Donald Howard Madsen, 95, of Cedar Rapids, formerly of Iowa City, died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday, Sept. 20, 2018, at the Woodlands Facility of the Meth-Wick Community, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Don was born Oct. 7, 1922, in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the first child of Aaron and Nomie Madsen. In 1925, Don welcomed his sister, Adelaide. He had many jobs growing up, but his favorite was working in the "shop," where his father had a car dealership in Council Bluffs. He had a great interest in cars his entire life, in part spurred on by his grandfather, L.P. ("Kiki") Madsen, who built one of the first cars in Iowa in 1901.
After graduating from Lincoln High in Council Bluffs, Don attended Iowa State University in Ames. He took only 11 quarters to earn his degree in mechanical engineering in 1944. In the next several years, Don worked as an engineer but also continued with his education, later obtaining both his master's (1948) and Ph.D. degrees (1953) in mechanical engineering from Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind.
During his travels between Purdue and Council Bluffs over that period, he met Jeanette Wieman through a mutual friend in Chicago and they married on July 24, 1949, near Woodford, Wis. We will dearly miss hearing his joyful story of how they met.
After brief college teaching stints in Kansas and South Dakota, Don joined the faculty at the University of Iowa in 1955, where he spent the next 30 years teaching mechanical engineering. He particularly loved teaching thermodynamics one of the more challenging classes for many students. He was honored to be inducted into the university's Distinguished Engineering Faculty Alumni Academy in 2009. However, he was more gratified by the impacts he had directly on students and the successes they had in their own careers.
His curiosity about learning and trying to create new things went beyond the classroom. In 1955 and 1956, he built a house in Iowa City with the help of friends and family. This would be home for the next 53 years, and improvements were frequent, from the basketball court in the backyard to a screened-in porch. All jobs were met with thoughtful design and tireless execution, even if that meant going to the hardware store to buy a tool he already had just because he did not have time to find the first one. He could fix just about anything, including times when he might need to manufacture that one-of-a-kind part in his extensive home workshop. A registered professional engineer, Don often served as an expert witness, investigating and testifying in numerous accident cases. He also had a keen interest in computers and built his first one from a kit in 1979.
He had a commitment to the larger university and Iowa City communities. He served on many university committees over the years, performed as the first associate dean in the college, helped built Christ the King Church in the west end of Iowa City and served on Iowa City's Planning and Zoning Committee. Don and Jen were members of Gloria Dei Lutheran Church for many years.
His involvement in the community went beyond formal service. He had many lifelong relationships with friends, neighbors and colleagues. Don was anxious to help others with their own projects, and he enjoyed bridge and pinochle (especially with Aunt June and Uncle George). Don participated in the faculty bowling league for many years and often kept "stats" for the league.
In 2009, Don and Jen moved to the Meth-Wick Community in Cedar Rapids. During his later years, his eyesight and hearing were diminished, but he still loved to tell stories from his past. He could remember incredible details about events from decades earlier.
Don was proud of his friends and students, but especially of his family and their unique talents. He thought education was so important and he was very pleased that all his children and grandchildren made their own education a priority.
He is survived by his wife of 69 years, Jeanette Madsen of Cedar Rapids; two sons, Nels (Fran) Madsen of Auburn, Ala., and Erik (Chris) Madsen of Cedar Rapids; grandchildren, Lisa (Rob) Madsen and great-granddaughter Sydney, of Austin, Texas; Luke Madsen of Auburn, Ala.; Kelsey Madsen of New York City; and Haley Madsen of Minneapolis.
He was preceded in death by his parents; and his sister, Adelaide Madsen.
The family would like to thank the Meth-Wick Community for their tireless and caring support of Don these last few years.
There will be a time of visitation at Gay & Ciha Funeral and Cremation Service in Iowa City from 1 to
3 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 30, with sharing of remarks by family and friends beginning at 2:30 p.m. Burial will follow at Oakland Cemetery in Iowa City. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made in Don's memory to the Eastern Iowa Chapter of the Alzheimer's Association. To share a thought, memory or condolence, please go to the funeral home website at www.gayandciha.com.