College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

In Memory: Former ECpE Department Chair Julius “J.O.” Kopplin

The following is taken from Kopplin’s obituary, with comments from the ECpE Department added below.


Julius “J.O.” Kopplin, former department chair of Iowa State University‘s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, was a much loved son, husband, father, grandfather and great-grandfather, whose quiet strength, inquisitive mind, humor, work ethic, and abiding faith made him a role model for a purposeful life of giving. J.O. Kopplin died August 28, 2020, at his home in Highlands Ranch, Colorado. His legacy includes a large and loving family, many examples of service and a rich and satisfying career in academia. His 95-year life as an engineer, educator and family man was remarkable and varied.

The first person in his own family to have an opportunity to pursue a higher education, J.O. earned his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and he earned his master’s and doctorate degrees from Purdue University. An area of focus was research on superconductivity and surface phenomena involving electric and magnetic properties of materials.

Before his retirement in 1990, J.O. served as department chair of the Electrical and Computer Engineering Department at Iowa State University for 15 years. Prior to that, he was an electrical engineering professor and department head at the University of Texas-El Paso. While a professor at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, he was instrumental in launching the honors program for the Engineering College, becoming a director. Throughout his career as a department administrator, J.O. believed in supporting the people who worked for him and their success, and he worked hard to recruit top researchers. J.O. and his wife welcomed the faculty to their home and enjoyed entertaining and getting to know them.

J.O. was a strong, caring and supportive husband and father while his first wife, Lola, battled cancer. After her death in 1981 after 30 years of marriage, he was able to enjoy another 37 years of marriage with his second wife Betty, and he treated Betty’s family like his own. With two long and successful marriages, J.O. knew how to find the right partner for the shared journey. He loved his family, was very proud of every member and took a keen interest in all of their lives.

Although the original appeal of being a college professor was to have summers off, that never happened. Instead, with a growing family, he sought summer employment during the recesses. This resulted in short-term postings at Boston (MIT), Houston (NASA), Seattle (Boeing), Boulder (University of Colorado) and L.A. (Pacific Semiconductors). Cross-country trips by station wagon to new environments thrilled and enriched his impressionable kids, allowing them to see and experience all that this country has to offer and creating a lifetime of memories for each of them. Later on, the family continued this pursuit in a truck-mounted camper and explored capitols, historic sites and beautiful landscapes. In retirement, he and his wife, Betty, also enjoyed many excursions within the United States and Canada, as well as travels to Europe and New Zealand.

J.O. used to tell his children, “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” He applied that mindset to a variety of diverse projects that his whole family enjoyed. Every project started with a detailed plan – whether it was a well-built doghouse, landscaping and irrigation, a basketball goalpost built from oil well piping, or customized vehicles. J.O. loved railroads. He built two working model railroads and collected rolling stock in anticipation of being able to devote time to this hobby in retirement. He spent many happy hours engrossed in designing and constructing a room-sized model railroad complete with switching yard. His children and grandchildren were delighted with his creative layout and intricate attention to detail.

At his earliest opportunity, he enlisted and served in World War II as a B-17 co-pilot. On his 16th mission, his plane was shot down over Germany, and he was held as a POW until the end of the war. Reluctant to discuss his wartime experience for many years, he later did share his story of service with his family members, as well as on Veterans Day at a school in Highlands Ranch. He loved flying his entire life and would take his young children to the airport to observe take-offs and landings. Later in life he was able to recall his time as a pilot-in-training when he enjoyed two flights on a Stearman bi-plane.

A lifelong advocate of education, J.O. encouraged, helped and supported his children and grandchildren to achieve their education goals. He actively recommended books to read, gave books as gifts and served as an example by reading all the books on Civil War history that he could. The financial choices and sacrifices that he and Lola made allowed all of his children to attend college.

J.O. was born February 6, 1925, in Appleton, Wisconsin, to Julius and Renata Kopplin. He is survived by his wife, Betty (Dutmer) Kopplin, children and step-children Bill (Mandy) Kopplin, John Kopplin, Sue Kopplin, Jim (Kim) Kopplin, Tom (Rhonda) Dutmer, John (Nancy) Dutmer, Jim (Kathy) Dutmer, Larry (Debbie) Dutmer, Ann (Marc) Hall, Rick (Maria) Dutmer and Joe (Maria) Dutmer, in addition to 23 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by his parents, his first wife Lola (Boldt) Kopplin and his brother David A. Kopplin.

The family wishes to recognize and thank extraordinary caregivers and staff for their devoted and compassionate care of J.O.

A private family service will be held in Ames, Iowa, at a later date. Expressions of sympathy can be made to the charity of your choice.

ECpE Department Comments

“I remember J.O. He hired me in the department (I was the first woman tenure-track hired into ECpE). One of the reasons I came to ISU was that I felt the department was a welcoming place to begin my career, and J.O. was a large part of that. He retired the year after I started so I never got to see him much after that. It is clear he had a big impact on his family — the obituary is so well-written, and his family clearly appreciated him.”

—Jennifer Newman, Associate Professor of Mathematics

“I had the pleasure to know J.O. for most of his time at ISU, first during my time as an undergraduate student. He was very supportive of student activities, including IEEE and VEISHEA; he supported students going to conferences and deeply cared about students. As a Ph.D. student, he treated me and other grad students like faculty; he was part of a culture where all voices were heard.

He hired me in 1985, and I had the pleasure for working for him for five years. As an administrator, he was fair and always listened to new ideas. He was instrumental in starting the transition from a primarily teaching focused department into a department that was more balanced between teaching and research.

I can honestly say that he help shaped my academic career and provided insight and guidance that I still live by. He taught me that both teaching and research are important, that I should always listen to others, that I should be self reliant and that I should take the initiative to work on new things.

He has left a permanent and positive mark on the department and Iowa State and built the foundation for what our department has become today. He was also the driving force behind the establishment of our endowment funds at a time when not many departments were directly raising money. Again he left his mark on the department. He will be missed.”

—Doug Jacobson, University Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

“I had the pleasure of working with J.O. He hired Robert Weber and me in 1988 to set up the Microelectronics program at ISU, and he was always very helpful and a pleasure to interact with. He always listened to the needs of the faculty and was strongly supportive of the new faculty that he hired: Doug Jacobson, Jennifer Newman, Venkataramana Ajjarapu, Robert Weber, Gary Tuttle and me. He will be sorely missed.”

—Vikram Dalal, Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

“Very sad to hear the news! J.O. hired me in 1986. He had a very pleasant personality. I joined the department as a fresh Ph.D. graduate, and he welcomed me with open arms. My sincere condolences to the family! He will be missed.”

—Venkataramana Ajjarapu, Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering

“I did not work with him. He retired before I discovered Iowa and Iowa State. When I arrived here in 1997, I heard several good stories from several faculty who remembered him very fondly and how J.O. cared for the department as chair. When I became Chair, and we brought out the 100 year history book, I got to learn a lot more about Mervin Coover, Warren Boast and J.O. Kopplin’s long tenures and contributions. He will always be remembered by the department. May he rest in peace.”

—Arun Somani, Associate Dean for Research, College of Engineering

“J.O. hired me in 1984 from my position in industry. I really enjoyed his leadership as Head of the Department. Kathy and I were just thinking about him the other day and wondered how he was doing. We always took our young kids to Betty and J.O.’s house for trick or treat. Fun days!”

—Steve Russell, Associate Professor Emeritus of Electrical and Computer Engineering