Norbert Bernard Hemesath, 85-year old resident of Cedar Rapids, Iowa died Sunday, December 8th at home surrounded by family after a 7-month battle with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Friday, December 13th at 10:00 AM at St. Pius X Catholic Church, Cedar Rapids. A visitation will be held on Thursday, December 12th from 4:00-7:00 PM at Cedar Memorial Park Funeral Home, Cedar Rapids and will continue from 9:00-10:00 AM Friday at St. Pius X Catholic Church. Burial will be in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Cedar Rapids.
Norbert Hemesath was born on his grandfather’s family farm outside of Ossian, Iowa on January 12, 1934. Norbert was the second of five children of Herman and Helen (Tieskoetter) Hemesath. He grew up on his parents’ farm outside of Calmar, Iowa, and was educated at St. Aloysius Parish School in Calmar through eighth grade. His academic success earned Norbert a scholarship to Loras Academy in Dubuque where he focused on his interests in math, science, and theology. He graduated from the Academy in 1952 and then pursued his growing interest in science at Loras College.
The military called after Norbert’s freshman year at Loras. Following basic training in Kansas, Norbert went to Radio School at Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, followed by four months at a too quiet and hot Fort Knox. Then a unique opportunity arose that took the small-town boy to Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks, Alaska where he was a Radar Repair Specialist. Norbert joked, “I was on the front lines of the Cold War,” though he spent more time trout fishing and exploring Alaskan culture than guarding against Soviet missiles. Norbert spoke fondly of this experience throughout his life.
Norbert returned to Loras College in the fall of 1955 to continue his studies and explore, when time permitted, the social life in Dubuque, both of which led to lifelong passions.
In 1957 Norbert decided to focus on engineering, and he transferred to the University of Iowa, in Iowa City to study electrical engineering. Upon graduation, Norbert moved half an hour north to take a position at the young and dynamic Collins Radio Company.
On June 14, 1958 Norbert married Suzanne Schute at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in her hometown of Farley. She was a farm girl who was working in Dubuque when he was introduced to her by mutual friends. For the next sixty-one years, they lived in Cedar Rapids, with brief stints in East Lansing, Michigan and Fullerton, California, raising a family of six children.
The Cold War played another important, if inadvertent, role in Norbert’s life as the launch of Sputnik in 1957 led to significant increases in spending on science education in the United States. With the support of Collins and an NSF scholarship, Norbert and Suzanne moved to East Lansing, Michigan where he earned a Ph.D. at Michigan State University in three short years, despite having three young children in the household. “I spent a lot of time in the library,” Norbert wryly noted.
Doctorate in hand, Norbert and Suzanne moved their growing family to southern California, the home of the young aerospace industry and magnet for ambitious scientists. The three years in Orange County as neighbors to Disneyland were exciting for the young couple and especially the now five kids, but the attractions and lovely weather could not outweigh the call of family. Norbert and Suzanne returned to Cedar Rapids and Collins, where they remained for the rest of Norbert’s life.
Norbert’s 35-year career at what became Rockwell Collins allowed him the opportunity to work on numerous projects in the Advanced Technology and Engineering group, including commercial and military navigation systems. He was especially proud of his team’s work on the early Global Position System (GPS). The now ubiquitous technology that is in the pocket of every teenager in their cell phone, was filled with technological challenges and scientific uncertainty. “At the beginning of the project it was not clear that hand held navigation could even work,” said Norbert.
What Norbert enjoyed most about his career at Collins were the exceptional men and women he got to work with. Though he got to travel the world and meet scientists and government officials from Moscow to China and Japan, he always had the greatest respect for his Cedar Rapids colleagues and friends, admiring both their scientific brilliance and outstanding character. He shared many Collins based friendships to the end of his life.
After retiring in 1995, Norbert continued his lifelong interest in woodworking, gifting many projects to family members and friends. He loved reading, especially biographies and history. He golfed often, though with more enthusiasm than skill, as he honestly admitted. He also volunteered at St. Pius X Catholic Church, served on the board of Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center and occasionally dropped a fishing line in a Minnesota lake on vacation. He also enjoyed 10 years of camaraderie and service as a member of the St. Pius X team that built homes with Habitat for Humanity.
Survived by his wife, Suzanne, and children: Michael (Elizabeth Galbraith), Collegeville, Minnesota; Timothy (Sarah Solie), Caldwell, New Jersey; Lisa (David) George, Chandler, Arizona; Jill (Pete) Kovatsis, Natick, Massachusetts; Lori Hemesath, Centennial, Colorado; Amy (Christopher) Schroeder, St. Charles, Missouri; and thirteen grandchildren of whom he was especially proud and to whom he was unfailingly devoted.
Preceded in death by his parents, Herman and Helen, his in-laws, Ray and Mabel Schute, brother, Joseph, and brothers-in-law, Lawrence Spielbauer and Thomas Kupensky.
Norbert’s last months were blessed by the devoted care of the University of Iowa Oncology team, the Hall-Perrine Center staff at Mercy Hospital and the exceptional caregivers at the Hospice of Mercy of Cedar Rapids and Hiawatha.
In lieu of flowers, Norbert asked that friends and family consider a gift to their favorite charity.