In Memory: ECpE Associate Professor J. (Joseph) Don Musil

J. (Joseph) Don Musil, who went by Don, former faculty member of Iowa State University‘s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECpE), passed away on April 30, 2020, at the age of 99.

Musil attended Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, graduating in three years with a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering. He also graduated with his master’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in 1945, and his Ph.D. from Iowa State University in 1968, both degrees in electrical engineering.

From 1941 to 1943, Musil was employed as a design engineer in the industrial motor division of Westinghouse Electric Co. in East Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. From 1944 to 1945, he was an engineer with the Kellex Corp. of the Manhattan District Corps of Engineers at New York City in the Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Atomic Energy Project, also known as the Manhattan Project.

“My father said he never worked harder than he did at this time,” said Joe Musil, son of Joseph Musil. Joe is also a graduate of Iowa State, earning his master’s in mechanical engineering.

In 1946 to 1947, Musil was an instructor and research assistant at the University of Pittsburgh, electrical engineering and physics department. From 1947 to 1957, Musil worked for the EM (Electrical Machinery Company in Minneapolis Minnesota), they designed and built very large alternating current and direct current motors and generators. In August of 1957, Musil contacted Warren Boast, who was an assistant professor in electrical engineering at Iowa State. Musil wanted to achieve his doctorate degree and teach at the same time, so he and his family moved to Ames, where he taught electrical engineering and pursued further graduate work at Iowa State.

“During his time at Iowa State, my father taught courses involving large machinery, motors, large networks, and many things that we depend on for our factories,” Joe said. “At the time, the large bay in Coover hall was full of electric motors and generators and the students learned to wire, start and control these generators, and my dad was in control of that lab.”

In 1961, after four years at Iowa State, Musil got a four-year leave of absence from the head of the department, and he and his family moved from Ames to Tanzania, East Africa. Musil took a position at  Ilboru Lutheran Secondary School in Arusha to teach sciences, mathematics and physics. He also added an additional two years to the curriculum, making it a six-year school instead of a two-year school. At the end of the student’s studies at Ilboru, the students could take the Cambridge Exam, and if students passed, they could travel to England to further their studies. While Musil taught, his wife, Bernice Edna Carlson, was the school nurse. Musil was also responsible for mechanical maintenance of the school as well.

“It was quite a handful for mom and dad, but it was a great experience,” Joe said. “My siblings and I gained a wide knowledge of other places and cultures from this experience, we visited about 20 some countries on our journey.”

A few years later, Musil took another sabbatical from Iowa State, to teach electrical engineering at the Prairie View Campus at Texas A&M University to teach electrical engineering.

“When we would go on vacations, my dad would arrange visits to power plants because he knew people there that he previously worked with and wanted us to meet them,” Joe said.

In the summertime, Musil also did extension work, where he would travel across the country and teach short courses on new technologies.

Musil would often take his students on field trips to these facilities to teach them about large machines, power plants and other factors related to coursework that he was teaching.

“I always knew Joseph Musil as ‘Don’; I suspect this was his middle name. He was a very compassionate person,” said ECpE Professor Emeritus Art Pohm.

Musil later retired from his position as an Iowa State ECpE associate professor in 1984.

In 1985, Musil and his wife moved to Ely, Iowa, to be near their sons, Joe and Dan, along with their families during their retirement. Both of his sons became engineers, following in their father’s footsteps, Joe became Director of Engineering at Iowa Manufacturing at Cedar Rapids Inc. in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Dan is president and owner of M&W Designs and Manufacture hydraulics solutions. Joe also lives on and farms 240 acres on the side. Musil resided in Ely until his death.