Alumni Spotlight - Harry Holcombe

When Harry Holcombe graduated from The University of Akron in 1959, he had no idea that he was also making history. Nearly fifty years later, upon “Googling” his name, he learned that he was the first African American to graduate from the College of Engineering at The University of Akron.

“I just didn’t know,” says Holcombe, who received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering. “Everyone was open to me and supportive of me, but it was never made known to me.”

Early encouragement from General Motors

As a high school senior at Patterson Co-op High School in Dayton, Ohio, Holcombe received the opportunity to work for General Motors (GM) at the Inland Manufacturing Division. Holcombe credits his work on the Urban League’s citywide Vocational Opportunity Campaign for the opportunity with GM.

“I served as the chairman of that campaign,” Holcombe says. “I think that must have shown I had leadership qualities.”

He also believes the opportunity came thanks to John D. O’Brien, the general manager at Inland Manufacturing Division of General Motors at the time, who agreed to have an African American student work in his plant as a skilled-trade apprentice – a first for the company.

O’Brien also encouraged Holcombe to apply to the General Motors Institute (GMI), now Kettering University, in Flint Mich., in 1954. Holcombe passed the admissions test, but GM made him another offer: he could attend GMI or receive a full five-year scholarship to attend The University of Akron.

Holcombe knew he would be making history and breaking barriers at GMI. Not interested in that spotlight and the pressure he thought would follow him to GMI, especially given the recently decided landmark U.S. Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, he chose to attend the University of Akron.

‘Cooperate and Graduate’

Holcombe remembers his days as an engineering student fondly. Class sizes were much smaller back then, with only 12 or so in a class.

“We worked closely with one another on some of our studies,” says Holcombe. “We’d find an empty room in Ayer Hall, and five or so of us would do whatever homework we had.”

They called it ‘cooperate and graduate.’


Holcombe was a member of Tau Beta Pi (the engineering honor society), ASME and ROTC. He was also involved in the arts, participating in both University Singers and theater groups.

After graduation, Holcombe went into active duty in the United States Air Force. After three years, he left as a first lieutenant and returned to Inland as a project engineer and obtained his MBA from the University of Dayton in 1969.

The airbag, a new safety feature

In 1970, Holcombe was asked to join GM’s corporate personnel staff in Detroit to recruit students in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU). Harry spent the rest of his career with General Motors working on various corporate staffs, including engineering, transportation systems and economics. Perhaps his most interesting work came in 1976 when he managed the team responsible for servicing 1,000 Chevrolet Impalas fitted with GM’s first experimental airbags. The cars, all dark green, were built on the assembly line in Doraville, Ga., and distributed to governmental agencies and insurance companies. When an airbag deployed, Holcombe’s team had to travel to the site to service the vehicles.

Retirement from GM came in 1982 for Holcombe, but he wasn’t finished working yet. He purchased a dairy restaurant in an old White Tower Hamburgers building and ran it for nine years. With so many years flying in and out of airpor

ts on a rigid corporate travel schedule, Holcombe says he welcomed the change of pace.

“This was my project,” says Holcombe. “I enjoyed getting to know the costumers and being the boss.”

Class of 1959

Today Holcombe resides in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where he enjoys the local arts scene and horse racing. He travels extensively and has visited Western Europe, South America, China and Morocco. He says the engineering graduates of 1959 get together regularly, and classmate Kenneth Thompson still puts together an annual newsletter that answers the question, “What did you do last year?”

For Holcombe, the answer to that annual question was easy this year. He spent five weeks on a transatlantic repositioning cruise to the Mediterranean, where he managed to explore several new places, including Madeira, Portugal; Mallorca, Spain; Marseille, France; and Milan, Venice, Rome, and Naples, Italy. He also returned to his hometown of Dayton, Ohio, for a family reunion. 

Alumni Donate Slide Rules

Alumnus Art Wilson and Development Director Jo Dangel

Alumnus Stanley Lero (BSME '49) shows granddaughter Courtney Gonser, UA's Director of the Alumni Association, how a slide rule works.

