Jake moved from Long Island to Sunderland, 15 minutes from Amherst. He became a regular fixture at Amherst athletic events where he would hand out his signature cough drops to all. He befriended and mentored student athletes, coaches, and staff, boosting their morale and encouraging them when they were having difficulty. He became known as “Amherst’s biggest fan”.
Jake is survived by his wife, Rosemary Davis Abbott; son, Robert J. Yamins ’72; daughter-in-law, Dr. Anne M. Yamins, and granddaughter, Sienna Rose Yamins. He is also survived by stepsons, Jonathan (Alice), Jamison (Bonnie) and Davis (Virginia) Abbott, and their children, Esperanza, Davis, Mackenzie, Alexander, Jonathan and Lily Abbott. He was preceded in death by his wife, Frieda Koppelman Yamins.
As Kent Faerber ’63 noted at the memorial celebration at Alumni House last November, Jake gave back to Amherst despite having experienced the religious exclusion that existed during his college years. He was never embittered by that and always saw his classmates and his college experiences for their positive qualities. I like to think Jake is sitting now with Bud Hewlett, “Bishop” George Cadigan ’33, Coach Jim Ostendarp, my own classmate Marshall Schell ’72, and other Amherst friends, swapping stories, and looking forward with gusto to Amherst’s next victory.
--Robert J. Yamins ’72