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John Nordhaus, inventor in aerospace industry, passes away
William S. Bike -- Historical Commentator William S. Bike -- Historical Commentator
Chicago, IL
Friday, January 11, 2019

John Nordhaus

John P. Nordhaus, an inventor and prominent leader in the North Shore Unitarian Church in Deerfield, IL, passed away at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, IL, on Jan. 8 at age 98.

            An aerospace engineer, Mr. Nordhaus is sole inventor on three patents: an entrapped gas ejector arrangement for aircraft store racks; an emergency remover device for ejecting aircraft canopies; and a mechanically actuated laser initiator.

            Along with colleagues at Scot. Inc. and Elematic Instrument Corp., he also invented and held patents on another ejector arrangement for aircraft store racks and for a flowmeter.

            The remover device and the laser initiator are for use on emergency escape systems. The flowmeter accurately measures low flow rates of gaseous fluids.

            "The gas actuated invention was for ordnance racks," explained his son, Lt. Col. (Ret.) Paul Nordhaus, United States Air Force. "Every fighter plane produced in the 1970s and 1980s carried this technology.

            "This patent was used in crew seat seat ejections—it was a significant component in the zero-zero ejection seat system. Without the canopy ejection components, the zero-zero seat could not be developed. This system significantly reduced pilot ejection injuries and no doubt saved many lives. This technology was adapted to civilian use with the Boeing 747 program as well as the DC-10 ejection slides, which has a spinoff application in car airbags," Lt. Col. Nordhaus said.

            John Nordhaus was born on the North Side of Chicago on July 10, 1920. After graduating from Roosevelt High School, he attended and graduated from the Armour Institute/Illinois Institute of Technology.

            He joined the U.S. Army during World War II, serving in Europe in the 2nd Armor Corps.

            While in the Army, Mr. Nordhaus married the former Olga "Ollie" Tschirley of Mitchell, SD, in 1944. After World War II ended, the couple moved to Northbrook, IL, where Mr. Nordhaus built a home for the couple himself at 1845 Beechnut Rd.

            Mr. and Mrs. Nordhaus attended the Evanston Unitarian Church and, in 1953, he was one of a group of Unitarians who banded together to form a new Unitarian Fellowship on the North Shore.

            The fellowship applied for and was granted full status as a church in the American Unitarian Association in 1956. The church adopted the name North Shore Unitarian Church in 1957, and Mr. Nordhaus was one of the congregants who worked to raise money to build a new church building in Deerfield, IL, completed in 1961.

            Ollie Tschirley Nordhaus passed away in 1959. The couple had four children: Peter, Shelley, Anne, and Beth.

            In 1960, he married the former Helen Clark. The couple had three children: Paul, Carol, and Joyce, and all seven children were reared in the home he had built in Northbrook. The couple lived there until 2005, when they moved to Niles, IL. They later resided in Vernon Hills, IL. They were married for 53 years, until Helen Clark Nordhaus passed away in 2013.

            Mr. Nordhaus and Mrs. Helen Clark Nordhaus were members of the choir at North Shore Unitarian Church for many decades, and they also sang in several other choirs on the North Shore and in Milwaukee, WI. They enjoyed attending the opera, classical music, taking fishing vacations in Arkansas and Wisconsin, and gardening at their Northbrook home.

            Concerning her parents' hobbies, daughter Carol Doane said, "Fishing, like gardening, is where God lives."

            Mr. Nordhaus played classical guitar, and all of the Nordhaus children took music lessons and sang in choirs.

            They sang with their children as well. "I have fond memories of singing on Saturday nights," daughter Shelley Weigmann said. "I loved his beautiful bass voice. I think he had the best bass voice of any man I know."

            Mr. and Mrs. Nordhaus enjoyed dining out and entertainment. "My Dad was silly sweet in love with my mother," daughter Joyce Nordhaus said. "Friday night was their date night and from time to time I would crash their date night. My father taught me to be sure that my significant other, Chris, always knows how much I love him and that he is the most important person in my life."

            In his career as an aerospace engineer, Mr. Nordhaus worked for Ordnance Engineering Associates for many years. In 1976, he and partners purchased Scot Inc., a Downers Grove, IL, company that manufactured aircraft equipment. The company was acquired by Chemring Group PLC in 2008.

            "He was a truly brilliant engineer," Mrs. Wiegmann said.

            John and Helen Nordhaus also established Peters Phototypesetting Service, a Northbrook typesetting and printing company, run by Mrs. Nordhaus for many years.

            Along with being an active Unitarian, Mr. Nordhaus's spiritual and intellectual life included the Rosicrucian Order, an organization studying metaphysics, mysticism, and philosophy, and the Theosophical Society, an organization studying world religions, philosophy, science, and the arts.

            "Our family had great discussions about philosophy, religion, and a wide range of events," daughter Anne Nordhaus-Bike said. "A favorite piece of advice he often gave after discussing a topic was, 'Take that into your meditation.' I took that to heart and followed him into the Rosicrucian Order. He was interested in astrology, and that influenced me to become an astrologer."

            "He taught me to be curious about the world and how things work, and that curiosity has guided my life," son Paul Nordhaus said.

            Mr. Nordhaus is survived by son Peter Nordhaus; daughter Shelley Wiegmann and her husband, Doug; daughter Anne Nordhaus-Bike and her husband, William S. Bike; daughter Beth Nordhaus; son Paul Nordhaus and his wife, Kathy; daughter Carol Doane; and daughter Joyce Nordhaus and her significant other, Christopher Galassi; and grandchildren Douglas Wiegmann, Rachel Wiegmann; Matthew Wiegmann and his wife, Hannah; Jonathan Wiegmann; David Mitchell and his wife, Ying; Colin "Mitch" Mitchell; Abijah Mitchell; and Benjamin Mitchell.

            Mr. Nordhaus's visitation (wake) will be on Wednesday, Jan. 16, from 4 to 8 p.m. at NJ Scott & Hanekamp Funeral Home, 1240 Waukegan Rd., Glenview, IL 60025, (847) 272-3890. Funeral service will be on Saturday, Jan. 19, at 11 a.m. at Memory Gardens Cemetery, 2501 E. Euclid Ave., Arlington Heights, IL (847) 255-1010.

            In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Austin Special Chicago, 5414 W. Diversey Ave., Chicago, IL 60639. Austin Special works with individuals with developmental disabilities. See www.austinspecial.org.



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