School 13

Kenneth Kunen

August 2, 1943 ~ August 14, 2020 (age 77)


Herbert Kenneth Kunen, aged 77, of Madison, passed away on August 14, 2020 at Agrace HospiceCare in Fitchburg, WI, of heart failure.


Kenneth was born August 2, 1943 in Queens, NY. He was the son of Ruth Kunen (Spector) and Herbert Kunen. He graduated high school in Mt. Vernon, NY, earned his undergraduate degree from the California Institute of Technology in 1965, and was awarded a PhD in mathematics from Stanford University in 1968 for his work in set theory under the direction of Dana Scott. He married his wife, Anne (Reierson) in 1976, and welcomed sons Isaac in 1977 and Adam in 1980.


He began his teaching career in 1968 at the University of Wisconsin–Madison in the Department of Mathematics, becoming full professor in 1972. With the exception of one year visiting the University of California, Berkeley, and two years visiting the University of Texas at Austin, he spent his 40-year career in Madison, retiring in 2008.


He loved teaching, and was known for his lecturing skills, bringing enthusiasm to all the courses he taught, graduate and undergraduate. He was one of the central figures in the UW–Madison Logic Group, earned several honors, and contributed his editing skill to many journals. His love of research and his collaboration with colleagues world-wide yielded over 120 papers. He advised 28 graduate students, and has a legacy of at least 68 academic “descendents”. He published two books: “Set Theory” in 1980, and “The Foundations of Mathematics” in 2009. His work centered on set theory and its applications to various areas of mathematics, such as topology and measure theory. He also worked on non-associative algebraic systems, and his interest in using computers to derive theorems led him to hold a joint-appointment in the UW–Madison Computer Science Department for several years. During retirement as emeritus professor, his interest in students and love of research continued unabated until his death.


As a young man he was on the Caltech swim team (butterfly) and after his move to Madison became an avid cycler. Family life yielded the pleasures of camping, canoeing, and hiking. He spent years tending a family vegetable garden and was known for his hearty appetite. He earned a first degree black belt in Karate (leaving his family in his wake), and was a regular sailboarder on Lake Mendota for a few years. In retirement he loved foreign travel, visiting his sons’ families on the west coast, and taking long, contemplative walks in the local woods. He especially enjoyed his membership at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, cherishing the contacts and friendships he made there.


Kenneth was preceded in death by his mother Ruth Goldman, his father Herbert Kunen, and his step-father Irving Goldman, with whom he shared a lifelong dialogue and interest in both the historic and the newest developments in the sciences.


Kenneth is survived by his wife Anne in Madison; his son Isaac (Laura) and grandchildren Elijah and Greta in Seattle, WA; and his son Adam (Karen) in Livermore, CA.


The family would like to thank the UW Hospital cardiac teams involved in Ken’s care in these last months. The family also wishes to thank Agrace HospiceCare in Fitchburg, WI for their skillful and kind care during Ken’s last weeks.


There will be no formal service, rather an intimate family gathering when safe travel is again possible.


A service summary is not available
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