Joe Sutter’s B&L science award connects Iowa to Rochester

Bausch+Lomb, University of Rochester
Joe Sutter won this award in the early 1940s while a student at Burlington, Iowa, High School.

A few years ago when my siblings and I were going through some things of my dad (Joe) after he passed away, we found a small brown case. When we opened it up, we found a gold medallion featuring a woman who appeared to be dressed in a traditional Greek robe.

Engraved on the medallion were the words “Bausch & Lomb Honorary Science Award.” We asked our mother about it. “Oh yes,” she recalled. “Your dad won that when he was in high school.” My mother didn’t know my dad then, but she recalled that his mother, Rubye Ekstrom Sutter, had told her that when Dad won the award, he was so modest that he came home from school, didn’t mention it, and just started mowing the lawn at their home on Summer Street.¬† Apparently he told his parents about it later!

The award specifically caught my attention because I now live in Rochester, N.Y., where Bausch & Lomb was founded and still has a plant.

Turns out that Bausch + Lomb (as the company is now called) has been giving out this science award to high school juniors since 1933. The history is on the company’s website; the criteria involves academic excellence in rigorous¬† high school science classes.

This is one of the few photos I have of my dad when he was in high school. He looks snazzy in his band uniform.

I’m sure my dad did well in his science classes; it was in his blood as he was the son and grandson of pharmacists (Ray and Joseph R. respectively) and he was bound for the University of Iowa Pharmacy College. Interestingly, by being awarded the B&L honor, he was eligible to compete for a scholarship at the University of Rochester. I doubt that he had any interest in leaving Iowa for upstate New York, and he didn’t have a clue that his future daughter would end up living here.

When I worked at the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, we had a saying that “There’s always a Rochester connection” when it came to big, national news stories. So it’s amusing to me that my dad had a Rochester connection, but unfortunately I never knew about it until after he passed away.¬† He never mentioned it and I’m sure the award was long forgotten.

Looking at the medallion, I’m wondering who is this woman on it? Anyone got a clue?


My dad’s award came nestled in this nice wood case on a bed of velvet.