Jerzy A. Owczarek, 94, of Bethlehem, passed away on January 11, 2021, after a battle with Parkinson’s. He’d recently celebrated 61 years of marriage with his beloved wife, Elisa Mercedes (Basoli) Owczarek, who survives him.
Born in Piotrkow, Poland on November 2, 1926, Dr. Owczarek was the son of the late Bronislaw Owczarek and Wachawa Helen Grzebo Owczarek. He fought against German occupying forces during World War II as a member of the Polish Home Army (AK), was wounded, and lost sight in his left eye. When the Soviet Union occupied Poland in 1945, he was able to enroll at the Mining Academy in Krakow. His studies were abruptly halted in 1946, when he and a large number of fellow students were arrested for staging an anti-communist demonstration. After a short time in prison, Dr. Owczarek escaped the country and made his way to Italy, where he joined the 2nd Polish Corps of the British 8th Army in Ancona. A few months later, he was transported to England.
Dr. Owczarek resumed his studies at the Polish University College in London. He received a Dipl.-Ing. degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1950 and went on to graduate studies at the University of London. He received a Ph.D. degree in Mechanical Engineering in 1954 and soon after moved to the United States where he acquired a position in the Turbine Division of the General Electric Company in Schenectady, New York. In 1960, Dr. Owczarek joined Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania as an Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He became a Full Professor in 1965.
A gifted teacher, Dr. Owczarek was awarded an “Outstanding Faculty Award” by the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honorary Society in 1979, and named “Mechanical Engineering Teacher of the Year” by the Pi Tau Sigma Mechanical Engineering Honorary Society in 1993.
While at Lehigh Dr. Owczarek published two books: Fundamentals of Gas Dynamics, 1964, and Introduction to Fluid Mechanics, 1968. His research in the fields of gas dynamics, turbomachinery, fluidics, and rheology resulted in 26 journal articles and 40 technical reports. From 1969–1973 he directed a Themis Project on Fluid Amplifiers at Lehigh; from 1990–1994 he collaborated on the design, building, and operation of the Gas Dynamics Laboratory at Lehigh’s Mountaintop Campus.
He retired from Lehigh University in 1995, and wrote his memoir in 2007.
Dr. Owczarek’s commitment to his work was evident in his many professional memberships: he was an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, and a Life Member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. From 1976–1977 he was Chairman of the Anthracite-Lehigh Valley Section of the ASME. He was a member of the Tau Beta Pi Society and its Lehigh Chapter faculty advisor from 1991–1995; a member of the Sigma Xi national research society; and of the Pi Tau Sigma Society.
He was a consultant to numerous industrial firms, notably Bell Laboratories and DeLaval Turbine Inc.
In the course of his career, Dr. Owczarek filed seven patents dealing with turbomachines, steam turbines, and gas turbines.
Dr. Owczarek had a love of music and an amusing sense of humor. He enthusiastically embraced new adventures and endeavors: earning his pilot’s license to fly with dear friend Al Becker for weekends of skiing and other exploits; traveling to over 10 countries; creating ceramic art; sailing; even skydiving. His children and beloved wife Elisa were his favorite companions whether traveling the world or simply sharing a meal at home.
In addition to Elisa, Dr. Owczarek is survived by five children: Debbie (Joe Bittner), Diana (Jim Driscoll), Maria-Ines (Michael Morris), Jennifer (Don Steele), and David (Allison), as well as ten grandchildren and soon, his first great-grandson. He was predeceased by his parents, two sisters (one being his twin), and one brother.
Dr. Owczarek was a devoted parishioner of St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. A Mass of Christian Burial celebrated at St. Anne’s, followed by interment will be delayed until Summer 2021, when it will be safer for friends and family to gather.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations to Doctors Without Borders, a favorite charity, would be appreciated.