Legacy of Action:
Dr. Ward J. Frea Jr.
of Mechanical Engineering
Article from the January 17, 2001 Michigan Tech Lode
Professor Ward Frea, one of the longest-serving faculty members at Michigan Tech, died January 4 following an apparent heart attack.
Frea, 68, collapsed on the trail while cross-country skiing with his longtime friend, Presidential Professor John Crittenden (Civil and Environmental Engineering).
"He loved skiing," Crittenden said. "It was a daily activity in the winter. Skiing and running were passions for him."
Frea graduated from what was then the Michigan College of Mining and Technology in 1954 with a BS in Mechanical Engineering, took a position with Allis-Chalmers, and then returned to Michigan Tech to earn an MS in Mechanical Engineering in 1960. He was an instructor during his last year as a graduate student, and served as a graduate teaching assistant from 1955 through 1958.
Frea left to continue his education at the University of Washington, where he received his PhD in Mechanical Engineering in 1963. In September 1963, he returned to MTU as an assistant professor. He was promoted to the rank of professor in 1971.
"He was a quiet, thoughtful person, and he had the longest service of any of our faculty," said ME-EM Chair Bill Predebon. "He was here in the early days of the ME department, and was responsible for the early development of the research and graduate programs."
"You never saw Ward walking," Predebon added. "He ran to and from work every day. He was just relentless."
Presidential Professor John Johnson (ME-EM), who came to Michigan Tech in 1970, called Frea "a wonderful person, committed to Michigan Tech." In the 1960s, Frea was among the University's most productive researchers, advising numerous graduate students. In later years, he turned his attention to the classroom. "He was a sincere and devoted teacher," Johnson said. "His is a big loss. It's very tough, a real blow."
Frea maintained a heavy teaching schedule, with three classes a semester, including heat transfer, thermal fluids, and heating, ventilation and air conditioning. "He taught his courses with care and dignity, and then he'd go skiing," said Professor Oner Arici (ME-EM). "Whatever course he taught, he knew really well. And he'd do whatever we asked him to do; he would do his job the best way he knew how.
"I would walk by his house on the way to work, and he'd say hi and start running," Arici remembers. "By the time I got here, he was already having his coffee ... And he was extremely generous and helpful, a good friend, a nice person, and a good colleague. I will miss him."
Professor Narasipur Suryanarayana (ME-EM), who came to MTU thirty years ago, remembers Frea's decades at Michigan Tech. "He was a very good researcher, with an incisive knowledge of the thermal sciences, and he was a good experimentalist," he said. "And he had a good understanding of students' aspirations and capabilities, of what they wanted and what they could do. He had a very strong commitment to a good curriculum."
Suryanarayana saw Frea's perspective change over the years. "In the beginning, he was into snowmobiling, but then he became committed to the environment," he said. "So he turned away from consumerism. He would keep a car for a long period of time, and he enjoyed his ability to repair things and find solutions, to take a computer and make it work ... He was committed to leaving as small a footprint as possible."
Crittenden tells about Frea's careful frugality. "It gave him a great deal of pleasure not to have to buy a $30,000 SUV by keeping his old, high-mileage Subaru going in winter," he said. "Since he did a lot of his work outside, I mentioned to him that he should have a garage built. He would say, 'Yeah, I probably should. But I have this old hot air popcorn popper that I use to heat things up, and it keeps my hands warm.'"
"He was like that. The more he could do for himself, the better he liked it. And of course, he cared deeply about Michigan Tech and it's direction. He was concerned about students getting a quality learning experience."
"He'd been very active in research, but recently, his attentions focused more on teaching. He was still interested in scholarly work, though, and was just starting a sabbatical to write a book on thermal fluids and heat transfer. He wanted to develop suitable learning materials for students."
"Ward was also a poster child for fitness," Crittenden noted. "When he was in his forties, he ran a marathon in two hours, forty-five minutes. This had to be one of the fastest times in his age class, and was posted in Runners' World." He was also class champion in the Birkebeiner cross-country ski race in Wisconsin, which attracts thousands of top-notch, competitive skiers.
Frea is survived by his two daughters, Melanie of Houghton and Jennifer of Kalamazoo; his son, Robert, of New Lisbon; his sister, Sarah Kelly of Monrovia, California; and Valerie Frea of Houghton. A memorial service was held January 8.
Crittenden invites skiers to participate in Ski for Heart on February 10 at the Swedetown Trails in Calumet as part of Team Ward Frea. And his friends may be able to take some consolation in the fact that Frea died doing what he enjoyed best. "Running is like medicine, but skiing . . . It?s so beautiful and peaceful, with snow hanging on the trees, a little vacation to cleanse the mind," Crittenden said. "Ward loved skiing."