John J. McKetta, Jr

  • Born: October 17, 1915
  • Died: January 15, 2019
  • Location: Austin, Texas

Weed-Corley-Fish Funeral Home North

3125 N Lamar Blvd.
Austin, TX 78705

info@wcfish.com
Tel. (512) 452-8811

Tribute & Message From The Family


John J. McKetta Jr., known by friends as "Johnny" and by family as "Djiedo," left his loving family on January 15, 2019. He was 103. Johnny was born to John and Mary Gelet McKetta on October 17, 1915, in the coal mining hamlet of Wyano, Pennsylvania. He grew up in a series of Western Pennsylvania coal towns, speaking only Ukrainian until he attended first grade. After graduating from high school, he mined coal for two years and also became a regional Golden Gloves welterweight champion. His coal mining career ended at age 20, when he applied to 55 colleges that taught chemical engineering. He attended Tri-State College (now Trine University) in Angola, Indiana – the only college which both admitted him and offered him a job to pay his tuition.

For 67 years, Johnny was married to and very much in love with Helen Elisabeth Smith McKetta, nicknamed "Pinky," whom he met in graduate school at the University of Michigan and married on his birthday in 1943. Austin became their home when Johnny came to teach at The University of Texas as a young Chemical Engineering professor in 1946. Johnny and Pinky are remembered as a deeply generous couple who opened their Austin lakeside home to students and who welcomed everyone they met into their family. At UT, Johnny was known for practical jokes, throwing chalk at sleeping students, writing his weight on the chalkboard when he was trying to go on a diet, flashing peeks of his burnt orange underpants (the official school color), and inspiring his students to become the best people and engineers possible. His goofy sense of humor, open ways of expressing affection (his alma mater calls him "The Hugster"), and work ethic have touched and inspired thousands of students and colleagues. In his long career he had many roles: he was one of the world's foremost energy experts, Dean of UT's College of Engineering, UT's Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs, an energy advisor to five U.S. presidents, Chair of the National Energy Policy Committee, Chair of the Southern Interstate Nuclear Board, Chair of the Texas Atomic Energy Advisory Committee, editor of a 68-volume encyclopedia, author or editor of 20 other books, and author of 400 technical papers. Johnny was one of the most widely known and respected professors in his field. His peers elected him president of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers in 1962. In 1989, Johnny was awarded the Hoover Medal, which recognizes "great, unselfish, non-technical services by engineers to humanity." Above all, he dedicated his life to his students, whom he phoned each year on their birthdays. Thousands of his former students raised more than $28 million to celebrate his contributions to their lives and to chemical engineering; and in 2012, The University of Texas at Austin rechristened his home department the John J. McKetta Jr. Department of Chemical Engineering. UT's Texas Exes named Johnny first on its 2013 list of the Top 10 Best and Most Inspiring Professors. Trine University, where Johnny served as trustee for 50 years, named its Chemical Engineering department after him in 1997 and also named Johnny "Patronus Sanctus Facultatis" – Patron Saint of the Faculty. Johnny's journey from coal miner to noted leader in chemical engineering has been the subject of hundreds of articles and interviews, a biography, and a documentary film.

Johnny is preceded in death by his beloved Pinky and their daughter Mary Anne. He is survived by his children Charles William "Charley" McKetta and Kreta Johnson of Moscow, Idaho; John J. "Mike" McKetta III and Sallie Martin Sharp of Austin; and R. A. "Randy" and Terry Monroe McKetta of Lakeway, Texas; grandchildren Isla McKetta and Clayton Cusak of Seattle; Elisabeth Sharp McKetta and James Stead of Boise, Idaho; Tosh McKetta and Suzanne Brant McKetta of Montrose, Colorado; Mary Elliott McKetta and Manning Kalish of Washington D.C.; John Robert "Robby" McKetta and Lauren Kaplan McKetta of Richmond, Virginia; Jeannie McKetta of Austin; Sarah McKetta of New York City; John J. McKetta IV and Michele Brito of Los Angeles; and Matt McKetta of Moscow, Idaho; and great grandchildren Remy Lucas Cusak McKetta of Seattle; Snowden McKetta Stead and Olson McKetta Stead of Boise, Idaho; Ralph Sharp Kalish, John Lyons Kalish, and Helen Schield Kalish of Washington D.C.; Robert Emmett McKetta, Andrew Joseph McKetta, and Mack Kaplan McKetta of Richmond, Virginia. Johnny is also survived by his nieces Susan Smith Olson and Nina Thomas Taylor and his nephews Sky Weatherly, Merle Thomas and Charles Thomas.

