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Obituary for John T. Rettaliata

John T. Rettaliata, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for 21 years died on Saturday at the age of 97

John T. Rettaliata, president of the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) for 21 years and member of Dwight D. Eisenhower's National Aeronautics and Space Council, the predecessor to NASA, died on Saturday at the age of 97.

Rettaliata became president of IIT in 1952 at the age of 40 -- the youngest IIT president to date and, at the time, the youngest chief executive of a scientific school in the United States. During his twenty-one-year tenure, he initiated an ambitious fundraising effort that secured a $20 million annual budget, saw the main campus built, added the Chicago-Kent College of Law, founded the Stuart Graduate School of Business and lead IIT to become the largest and one of the most prominent engineering schools in the United States.

While architect Mies van der Rohe's design of the main campus made it the historical landmark that it is today, Rettaliata's vision of an innovative cooperative education program -- one of the first in the nation -- made the university a leader in education.

Before coming to IIT, Rettaliata, a graduate of The Johns Hopkins University who earned his Ph.D. in 1936, was employed by Allis-Chalmers. There, he worked building steam turbines for military destroyers. His diligence earned him a position on the U.S. National Advisory Council's subcommittee on aeronautics gas turbines.

During World War II, he embarked on the first of many roles for the United States government, taking part in the tour of British aeronautical research facilities that enabled America to develop its first jet aircraft and secure dominance in aeronautical research. Because of that work, Rettaliata became one of the first people to fly in a jet aircraft.

When Nazi Germany fell, the United States Navy, Bureau of Ships, sent him to Germany to investigate the defunct military's U-boat factories and discovered the engineers' secret -- an innovative hydrogen-peroxide submarine. Rettaliata studied the technology and filed a confidential report on the U-boat. While consulting with the Navy after the war, he also helped with the development of gas turbine applications and consulted on other projects for the United States Air Force that were deemed secret.

While president at IIT, Rettaliata held a seat on the National Advisory Council on Aeronautics, and then was appointed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to the National Aeronautics and Space Council, the planning body of the newly formed National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Attending bi-monthly meetings in the White House cabinet room, Rettaliata and the other Council members drew up plans for what would be the United States space program.

In 1971, Rettaliata took the lead through the IIT Research Institute in conjunction with the Chicago Crime Commission to publish A Study of Organized Crime in Illinois, a landmark analysis that examined the perceptions and beliefs of citizens regarding organized crime as well as the nature and scope of its activities.

After leaving IIT in 1973, Rettaliata became chairman of the board of Banco di Roma in Chicago and served on the boards of Admiral, Amsted Industries, Brunswick, DeSoto Chemical, First Federal Savings, Harris Bank, International Harvester, SC Johnson Wax, Kemper Insurance, Peabody Energy, Santa Fe Railway, and Western Electric.

The walls of his office are covered with awards -- including mayoral proclamations, military commendations, the Chicago Gold Medal of Merit, and a fellowship from the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He also held six honorary doctorates from De Paul University, Chicago-Kent College of Law, the Michigan College of Mining and Technology, Rose Polytechnic Institute, Valparaiso University, and Loyola University. Additionally, he was the most senior member of The Commercial Club of Chicago, The Question Club, The Chicago Club and former president of The Economic Club of Chicago.

He is survived by his wife Caryl Pucci Rettaliata, three children: Brian (Paula), Stephen (Marilyn) and Patricia, and three grandchildren: Michael (Daisy), Aaron (Meredith) and Justin.

Gifts in memory can be made to the John T. Rettaliata Engineering Scholarship Fund at Illinois Institute of Technology or The Johns Hopkins University.

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