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Professor emerita of physiology, pediatrics, human genetics dies at 96


Bernice Wenzel, a professor emerita in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and the Department of Physiology, died Jan. 31 due to natural causes. She was 96.(Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom)

Bernice Wenzel, a professor emerita in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and the Department of Physiology, died Jan. 31 due to natural causes. She was 96.(Courtesy of UCLA Newsroom)


Faculty and family members remember Bernice Wenzel for her energy, intelligence and altruism.

Wenzel, a professor emerita in the UCLA Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences and the Department of Physiology, died Jan. 31 due to natural causes. She was 96.

Wenzel and her late husband, Wendell Jeffrey, helped establish the annual Jeffrey Lecture series, which features researchers on cognitive science, and the Wendell Jeffrey and Bernie Wenzel Term Chair in Behavioral Neuroscience. The psychology department named the Jeffrey/Wenzel Conference Room in Franz Hall after them to recognize their donations to the department.

Wenzel first joined the UCLA faculty as a junior research anatomist in UCLA’s department of anatomy in 1956. She later became a professor in both the department of physiology and the department of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences from 1970 to 1989.

Wenzel continued to be involved in UCLA after retiring in 1989 by regularly visiting campus and serving as a member of various campus groups, including the UCLA Emeriti Association. She was the president of the association, which consists of retired UCLA faculty, from 1994 to 1995.

Stephen Cederbaum, president of the UCLA Emeriti Association and professor emeritus in psychiatry, pediatrics and human genetics, knew Wenzel for 45 years. He said she was an integral part of the UCLA Emeriti Association because she regularly attended meetings and helped the association build its organization by giving advice to current members.

orman Abrams, the acting chancellor of UCLA from 2006 to 2007, said Wenzel had an energetic personality, traveling around the world multiple times with her late husband while in retirement and regularly attending UCLA Emeriti Association meetings even through her 80s.

While she temporarily stopped attending the Wednesday Lunch, a weekly lunch attended by Emeriti faculty, because her strength declined, she soon continued to keep attending.

“That was the kind of person she was – she thrived,” Abrams said.

Lynn Andrews, Wenzel’s niece, said Wenzel and Jeffrey donated large amounts to organizations they cared about. In 2017, Wenzel donated about two million dollars to the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Ojai Music Festival.

“They did things they really enjoyed doing by (being) frugal in every aspect of their life so they could really benefit organizations they really cared about,” she said.

Andrews said Wenzel also donated to UCLA because she enjoyed her time on campus.

“Their universe was UCLA,” she said.

Wenzel also admired contemporary art, regularly visiting the J. Paul Getty Museum and Skirball Cultural Center and attending opening nights at the museums. Andrews said she would regularly accompany Wenzel on her visits.

Wenzel remained sharp throughout her final years. She kept up with current events, remained well-informed and would compare the current events to her youth.

Andrews said she misses the lively conversations she would have with her aunt.

“She cared deeply about politics, the state of the world, global warming,” Andrews said. “We would have really interesting conversations about how to solve these problems. I would really miss it.”

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