A memorial service will be held at The University of Texas at Austin at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, February 9, 2019, in the Zlotnik Ballroom on Level M1 of the AT&T Conference Center, 1900 University Avenue, Austin, with a reception following from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.

Kindly note your attendance to the service either online here, http://bitly.com/McKettaService or by calling 512-471-3263 so that all guests can be accommodated.

Memorial gifts may be directed to a charity of one's choice or to Johnny's favorite universities: The University of Texas at Austin [online at https://giving.utexas.edu/McKettaMemorial; by mail to McKetta Memorial, 200 E. Dean Keeton St., Stop C0400 Austin, TX 78712; or by phone 512-471-3263] and Trine University [online at https://www.alumni.trine.edu/s/1842/interior.aspx?sid=1842&gid=2&pgid=399; or by mail to One University Avenue, Angola, IN 46703]. Obituary and memorial guestbook are available online at https://www.wcfish.com.


Services


Condolence & Memory Journal

The obituary of Dr. McKetta's passing in Friday's Statesman brought back memories and thankfulness about how good a man he was. In the late 1950's I was in my Junior year and I was not doing very well in Aerospace Engineering.

In the summer of 1960 I was drafted into the US Army. Two years in the Army did wonders for my attitude about finishing my BS in engineering.

I got out of the Army in late May of 1963 and enrolled for the UT summer session with the goal of graduating in May of 1964. In early July, I got a card from the dean's office to come see Dean McKetta. Dean McKetta's first question was "why are you here since you can't graduate with your grades?"

After asking me what I'd been doing the last two years and how my grades were for the summer, I told him I had been in the Army and I thought I'd make two B's and an A for the summer session. He then said I'll make you a deal. "If you make a B average for the last year of your courses, I'll let you graduate."
In May of 1964 as I walked across the stage he handed me my degree and said "Congratulation, I'm glad you made it. Dean McKetta's faith in me resulted in my doing well in an engineering career and eventually becoming President of an engineering company.

Thank you Dean McKetta for your faith in me.
Bob Waldrop
BSASE 1964

Posted by Bob Waldrop - New Braunfels, TX - Student   February 09, 2019

One of the kindest men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Dr. McKetta was not only a great engineer and professor but had an aura about him that instantly lit up the room. Although we only became acquainted over a short luncheon at UT, I could instantly tell from our conversation that Dr. McKetta cared deeply about his students and genuinely wanted each and every one of them to succeed. I'm very thankful I was able to meet Dr. McKetta; it really is amazing how profound of an impact he had on the lives of so many. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McKetta family.

Posted by Jeremy Binagia, BS '16 - Menlo Park, CA, CA - Student   February 02, 2019

Dr. McKetta made and maintained a very positive and indelible impression on me as one of his students and as a true and enduring friend. It became obvious to me that the challenges he provided me were not just to provide a quality education in chemical engineering, but to teach me how to be an engineer. One of his unique attributes was his love for his students and for the University, both of which he served with true devotion. I shall always be thankful for the relationship he provided.
L.C. Courtney, B S,Che. 1958

Posted by L.C, Courtney - Trinity, TX - Student   February 02, 2019

The attached photo is my last meeting (Sept 2018) with Dr McKetta, my Hero. I was fortunate to be one of his TA in the 80's. I learned about quintessential Leadership from Dr McKetta. He called every birthday and knew and met all four (4) of my children. He was one of the biggest influences in my life, my mentor, and will always have a special place in my heart.

Posted by Willy Pardinas - Dallas, TX   February 01, 2019

One of the best. Never a dull conversation and always open for one. Thank you, Dr. McKetta.

Posted by David Garza - BS'90 - Houston, TX   February 01, 2019

Tricia and I send our condolences to the McKetta family. I had the honor of being one of Dr. McKetta's yard boys. He and Pinky treated me as a son and we remained life long friends.

Posted by Bernie Fritz BSChE - 1973 - Kerrville, TX - Family Friend   January 28, 2019

I consider myself blessed to have known John. I did not get my ChE degrees from UT but met John as a PhD recruiter for Shell in 1974. Latter I served on the UT ChE advisory board and came to know him and his impact even better. In fact well enough to get an annual shipment of pecans from Johnny and Pinky. He will be missed but left behind a magnificent legacy!!

