John F. Van Domelen

John F. Van Domelen
After graduation I attended Mich Technological University, located in Houghton which is on the Keweenaw Peninsula of the Upper Peninsula of Mich. The average snowfall for the winter while I was there was 290 inches. Needless to say I learned a lot of winter sports. I graduated with a B.S. in Engineering Physics in 1964 (confounding Mr. Rockwell’s prediction that I would never pass a college math course-try tensor mathematics Mr. Rockwell). I also received a regular commission as a 2/Lt in the USAF, having been designated a Distinguished Military Graduate from ROTC. I was Assigned to Lowry AFB just outside Denver, CO to attend a specialized intelligence school. I graduated first in my class and was assigned to the 15th Recon & Tech Squadron at March AFB in Riverside, CA. While stationed at March I was detached 3 times for temporary duty in support of theVietNamwar. FirstwithaU-2unitinAZandthentwicetoAndersonAFBon Guam to support the B-52 units there. In between the 2 deployments to Guam I met a young lady for a week but she returned to MN and we lost touch with each other. While at March I was promoted to 1/Lt and awarded the Armed Forces Expeditionary Forces Medal and the Air Force Outstanding Unit Award with Valor.
I was then assigned to the 13th Recon and Tech Sqd, TanSon Nhut AFB, Republic of VietNam, in August 1966 to a specialized intelligence unit. I was provided the opportunity to travel the region extensively, both in the air and on the ground, but was sure that there were perhaps better circumstances under which to play the tourist. I was awarded the: RVN Cross of Gallantry with Palm, RVN Service Medal with Device, USAF Outstanding Unit Award with Valor, and the United States RVN Service Medal with four (4) Campaign Stars. Thankfully I evaded he award of a Purple Heart. While in Viet-Nam I received a box of cookies from the lady from MN. She had obtained my address from her sister whose husband was a friend of mine also stationed in VietNam. She had gone to spend the year in Riverside while her husband was overseas. Her sister was sending cookies so she sent me some. Correspondence began and she joined me in Hawaii when I was able to get an RR. The fourth day there I proposed to Naomi Ruth Kittlesen from Frost, MN and we were married a month after I returned from VietNam. It has lasted 48 years so far. Not bad for having been together for a total of ten days when I proposed. I was reassigned, August 1967, to the 15th Recon & Tech Sqd, March AFB, CA. In December I was promoted to Captain. I resigned my regular commission Aug 1969 for the purpose of entering private industry. We moved to Green Bay, WI where I was employed by Charmin Paper Products, as a manufacturing engineer and shift manager. Go Packers!

