Yakel, Roberta Jean Nichols (73)
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Died of leukemia Sunday April 3, 2005 at home, cared for by her family, in Plymouth, Michigan. Roberta Jean Hilts was born November 29, 1931 to Robert and Winifred Hilts at Los Angeles, California, graduated from Santa Monica High School in 1949 and attended UCLA, BS Physics 1968 and USC, MS Environmental Engineering 1975, Ph.D. Engineering 1979. She attained all three of her degrees while working full time and raising a family. She worked in the aerospace industry for nearly 20 years in Los Angeles, primarily for the Aerospace Corporation, El Segundo, then worked for Ford Motor Company in Dearborn, MI from 1979 to 1995, first as a principal research engineer, then as a manager, working with alternative fuels and electric vehicle research. She was a pioneering leader in the fields of alternative fuels and automotive engineering and an inspiration to women in engineering. She holds three patents for the Flexible Fuel Vehicle. She was the first woman to be elected as a Fellow of the Society of Automotive Engineers, a member of the National Academy of Engineering, a Fellow of the Society of Women Engineers, and a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. She held the women's world record for quarter-mile drag-boats from 1966 to 1969. She raced cars at the Bonneville Salt Flats. Her fastest time was 190 m.p.h. She was a downhill skier for 58 years, up until the time of her death still going down the expert runs. She also competed in vintage car racing with her 1954 Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, which she had restored herself. She loved to play bridge and was an avid gardener. She is survived by her husband Lynn Yakel of Plymouth, MI, sister Jacqueline Oblinger of Oxnard, CA, daughter Kathleen McDonald of Boise, ID, stepsons David Yakel of MI and Dennis Yakel of CA, and grandchildren Gina Lagattuta, Flora Lagattuta, Lydia McDonald and John McDonald, and her beloved Beagle, Freckles. She was preceded in death by her parents, her first husband William McDonald and her son Robert McDonald. In lieu of flowers, please send any donations to the UC Riverside Foundation for the Benefit of the Roberta Nichols Yakel Scholarship Fund (Ford Motor Co. is matching any from Ford employees) 252A Highlander Hall Riverside, CA 92521 A memorial will be planned for the Detroit area at a later date. If you would like to be contacted about this please contact Kathleen McDonald email@example.com
Published in the Los Angeles Times on Apr. 10, 2005