ATHENS, Ohio—James C. Gilfert, PhD, P.E., of Athens, died on May 1, 2013, in Carriage Court Assisted Living Home in Lancaster, aged 85.
He was born in Tamaqua, Pa. to Charles A. and Leah Gilfert. Jim was interested in communication and electronics from an early age, building his own radio set while he was still in elementary school. Jim enlisted in the Navy in 1945 and trained at the Great Lakes Naval Base. He was selected for the Electronics Communication School in Washington, D.C.
After being discharged in 1946, he entered into Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio. There he established an on-campus radio station, along with Rod Serling (of the original Twilight Zone fame) and met Sara McCalmont, who worked at the college radio station as a DJ.
Jim and Sara married in June 1949. Jim graduated from Antioch with a bachelor’s degree in science, specialty in physics. From Antioch, Jim and Sara went to The Ohio State University in Columbus, Ohio, where he obtained both an MS degree and a PhD in physics. His thesis involved the collection of radio spectroscopy data in a vacuum, which is the foundation of the methods used by the Mars lander to determine the minerals in the soil on the planet surface.
Jim was then hired as a faculty member in the Electrical Engineering department of The Ohio State University, from 1957 until 1967. He left OSU to join the faculty of Electrical Engineering at Ohio University in 1967 until his retirement in 1993. During his tenure at OU, he first was the engineer in charge of the research at Radar Hill lab, located on the grounds of the former Athens Mental Hospital (now The Ridges). Using the equipment at the lab, his family and a few students listened in on NASA, and heard the first words from the moon spoken by Buzz Aldrin, as the spacecraft landed and all the conversation that followed, including the famous words from Neil Armstrong as he set foot on the moon.
Later, Jim also served as the Chair of the Electrical Engineering Department. The EE department was housed in the Clippinger building at that time, and many of his former students will recall the long hours in the labs, preparing Jim’s assignments. Jim always enjoyed travel, music and other interests. He was the first professor in the exchange program between Ohio University and Chubu University in Kasugai, Japan in the fall quarter of 1973. Jim taught himself to speak and read basic Japanese from books in four months while preparing for the visit.
Jim and Sara traveled widely in Japan, Europe, Mexico, Belize and the United States. After his first successful visit, he returned to Chubu for another three months in 1980-81. Jim learned to play the piano from his mother. He also played the trombone, accordion, and the ukulele, and sang bass in church choirs. He also briefly held a private pilot license and was a ham radio operator for many years. Jim and Sara started Athens Technical Specialists in 1982 to provide test equipment development and fabrication services for the Ohio Department of Transportation Central Signal shop in Columbus. In concert with Bob Duemmel of ODOT, he designed and built the first automated tester for traffic signal conflict monitors in 1985. The market demand was very high, so ATSI went into the manufacturing business in 1988, with the help of Sara and the Ohio University Innovation Center.
ATSI continued to grow within the Innovation Center for almost 12 years, until moving into their own building in 1999, at which time there were 11 employees and over $1.2 million in revenue. The company now designs, manufactures, and sells an entire line of electronic test equipment and security systems worldwide.
Jim Gilfert is survived by his wife Sara (McCalmont) Gilfert ‘51, daughter Susan son Ted (Una Ollie) in Athens and son Charlie (Kim Moulton, DVM) in Cincinnati. Grandchildren are Leslie, David and Megan Gilfert of Athens, and Kaitlyn and Kelly Gilfert of Cincinnati. He is predeceased by parents Charles and Leah, and brother Charles (Hub) Gilfert.
A memorial service will be held at the Athens Friends Meeting House located at 22 Birge Drive in Chauncey, Ohio, on Wednesday May 22, from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. The service will be done in the manner of Friends, with anyone wishing to share a memory of Jim to speak up, or to write a short message at the memorial service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to one of the following: Alzheimer’s Association of America, 352 8th Ave, 7th floor, New York City, NY 10001-6792 Athens Foundation, James and Sara Gilfert Fund, PO Box 366, Athens Ohio 45701 Athens Friends Meeting, PO Box 17, Athens Ohio 45701.