Photo of Dorothy Humel Hovorka
Photo credit: Daniel Milner

Emerita trustee, friend of the university Dorothy Humel Hovorka passes away

Dorothy Humel Hovorka’s impact on Case Western Reserve University is indelible: She served as a trustee, a fundraiser, a donor, and the organizer of a centennial celebration of one of the university’s greatest discoveries.

Last month, Humel Hovorka (HON ’09) passed away at the age of 96 after a lifetime of service to Cleveland educational institutions and the arts.

“Dorothy Humel Hovorka made Case Western Reserve a better place in myriad ways, from her leadership as a trustee to her establishment of one of the highest honors a university faculty member can receive, the Frank and Dorothy Humel Hovorka Prize,” President Barbara R. Snyder said. “Her commitment to excellence in education and the arts created an enduring legacy that will continue to influence generations to come.”

Her name is well known at Case Western Reserve, both for the Hovorka Prize and for Hovorka Atrium—the main entrance to the Pytte Science Center and the home of the university’s wall of Nobel Laureates. Her late husband, Frank Hovorka, served on the faculty for more than 40 years, retiring in 1968 as the Hurlbut Professor Emeritus of the Department of Chemistry.

But Humel Hovorka’s influence extends well beyond her name. She joined Case Western Reserve’s Board of Trustees in 1977, serving for more than two decades. She led major fundraising campaigns for the university and the College of Arts and Sciences, chaired the six-month-long Michelson-Morley Centennial celebration in 1987, and supported the university through multiple gifts.

Many of her contributions were made in honor of her husband, Frank, whom she married in 1982. After his death in 1986, Humel Hovorka provided support for “things that he would be interested in and care about,” former Department of Chemistry Chair Mary Barkley said in an art/sci magazine interview in 2009. “She really has been the patron saint of this department.”

Case Western Reserve leadership awarded her with the University Medal in recognition of her service and commitment. In 2009, she received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters—her first college degree, after a degenerative eye disease (that later was corrected) prevented her from attending a university immediately after high school.

In her professional career, Humel Hovorka was the secretary, treasurer and director of her family’s company, Humel Construction, for four decades, and also earned renown as a fundraiser and philanthropist.

But the arts were Humel Hovorka’s passion: She took ballet as a child and, at age 18, began studying piano. About 10 years later, she had her solo debut with the Cleveland Orchestra playing a Tchaikovsky piano concerto. Over the next decade, she performed as a soloist with the Cleveland Orchestra six times before opting to devote her time and talents to advancing the arts across the region.

She served as a board member, and in some cases as president, of several cultural organizations, including University Circle Inc., the Cleveland Music School Settlement, the Musical Arts Association (the parent organization of The Cleveland Orchestra), the Cleveland Summer Arts Festival, the Lake Erie Opera Theater, the Cleveland Women’s Orchestra, the Cleveland Institute of Music, the Robert Casadesus International Piano Competition and the Women’s City Club Foundation.

She is survived by her nephew, James B. Humel, and nieces, Cynthia H. Mowery and Cecily A. Foley, as well as several grandnieces and grandnephews.

Private services were held in honor of Humel Hovorka. For more information and to sign her guestbook, visit