Memorial Tributes: Volume 27
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  • Neil Duffie
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  • JOHN G. BOLLINGER (1935-2022)



    JOHN GUSTAVE BOLLINGER passed away on April 7, 2022, at age 86. He was elected to the National Academy of Engineering in 1983 for “outstanding research on machine tools, sensors, and controls for manufacturing equipment, and leadership in education and the engineering profession.” He served as president of the International Academy for Production Engineering (CIRP) from 1986-87 and hosted the CIRP General Assembly in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1984. He was a Fulbright fellow and worked with Professor Opitz at the Laboratory for Machine Tools and Production Engineering in Aachen, Germany, in 1962. He was a Fulbright fellow at Cranfield University in 1980 and a visiting professor at the University of Stuttgart in 1981. John’s experience in Aachen and collaboration with CIRP colleagues profoundly influenced him, as is evident in his dedication to connecting industry and academia, fostering international experiences for students, and encouraging colleagues to develop international networks and perspectives.

    John was born in Grand Forks, North Dakota, on May 28, 1935, the son of Charlotte and Elroy Bollinger. His father was a professor of education. The family moved to New York City and then to the north shore of Long Island. There he attended Manhasset High School and learned science, mathematics, and music from exceptionally talented teachers. He founded a high school dance band, and his talent as a trumpet player led to a full scholarship at the famous Julliard School of Music. His experience there, although rewarding, revealed that he preferred a career in science, technology, and education.

    John received his Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957, Master of Science degree in mechanical engineering at Cornell University in 1958, and Ph.D. in mechanical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1961. As an undergraduate student he worked during successive summers for Grumman Aircraft, Hazeltine Electronics, Lockheed International, and Scandinavian Airlines in Stockholm, Sweden. John continued his love for education as a professor of mechanical engineering as well as industrial and systems engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

    As a professor, John mixed fundamental and practical research, and most of his graduate students went to work in industry. He worked with the A.O. Smith Corporation on welding robotics before there were commercial welding robots. In the 1970s John and his students designed a 10-axis, self-programming welding robot that was installed in a factory in Milwaukee. He worked with Giddings & Lewis Corporation on computer control of machine tools when practical minicomputers were first arriving on the scene, and later when microprocessors first became available. He worked with industry on understanding and reducing noise in aluminum sawing. He worked with faculty in wildlife ecology on quantifying the effects of snowmobile noise on the habits of white-tailed deer in northern Wisconsin. This required capturing deer and fitting them with transmitting collars, triangulating the movement of deer using radio transmissions, and transmitting these data from the forests of northern Wisconsin to a computer at the University in Madison.

    In July of 1981, John was elected dean of the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, a position he retired from in 1997. He believed that creativity and teamwork are essential to engineering, and he sought to give students resources so they could become entrepreneurs. He infused the college with team-based extracurricular opportunities to supplement theoretical classroom education. He fostered a much-needed modernization of the engineering campus, expanding and renovating buildings, and he put in motion the construction of the new Engineering Centers Building. He also pioneered a freshman design course that included real-world engineering experience, launched innovation and invention competitions, and strengthened the college’s relationships with alumni and industry partners. He served on the boards of directors for Kohler Company, Cummins Corporation, Gleason Corporation, Nicolet, Rexnord Corporation, Cross and Trecker, and several other companies.

    In addition to his professional accomplishments, John is remembered as a loving, inspiring, and devoted husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. Shortly after his graduation from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1957, he met his future wife Heidi, who was an arts and language student visiting from the University of Hamburg; they married in 1958.

    John’s love for sailing spanned his lifetime, beginning as a competitive sailor at 9 years old. In 1954 he was a founding member of the University of Wisconsin-Madison Sailing Team, and he continued to race competitively with his family and friends at Lake Mendota Yacht Club on their boat, Theory. John spent years living on or chartering boats around the world, including his personal boats, Freogan and Raven, and the barge, Sirius. In his retirement, John loved his life on the ocean in Seattle, Washington; Nuevo Vallarta, Mexico; and Orange Beach, Alabama. He spent his last days at peace on the ocean with Heidi, his wife of 66 years and partner in adventure.

    John is survived by Heidi; his children William Bollinger, Kristin Bollinger (Fred Levenhagen), and Pamela Andringa (Conrad); nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.