Balcom, Donald M. (1922-1996)

Balcom, Donald M. (1922-1996)

Date Updated



Chemistry, Natural Science, Geology

Academic Rank


Year Retired from SJSU


Educational Background

Stanford University, 1953 Ph.D.

Stanford University, 1947 MS

San Jose State College, 1942 BS

Teaching Experience

San Jose State University, 1956-1983

University of San Francisco, 1953-1954

San Francisco State University, 1954-1956

San Jose State University, 1945-1952

Administrative and Professional Experience

Monsanto Chem. Corp., Santa Clara, 1952.

Chem. Analy. Co., Sacramento, 1954.

Orchardist all his working life

Selected Publications

Chemical articles published in several books.

Personal Commentary

Following are excerpts that appeared in the San Jose Mercury News:

As a natural science professor at SJSU, Donald M. Balcom had the formula for making relevant chemistry.

With $67 worth of oil and alcohol, his students produced a gallon and a half of perfume similar to one of the world's most coveted fragrances. The name‑brand product sold for $40 and ounce. "Essence of Balcom" could have sold for 35 cents an ounce.

The cosmetics were just a vehicle Professor Balcom used to show his elementary teachers‑to‑be how to develop a hypothesis, do the lab experiment and write a report. A side benefit was some practical experience in marketing. "The manufacturer had to make a buck" he told his students, and the costs of advertising and research to gain U.S. FDA approval were enormous. Professor Balcom said, "Then, the public also tends to believe that anything that costs a lot must be better than what costs little."

Professor Balcom taught a lot of chemistry and natural science, but "it was his perfume class that he loved most," said his daughter, Karen. She took it from her father in 1976: "It was a hoot ... When he retired, they retired the class."

Don Balcom spent more than a quarter century at SJSU as an agricultural academician‑‑he also farmed apricots on Clayton Road in the Alum Rock district of San Jose for more than 30 years.

Although he was born in Oakland, he lived most of his life on the family's 11‑acre ranch in the east foothills. He graduated from San Jose High School and earned his first degree from SJSU in 1942. A childhood eye injury made him physically disqualified for the military during WWII, and he obtained both his master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford.

A job with Monsanto in San Francisco and teaching stints at the University of San Francisco and San Francisco State preceded his return to San Jose to care for his mother, grow and dry apricots and teach at SJSU.

Don and his wife of 44 years, an occupational therapist, reared four children on Clayton Road‑‑a backhoe contractor, a church secretary, a dialysis technician‑soon‑to‑be‑nurse and a sheriff's deputy. They did so on a teaching ranch. Pupils from the Alum Rock schools visited often to see fossils on an outcropping. Don’s wife was forever involved with PTA and literacy projects.

Don built their home by himself. He raised and released pheasants and quail, and he bred smooth‑haired rat terriers that rode with him around the ranch on his four wheel all‑terrain vehicle. He was constantly fixing things.

Donald was working in his orchard with his mud boots on and a hoe in his hand, when he suffered a heart attack and died in his orchard on January 27, 1996.

Date Completed:10/96

Adapted from: Biographies of Retired Faculty San Jose State University 1997: A Project of the Emeritus Faculty Association of San Jose State University. San Jose, CA: The University, 1997.


Balcom, Donald M. (1922-1996)