Remembering Beloved Tech Professors

Former physics professor and Michigan Tech alum, Donald Daavettila, passed away on July 31, 2019.

Don Daavettila graduated from Michigan Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering Physics and a Master’s in Nuclear Physics. Following stints at Argonne National Lab and the Enrico Fermi reactor, Daavettila was hired to develop a nuclear physics program at Tech. He served as faculty in the Department of Physics for 40 years.

During his tenure, Daavettila received the State of Michigan Excellence in Teaching Award in 1991 and Michigan Tech’s Distinguished Teaching Award in 1994. He was a well-known figure in many Husky athletic programs, especially as timing official for home hockey games, and was inducted into the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2003. Following his retirement in 2000, he continued to teach in physics and serve as Tech’s radiation safety officer.

Daavettila was the faculty advisor to student and fraternal organizations, volunteered for Tech’s centennial fundraising, and was honored by the Alumni Association with their Outstanding Service Award in 2005. As stated by Ravi Pandey, physics chair, Daavettila and his wife supported Michigan Tech in many aspects. He will be remembered for his cheerful and generous spirit.

Longtime Michigan Tech Social Sciences professor emeritus, Willie Melton III, passed on July 24, 2019.

Willie Melton grew up in Chicago graduated from Tilden Technological High School. As an undergraduate at Northern Illinois University (DeKalb, Illinois), his interests focused on sociology, family, social attitudes, and social identity. Here he also met his later wife, Gloria Brown. Following the completion of his bachelor’s in 1969, he began his masters, and later transferred to Washington State University, where he and his wife began their doctoral studies. He earned his PhD in 1976.

Melton taught for over 30 years (from 1976 until 2009) and retired as Professor Emeritus in Social Sciences. He served on graduate committees within social sciences, humanities, and forestry.

His research topics included marital stability, family economic and emotional stress, and the relationship between social values and attitudes on public issues.  A Fulbright scholarship supported his travels and studies of modernization and technology in India during the 1980s and the East-West Center in Hawaii later provided cultural exchange opportunities in Hong Kong and southern China.

Over the past 40 years, Willie served on community boards of the Copper Country Sheltered Workshop (later Vocational Strategies), Dial Help, Copper Country Habitat for Humanity, and the Keweenaw Family Resource Center (and “Treehouse”), among others.

Former physics professor and Michigan Tech alumnus, Phillip Parks, passed away on September 17, 2019.

Following an impressive high school football career, Phillip Parks attended Michigan Tech on a football scholarship and earned a Bachelor of Science in Physics and Master’s in Nuclear Physics. He also attended in additional graduate work at the Kansas State University.

After graduating, Parks worked at NASA for five years before returning to Michigan Tech as faculty in the Department of Physics from 1962-1997.

Following his retirement, he and his wife traveled and enjoyed the company of family.

Throughout his career, Parks published a number of articles in professional journals, conducted US military research, and contributed in writing a book that prepared engineers for their professional exam.

Parks also served as a zone leader for the Parks Society, and was a member of the Sons of the Union of the Civil War where served as an officer for several terms. He was also active in the Christian faith, contributing to Michigan Tech’s InterVarsity Christian Fellowship as a student, and later spent years as a deacon, Sunday school superintendent, and a youth leader.

What are your memories of Professors Daavettila, Melton, or Parks? Leave them in the comments below.

Sources: Physics Department at Michigan Tech, Keweenaw Report Obituaries


6 Comments on "Remembering Beloved Tech Professors"

  • Geoff Huggins
    October 8, 2019 at 3:25 pm

    I remember my first physics class with Parks, in 1962, in which he began by writing his name on the blackboard. He wrote “P. N. Parks,” but he placed big periods at the end of his initials, so I duly wrote in my notes. “Po No Parks.” It took me several days to realize that his first name was not Po.

  • Kenneth Kok
    October 8, 2019 at 6:05 pm

    Back in the mid 60’s Don Daavettila was base in the Chemistry and Chemical Engineering Department where the Nuclear Engineering department was located. Don was my advisor for my Master’s thesis and an instructor in ,any of the departments courses. Nuclear Engineering was a hot topic at the time and MTU had an interesting array of laboratory equipment in the basement of Konig Hall. The program did not have a long life but the graduates made an impact in the nuclear power industry, the government nuclear laboratories, the nuclear navy, and in nuclear related research. Because the faculty and students were all nearly the same age they form a great group to work with.

  • Gary Nigro
    October 9, 2019 at 1:43 pm

    I had Don Daavettila for Physics in the mid 90’s and what I remember about him was how neat all of his lesson notes were. His diagrams, formulas and writing were all beautiful and he used about 5-6 different colors of chalk. Then, when the chalk boards would fill up and he needed more space, he would erase everything with a wet, natural sea sponge instead of a typical chalk board eraser and it took about 1-2 minutes to dry. He would say “You can talk amongst yourselves for minute.” That stuck in my head. He was one of my favorite professors at Tech.

  • Larry Rau
    October 12, 2019 at 6:31 pm

    I was at Tech when the Masters program in Nuclear Engineering was canceled (1970). I still took all of the courses that were available and truly enjoyed Dr. Daavettila as a professor. I have him to thank for my 44 year in the civilian nuclear power industry.

  • Gail Monds
    November 18, 2019 at 9:56 am

    I have fond memories of Professor Melton. I enrolled in one of his sociology classes in Fall 1978. I remember him as being very friendly and helpful. As a black student, he was a role model. He often talked about his family when I attended his office hours.

  • Dave
    August 3, 2020 at 1:10 am

    Excellent article. Thanks for the update and the information. Cheers. Dave.

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