When the College of Engineering asked alumni to donate their obsolete engineering tools, they sent in their outdated slide rules in droves. One alumnus, Stanley Lero (’49 BSME), gave a brief lesson in using a slide rule to his granddaughter Courtney Gonser, director of UA's Alumni Association, before parting with his well-used slide rule.

The slide rules are now in the hands of artist Mark Soppeland, distinguished professor in the Myers School of Art. Soppeland will turn the collection into a work of art in honor of the College’s 100th anniversary in 2014.

Alumni who donated slide rules will be recognized on a plaque that will be located near the artwork, which will be displayed permanently in the College of Engineering.

As of December 1, we've received engineering tools from the following list of alumni. Thanks for your support!

Larry Allen '70
Mark Andorka '74
Dave Babich ‘72
William Bandy Jr. '65
Bob Bennet '58
Richard L. Bock '52
LeeRoy Bronner '63
Robert J. Bunting Jr. '73
Kathy Clark

John L. Clement ‘64
Ralph Coletta '71

Donn Cramblette ‘67
George Cressman, Jr. '78
John Cressman '85
Mark Cressman  '88
Peter Cressman '82
Richard Crimi ' 83

Charles Dachtler '64
Narsaiah Dasa '73

Arthur Dellapa ‘50
Werner Dominik ’60, '66
Jim Dorsey ‘64
Jim Dowey ‘72
Walter Eckert ‘48
Don Eckert ‘52
Bob Elefritz ’73, ‘76
Jeffrey Enright '75
Jim Field
Richard W. Gilbert '62

Ernest Grotefend ‘51
Frank Hajduk ‘74
Edward Hayman ‘71
James Ioaken ‘55
Henry Jaroszewski '67
Andrew Lehnert '66
Stanley Lero '49
Gerald Lindstrom '68
Donald Lambing '55
Jim Leonard '61
Andy Mayton '74
Robert McIlroy '69
Dave McIntyre ‘69
James R. Michalec '71
Ray L. Miletti '84

Kenneth J. Myers '63
Robert Parrish ‘62
Bob Putt ‘68
Gerald Putt '71
Alvin Richards ‘48
Dennis D. Robinson '72
Dallas Rodgers '72
Thomas Schidel '50
Paul Sellers, Jr. '41
Benjamin R. Shuman '53
Walter Simshauser '64
Gerald F. Smith '47
Carl W. Snow '73

Fred Snyder ‘66
Thomas M. Sopko '70
John Stathopoulas '72

Chuck Studenic ‘63
Ray Thomas '74

James Titmas ‘60
Charles Varvaro ‘60
Terry Walker ‘60
Art Wilson ‘49
David W. Wood '65 

Alumnus Fondly Remembers Professor Qammar

Alumnus Kuppu Seshadhri

"Anyone who ever had the good fortune of meeting Prof. Helen Qammer, could not possibly forget her," says UA alumnus Kuppuswamy Seshadhri. "I know that I never will."

In a tribute to Dr. Qammar, Seshadhri goes onto write: "Prof. Qammar was a brilliant teacher and an extraordinary person. As an instructor, she was both passionate about her subject matter and effective in delivering concepts to every student, every day. During the nearly two years I spent as a graduate student at The University of Akron, she taught to me the art, the science, the engineering, and the statistics behind chemical engineering – and I credit her with all I know today." Read entire tribute.

Alumnus Receives National Recognition

Andrew RichlenAlumnus Andrew Richlen, B.S. civil engineering ’09, has been nationally recognized among the New Faces in Engineering 2013, a recognition program for Engineers Week 2013. The annual award highlights the work of 13 young engineers, age 30 years or younger, who have shown outstanding abilities in engineering.

“The world we live in today was built on great engineering feats and this is a fact that will remain,” says Richlen, project coordinator at GPD Group.

Richlen has played a strategic role in the construction of several McDonald’s restaurants throughout Ohio. “There are few things in engineering more gratifying than watching a project develop from inception to reality,” says Richlen.

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