UT engineering legend Norm Nitschke is remembered fondly at UT memorial service

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Aug. 18—Norman C. Nitschke, an engineer and inventor who was best known for his work with fellow innovator Harold McMaster, was remembered fondly Tuesday at a special University of Toledo memorial service attended by about 125 people.

Mr. Nitschke died of coronavirus on Feb. 14. He was 100.

UT was unable to schedule its own tribute to him until recently. He was a generous donor to the university's engineering college, which bears his name on Nitschke Hall, Nitschke Auditorium, and the business and technology incubator known as the Nitschke Technology Commercialization Complex. He also was a supporter of Bowling Green State University's Center for Photochemical Sciences.

But he was best known for his collaborations with Mr. McMaster, including development of tempered glass and the thin-film type of solar technology which has helped make that type of energy production more affordable worldwide.

Their research has, among other things, been credited for the eventual development of First Solar LLC, now one of the world's largest solar manufacturers. First Solar announced plans for another plant locally on Tuesday, hours before UT hosted its memorial program, which featured eight speakers.

One of them, U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo), said it's not an exaggeration to rank the feats of those two men with Ohio's two most famous astronauts, Neil Armstrong and John Glenn.

While Mr. Armstrong became the first man to walk on the moon in 1969 a few years after Mr. Glenn became the first man to orbit the Earth, countless lives have saved by the inventions Mr. Nitschke and Mr. McMaster made in tempered glass alone, she said.

The congressman included hers among them, realizing that she could have easily died in a traffic crash years ago if the windshield of her vehicle back then hadn't been made of tempered glass.

"They were real pioneers. They remain pioneers," Ms. Kaptur said. "Though he lived the majority of his life in the 20th century, he was a pioneer for the 21st century."

UT President Gregory Postel said Mr. Nitschke's contributions to the College of Engineering "are profound."

He and others remembered Mr. Nitschke as a kind, humble man who never lost sight of his employees as he enjoyed success with his many ventures. Mr. Nitschke, in fact, made sure to include the happiness of his employees part of his successful business model, speakers said.

Former UT interim president Nagi Naganathan flew back to Toledo from the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls, Ore., where he now serves as president.

He said he met Mr. Nitschke in 1995, just after being named chairman of UT's engineering department. Mr. Naganathan also became the engineering college's dean before being named UT interim leader.

"He was so humble," Mr. Naganathan said, explaining that their friendship took on extra special meaning for him after his father died in 1996. "Norm, in some ways, became my father figure. He was more than a friend. He was my mentor."

"It didn't matter what the topic was. He was always positive and a gentleman," Mr. Naganathan said.

Among the other speakers were two members of the Nitschke family: Mr. Nitschke's son, Steve Nitschke, and his youngest grandson, Jesse Ouellette.

Stanley Joehlin, retired vice president of GlassTech, Inc., one of the businesses Mr. Nitschke and Mr. McMaster co-founded, agreed Mr. Nitschke had an affable demeanor. It was important to him to encourage his employees with "words of praise," according to Mr. Joehlin, who said he knew Mr. Nitschke for 55 years.

"No matter the situation, he remained calm," he said. "I don't think he ever lost his quiet sense of humor."

Bob Savage, co-founder of Savage and Associates, said his friendship with Mr. Nitschke was "like going to school."

"I learned so much [from him]," Mr. Savage said. "He was truly brilliant and he loved the intricacies of technology."

Born in Mishawaka, Ind., on April 2, 1920, Mr. Nitschke grew up in East Toledo during the Great Depression.

He was a 1938 graduate of Waite High School, then attended business and engineering classes at UT before completing bachelor's degrees in electrical engineering and engineering physics at the University of Michigan.

In addition to his groundbreaking work in advancing glass tempering technology with Mr. McMaster, Mr. Nitschke was a leader in developing safety glass fabrication processes and standards.

Among other businesses, he and Mr. McMaster founded Glasstech Solar and then Solar Cells Inc., which developed the thin-film cadmium telluride coating technology that launched First Solar in the solar energy business.

The two met in 1948 at the Libbey-Owens-Ford Co., where they worked on glass bending and tempering.

First Published August 17, 2021, 7:19pm

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