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Melvin Harry Judkis ’39

September 3, 2021, in Cranberry Township, Pennsylvania.

Melvin Judkis, who preferred the mononym “Jud,” died two months shy of his 103rd birthday. Born to Russian immigrants who owned a general store in Portland, he excelled at Jefferson High School and graduated at the age of 16.

Jud planned to follow in the footsteps of his older sister, Eva Judkis Berkham ’30, who had gone to Reed for a couple of years and then became an attorney. But after his first physics course with Prof. A.A. Knowlton [physics 1915–48], he stuck with physics. Knowlton advised him on his thesis, “The Artificial Production of Snow and Ice Crystals.”

Jud graduated from Reed, was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Force as an aviation cadet working in communications, and was in the first class to be trained in the new technology of airborne radar at the MIT Radiation Lab. Sent to England with the 14th Fighter Group in 1942, he landed in North Africa on the second day of the Allied invasion of World War II. Jud became the radar officer of the 15th Air Force, served in Italy and England, and returned to the U.S. with the rank of captain. After being discharged, he earned a BS in electrical engineering from Oregon State, worked for General Electric in Philadelphia, and then became a partner in a company manufacturing automobile trim accessories in Chicago.

In 1956, Jud joined Westinghouse’s naval nuclear program to develop instrumentation for nuclear power plants and became supervising engineer of a design group that developed the first working solid-state frequency converter for controlling reactor coolant pumps. He left to join Westinghouse’s commercial nuclear program and became project manager for the Donald C. Cook Nuclear Power Plant in Michigan, which was the first nuclear power plant to have an ice containment.

“In building nuclear power plants,” he explained, “one of the most expensive parts was the containment. The idea was, if you had a bank of ice that could absorb the steam, it would reduce the pressure on the walls, and it wouldn’t cost as much. That turned out to be a really interesting project. We built it, and it worked out very well.”

More than 20 plants were built using the ice condenser design his team devised. When the nuclear power field began laying people off after the Three Mile Island accident, Jud returned to Westinghouse for another three years and then retired.

Through an army buddy, he met Edna Weber, an artist and social worker who had worked processing prisoners of war for the Red Cross. They married in 1949 and raised two sons, James and Andrew, in Mount Lebanon, Pennsylvania.

Jud’s military service made him a devoted antifascist who supported progressive causes, and he loved to talk about politics and art. When he and Edna moved to Cranberry in their senior years, he perfected his craft as a woodworker, building furniture and making dollhouses for his granddaughters. He exercised for 30 years with a wellness coach, which contributed greatly to his longevity, and his mind was sharp through his last days.

He and Edna enjoyed traveling and furnished their home with art and antiques brought back from their travels. She preceded him in death. Survived by his sons, Jud was interred at Arlington National Cemetery.

Appeared in Reed magazine: March 2022

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