After a year at Charmin, facing a promotion into senior management, I entered graduate school at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in the fall of 1970. I received a Federal Water Quality Administration Traineeship to pursue a MS in Water Resource Management and with the GI bill and consulting work we were able to live very comfortably. I completed my Masters in June 1972 and immediately began work on a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. I consulted, taught and conducted research in the use of remote sensing techniques, especially satellite and photographic imagery. I received a Ph.D. in Civil & Environmental Engrg. in June 1974. I began my academic career at Norwich University, Northfield, Vermont, as an Assist Prof of Civil Engrg in July 1974. Norwich is the Nations oldest private Military College. Go Patriots! In 1976 I was commissioned (again!) as a Captain in the Vermont Air National Guard and was assigned to Vermont’s 158th Defense System Evaluation Group as Officer-in-Charge of their Intelligence Unit. Our son was born in 1973 and in 1978 I began teaching him how to play golf so I would have an excuse to travel to exotic golf courses while still being able to claim that I was spending quality time with him. I was appointed Head of the Department of Engineering & Technology at Norwich University in 1979 and promoted to Associate Professor of Civil Engineering and tenured. In 1981 I was promoted to Major in the Vermont ANG and assigned as Chief of Intelligence in the 158th Tactical Fighter Group. In 1983 I was appointed Head of the Division of Engrg & Tech when Norwich Univ consolidated its 20 plus academic departments into nine academic divisions an in Aug of 1985 I was appointed Acting VP for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty when the VP was canned. After a most interesting year and a national search I was appointed Vice President for Academic Affairs and Dean of the Faculty in July 1986. My active association with the VT Air Guard continued, and in 1986 I was awarded the Armed Forces Reserve Medal for 10 years of exceptional service and the AF Commendation Medal for outstanding leadership and was promoted to Lt. Col. and reassigned to State Headquarters where I served on the Air Staff. In June 1989 I was named an Outstanding Graduate of the USAF Air War College Associates Program and was selected for promotion to Colonel. Upon recommendation of the President of the United States and confirmation by the Senate I was promoted to Colonel in March 1990. The best part of the promotion was that I got to wear my Dad’s old eagles. In August 1992 I was awarded the AF Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding service. In 1993 I retired from active service with the VT Air Guard and in 1998 from the USAFR after 30 years of involvement, as their need for old graying Colonels was waning. On 1 July 1990, after 16 years at Norwich, I became the President of Wentworth Institute of Technology. Wentworth was founded in 1904 in Boston, Massachusetts and located on Huntington Avenue across from the Museum of Fine Arts. I am very proud of what I and my staff accomplished during the 15 years I was President of the Institute. He and his staff have been credited with the transformation of the school. From 1990 to 2005 Wentworth was transformed from a commuting college of 1800 students (600 lived on campus) to one of the most heavily residential colleges in Boston with 2000 of the 3200 students living on campus. Enrollment grew from 1800 students to 3200, the percentage of women increased from 8% to 21%, the SATs increased from 850 in 1990 to 1100 in 2005 and the percentage of out-of-state students grew from less than 20% to 48%. The Institute added nationally accredited programs in Engineering, Architecture, Construction Management, Interior Design, and Management of Technology to its already nationally accredited programs in Engineering Technology. The endowment was increased from $19 million to $95 million in the 15 years while the Institute spent an additional $150 million dollars upgrading every laboratory, classroom, office and residence hall. At the same time the $5 million operating debt was retired and in 2005 the Institute had over $20 million dollars in a reserve fund outside of the endowment. Two new residential halls were constructed adding almost 1000 beds to the campus everyone of which were filled. Despite these enormous improvements the tuition, room and board (the school has no fees) remained the 4th least expensive of all private college in Massachusetts. At the same time that the physical resources were improved the quality of the faculty changed also. In 1990 one-third of the faculty did not have terminal credentials in their field (MS or Ph.D. and work experience), by 2005 every single faculty member possessed the appropriate credential. During the 15 years the size of the faculty increased from almost 100 to 130 yet the total number of employees at the Institute remained static at 350. Despite the transformation and growth of the Institute relations with the surrounding community remained excellent through outstanding outreach efforts and community involvement by all the Institutes constituencies.

I retired from the Presidency of Wentworth Institute of Technology on the 30th of June 2005 and moved to our home, which we built in a golf course community in Prescott, AZ. With the help of one of Wentworth’s outstanding digital photo artist I became a reasonably competent photographer and have spend a good deal of our retirement traveling the west in a small RV to see and photograph the west’s wonderful national parks and monuments. We have been to Europe a number of times as well, the light in southern France was a photographer’s dream, and of course Scotland was a golfers dream. What a treat to play the old course at St. Andrews. Somehow, in 2007. I became a Trustee of Prescott College, serving as the Chair of the Academic and Student Affairs Comm. In June of 2013 I became Chair of the Board. In December the President quit abruptly during a financial crisis and I was asked to become the President until a national search could find a new one. I guess they thought I might be able to handle the position. I agreed as long as I was not paid and had time off to deal with personal concerns. It was a difficult year as the College was overstaffed for its enrollment and very hard decisions had to be made. It was also a very difficult period personally as my wife was diagnosed with late stage cancer. We appointed a new President in December of 2014 and I gladly gave up the reins and returned to my role as Chair of the Board. In 2011 we bought a small condo in Peoria, on the west side of Phoenix so that my wife could have more warmth in the Winter. She claimed that after growing up in MN and then living in WI, VT and MA she had used up all her cold points. It has been a godsend as it put us much closer to her cancer treatment center. We are hopeful but as so many of you must know cancer is a terrible thing as you deal with the ebbs and flows of its attacks. So we press on day to day. We are grateful for all the good things we have had in our life.

One Comment

  1. Jerry Brisson says:

    John, I was thinking about you and wondered where you ended up after retiring from Wentworth. I was sorry to hear about your wife, and since your communication here is several years ago, I hope everything turned out well.

    Best wishes from Estero, FL.