Harry Wesley Brown Jr.(1915 - 2012)

An extraordinarily generous, fun-loving, ukulele-guitar-banjo-organ-playing man, Harry W. Brown died on March 10, 2012, in his 96th year. Born on Sept. 16, 1915, on the 320-acre family farm in Dakota County, Neb., he started his work life plowing, planting, cultivating and harvesting a wide variety of farm crops and caring for numerous horses, cows, pigs, and chickens while attending a small country school house for his first 8 grades.

Then, as so many other farm kids, he attended South Sioux City High School by boarding in town with his grandmother during the week, and getting home to the farm on the weekends. It was during that time while plowing a field that Dad saw his first bi-plane practicing its acrobatic turns for a county fair over the family farm. He was dazzled that a human being could fly.

Graduating from high school at the depth of the Depression, 1932, his family could not afford to send him to college. Yet through much sacrifice, they were able to get him to Wayne State Teachers' College the following year, and after a year and a half, Dad was able to transfer to the University of Nebraska as an engineering student through the government sponsored NYA (National Youth Authority) program.

He graduated in 1938 from the University of Nebraska as the recipient of the O.J. Fee Award given to the outstanding graduating engineering student, and also won one of four very prestigious United Air Lines national awards for post-graduate study at the Boeing School of Aeronautics by writing about the possibility of passenger flight up to 14,000 or 15,000 feet! The award also included learning to fly in a bucket-of-bolts Boeing 203 biplane. He was thrilled. Us, not so much, when we much later saw a close-up of the airplane.

That Boeing education led to a position as Design Draftsman at Vega Aircraft (a subsidiary of Lockheed Aircraft), and then to a teaching position at the University of Texas in Austin, and ultimately a World War II military work deferment in order to teach in the ESMDT, "Engineering, Science and Management Defense Training" programs the U.S. government was developing in response to the outbreak of World War II in Europe. Throughout the war Dad taught women to build aircraft which also included classes for the civilian WASP women aviators.

In September of 1941, Harry married his college sweetheart, Tex-Rozelle Rounds, and their honeymoon included Yellowstone and the Rocky Mountain National Parks. Their first daughter, Alanna Kathleen, was born in Austin on March 7, 1944. That baby girl nearly died of pneumonia at 10 days old after coming home in "a Norther," so as soon as the family could move to a sunnier climate, they left for California in June of 1944.

Here both parents not only had their second daughter, Terry Janel, on July 16, 1944, they found a rich community of musical friends in the Hollywood Presbyterian Church Cathedral Choir for nearly three decades. Tessa also taught music at Van Nuys Junior High and then at Polytechnic High in Sun Valley, having received her master's degree in music education from Columbia University in 1940. While instructing at Texas, Dad also earned one of the first master's in aeronautical engineering degrees in the country at the University of Texas (1942).

Harry did a risky and amazing thing by leaving Hughes Aircraft Company in 1949 to join 27 other people in the newly formed Marquardt Corporation which wanted to develop something called "jet propulsion." Dad's cohort did it with slide rules and drafting skills, etc., not all the technological aids we have today. I have a picture of him, a young man in his early 30s, holding the first five foot long "pulse jet" that he had designed. Marquardt Corporation would grow into 7,000 employees while developing the rocket engines that eventually landed men on the moon and got them safely back home.

I remember that night well back in 1962 when we four gathered in the family room. Because of Dad's position in the company, he had a list of the exact times the jet engines were to be fired for the moon landing, for take-off, and for re-entry back into the earth's atmosphere. I had never seen Dad so glued to the television, so focused, willing everything to work. He told us that they had had to make some educated guesses about the moon's gravitational pull, and if they were even slightly off, there was a chance that the capsule could hit too hard, or the moon's gravitational pull would be too great, and the astronauts would not be able to return. When the space capsule landed so gently, Dad whooped, did a spontaneous jig, and then the phone was off the hook as the men and women who had worked so hard on those small, vital jets celebrated a stunning achievement.

The two greatest losses in Dad's life were mother passing of aplastic anemia when she was 59 in 1978, and my sister dying of leukemia 20 years later in 1998 at the age of 52. But father was able to remarry a widow in 1980, Marion Vree, also a musician and teacher at Pierce College in Woodland Hills, and they each had an additional 32 years of marriage to each other, traveling, sharing music and friends, that so enriched their lives.

Dad also loved being a grandfather and great-grandfather, for Terry had married John Hogley back in 1967, and they had three daughters, Joy, Miriam, and Gwyneth, who each had children of their own. Father had five boys to love as their great-grandfather: Gareth, Trevor, Oseia, Milo, and Dean, and little Tessa Janel on her way, a great grand-daughter he never would meet.

Dad's journey, like so many others who have reached their 90s, was to be born into the world created by homesteaders, to know the poverty and challenges of the Great Depression, and then a world war, and all the possibilities that opened up as America became such a dominant world power. Harry always honored the lives of those hard, hard-working people who had gone before him, proud of the part his ancestors played in the creation of a nation, the first arriving before the American Revolution and fighting with General Washington.

One of the proudest moments for both parents was seeing their eldest daughter receive her Ph.D. in literature from the University of California at Santa Barbara. That daughter's first position was at Montana State University in the English Department in 1973 as one of the university's first two Affirmative Action hires. Alanna Kathleen Brown taught for 34 years, among the first women to achieve Full Professor status at MSU. The photograph is her favorite of her and her Dad.

Published in Bozeman Daily Chronicle on Sept. 18, 2013