Friday, July 17, 2015

Spotlight: Phil Myers

Phil Myers at 90 in 2006
Phil Myers at Kansas State in 1942

Phil Myers (Phillip Samuel Myers)
b. May 8, 1916 - d. Oct. 18, 2006

Phil Myers is the lovely man who picked Opa up in his ice truck on that November day in 1939. He had been an integral part of helping bring Opa to America to McPherson College. We wanted to find information about him, so we started looking online. 

When I (Jason) initially did some research, I found the picture of Phil you see above as an older man, but there was no text in the website with the picture. I thought, oh well, and moved on. As I researched more, I found the phone number for a different person mentioned in Opa’s letters (who Opa knew from McPherson and Kansas State). Sarah has called her a few times (you will hear about her later) and we asked her about some of these names of college friends, etc. We mentioned Phil and she spoke very highly of him and mentioned that he was big in the auto industry. So, when I went back to research with more to go on, it opened up many doors of information. I also found his children’s names and was able to contact one of his daughters, who is now a part of this blog reading community! Much thanks to Kathy, Phil’s daughter, who shared more about her dad. Below is a brief description of Phil and the pretty amazing life he led.  

In the blog posts, we met Phil when he wrote a letter of welcome to Opa and was already “M” Club President at McPherson College. Phil was the son of a Brethren minister who was a Kansas farmer in the dust bowl days. He wanted to be an engineer but could not afford to go to any of the big engineering schools. His uncle gave him enough money to pay his first semester tuition at McPherson and he worked his way through college pumping gas and delivering 100 lb blocks of ice. Phil was Opa's first friendly face at McPherson. 

Phil received a B.S. in mathematics at McPherson, transferred to Kansas State University and received a B.S. in engineering. He was planning on going into industrial engineering with an emphasis in farm machinery. At Kansas State, he met his wife, Jean Alford, at the Wesley Foundation.

Picture from University
When World War II began, he was a conscientious objector. He decided to go into teaching engineering because he didn’t want to work on the machines that would end up being used to kill people. He joined the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Wisconsin – Madison as an instructor in 1942, earning his M.S. and Ph.D. and becoming a full professor in 1955. There he also met his long-time friend and colleague, Prof. Otto Uyehara. Their T-25 research laboratory, co-founded in 1947, grew into the internationally-recognized Engine Research Center.

Phil with son John in 1986.
Professor Myers was a world-renowned expert in engine combustion. His research excellence was recognized by a long and impressive list of citations from the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE), including the Horning Memorial Award, the Ray Buckendale Award, and the Arch T. Colwell Award (twice). In 1977, Phil was named a fellow of the SAE, and in 1987 he was the first recipient of the SAE Medal of Honor. Phil Myers was also named a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1971, and was awarded the Dugald Clerk Award from the Institute of Mechanical Engineers (England). In 1973, Professor Myers was elected to the National Academy of Engineering. From 1973 – 2001, he served on successive committees that recommended the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for automobile gasoline mileage. He owned both first and second generation models of the Toyota Prius. He also served on the Board of Directors for Nelson Industries and Echlin Corporation.

As one of his memorials stated, Professor Myers was one of the rare individuals whose research excellence was balanced by his strong commitment to teaching and service. He won many teaching awards. The Myers Automotive Laboratory in the Engineering Centers Building at University of Wisconsin was named in his honor. In 1969, Phil was elected as the first president of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) to come from academia rather than industry. He retired in 1986, but continued working at UW and was a Professor Emeritus at the time of his death in 2006. He often said, “The teacher hasn’t done his job unless the students become smarter than the teacher,” and he enjoyed staying in touch with and learning from ex-students turned colleagues around the world.

Phil’s wife, Jean, still lives in Wisconsin. They had 5 children (Kathy, Elizabeth, Phyllis, John and Mark), 8 grandchildren and an extended family that spanned the globe.

I’ll leave you with some of the comments from the memorials that I read about Phil which I thought spoke to how well respected he was by his peers and students:

Phil and Jean in Egypt
“Through all of his success, Phil never lost touch with his rural, Midwestern upbringing. He was a humble man who always made time to listen to all points of view, and was guided by an unwavering moral compass and a dogged pursuit of the truth. His compassion for others was as legendary as his water skiing prowess and his fondness for churning his own ice cream.”

“Phil Myers was, arguably, the most influential engine combustion researcher of his generation, and left a rich, unparalleled legacy of teaching, research and service.”

“Phil was a man of principle who knew what he believed, but he always listened to and considered the opinions of others with respect. Throughout his life Phil was a teacher, mentor, father, and source of strength to his family, his students, his colleagues, and his friends.”

"It is difficult to say anything original about a fellow who has been as successful, both in the university and outside, as Phil has. Someone ought to say that Phil is a very fair and honest person-and a good man. Perhaps, after all is said and done, that's one of the best things you can say about anyone."

What a pretty amazing career and wonderful story. Phil’s hospitality and caring nature were so appreciated by Opa and we wanted to share his story with you so you could appreciate Phil with us. Thanks for reading and you will hear from me again on the next “Spotlight” post!!

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