Skip to main content

Remembering Dr. Walter Munk ’37

International House Mourns the Passing of Walter H. Munk, an American scientist-explorer and one of the world’s greatest oceanographers. Munk lived at I-House from 1935-1937, and credits some of his lifelong friendships to the time he spent as a Resident here. To honor him, we are reposting a recap of his visit to I-House in 2017, the year he turned 100 years young. 

A Home for Every Generation

The I-House Experience – learning and sharing each day with hundreds of bright minds from around the world – is an illuminating time for Residents. It is also something that stays with and is cherished by Alumni for years to come.  

Dr. Walter Munk is professor emeritus of geophysics in the Cecil H. and Ida M. Green Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in California. As a young military scientist during World War II, his work in wave forecasting became essential in planning key Allied invasions including the D-Day landings of 1944.

His innovative work has led him to be known as the “Einstein of the oceans.” But before his storied career in science, between 1935 and 1937 Munk lived at International House. As a young man from Vienna, he chose to live at 500 Riverside Drive while working in his family’s banking business.

He describes his time in banking simply: “I hated every minute of it!” But living at I-House allowed him to escape that world, find encouragement and “keep the intellect going.” He recalls the kindness of John Mott, director of International House from 1935-55, and his wife Celestine, both of whom helped guide him toward his true passion.

In June 2017, Dr. Munk, who celebrated his 100th birthday on October 19, 2017, returned to the House for the first time, nearly 80 years since his days as a Resident.

Making his way through the Main Lounge, the memories came flooding back. “I am so deeply grateful for the friendships I made here, that persisted even after I left,” he said. “I continue to be served by the relationships formed in this House.”

As part of his visit, he asked to meet with current Residents to share stories of his time here and how it influenced him personally and professionally, and to offer advice to a new generation of leaders.

Over breakfast with the group, he fondly recalled his life at I-House – organizing ski trips, conversations over dinners, even old girlfriends. Browsing through I-House yearbooks from his Resident years, he was quick to point out familiar faces.

“Meeting people from all over the world is a unique possibility here,” he said. “There is something about that experience that makes friendships last.”

Despite his lifetime of achievements, Dr. Munk wondered aloud whether he would be admitted to I-House as a Resident today. New Alumnus Takaya Uchida, who is pursuing his PhD in Oceanography at Columbia University, was quick to reassure him: “We would love to have you here!”