Posted by Roger Rolke - Houston, TX   January 23, 2019

My deepest sympathies and condolences to the McKetta family for the loss of Dr. John J. Mcketta. His life was an embodiment of our American dream, and he expected and encouraged us to realize our God given potential to make this a better world. Thank you for an exemplary life well lived. Godspeed.

Posted by John Tiffany BS '76, MS '78 - Cincinnati, OH - Student   January 22, 2019

I was employed by the department while an undergrad. One summer I covered for Dr. McKetta's secretary during her vacation. He and Dr. Robert Schecter enjoyed exchanging practical jokes. One day at lunch Dr. McKetta thought he heard Bob approaching his office. John dived into the chair well under his desk in anticipation of startling Bob. Instead what he heard were 2 senior executives from Exxon who were calling. I ushered them into his office not knowing John was hiding under the desk. It was a huge surprise. Typical McKetta humor.

I carry fond memories of him as a fine professor (ChE 663 A and B) and as a mentor. Our paths would cross again later in my career, but that's another story.

Posted by Joseph Zeigler BS ChE 1961 - Clearwater, FL - Student   January 21, 2019

Family and friends of Dr. John J. McKetta,
Please accept my condolences on the loss of this remarkable man. Johnny was an exceptional role model and mentor to me, and I was saddened to learn of his passing. I will miss the birthday greeting from him each year. May his legacy ripple, so as to inspire learners for generations to come. Tri-State College, now Trine University, was fortunate to have him first as a student and later as a trustee for over 50 years.

Posted by David Finley - Petoskey, MI - Friend   January 19, 2019

Dr. JJ McKetta was probably the most influential person in my life, so far. In two Unit Ops classes with him, I learned discipline, respect, and most of all "how to solve complex problems" using the General Engineering Equation that can be used to solve any engineering problem in the world. But Dr. McKetta and I also gelled on the issues of Energy Politics as he helped me to create a weekly advertisement in the Daily Texan known as "Nuclear Facts". I think he got the biggest kick out of our "Yes Nukes" bumper stickers, one of which he placed on his orange Mercedes. We will miss you Dr. McKetta, but you live on in all of those that you touched. Thank you. Rick Perkins ChE Class of '83.

Posted by Rick Perkins - Austin, TX - Student   January 19, 2019

I was saddened to learn of Dr. McKetta's passing. He was a great teacher and most influential for me from my time at UT. He had an amazing way of connecting with students, faculty, the university and industry. He made engineering and learning fun. He was more engaged with his students than any other professor in my time at UT. He loved his students and they loved him. I know he's wearing orange and with Pinky in heaven as we speak. More than anything he was a great man. Bob Brandt, BSChe85

Posted by Robert Brandt - San Antonio, TX - Student   January 18, 2019

I believe it was Fall 1976. I had Dr. McKetta for ChE-454 Unit Ops. Dr. McKetta was being floated as a member of the Federal Executive Branch. He declined, saying something to the effect of, "I'd miss my boys too much."
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The Daily Texan feedback was in outrage. There were women in his classes as well!
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Dr. McKetta was heartbroken. He spent 20 minutes of the next class apologizing, and trying to explain his unintentional faux pas.
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The next time our class met, every woman in the class sported a burnt orange tee-shirt upon which was emblazoned, "One of McKetta's Boys." He teared up. He stopped class and we all went from Taylor to E.P. Schoch so that he could get a picture with them. That was the love and respect that he expressed to us, and that was the love and respect that he engendered in us.

Posted by Steve Cutchen, BS '78 - Houston, TX - Student   January 18, 2019

Dear McKetta Family,

As holder of the John J. McKetta Centennial Energy Chair in Engineering at UT Austin, it is with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Dr. McKetta. Although I never had the pleasure to meet him, I and many others have benefited from his legacy and wonderful generosity. People like him are sorely missed. God bless all of you.

Posted by Clint Dawson - Austin, TX - Coworker   January 18, 2019

My father, Jerry Wrobleski, and Dr. McKetta were great friends in the chemical engineering world. When I attended UT and went to his class I earned great respect for Dr. McKetta and found out how much he loved the program and UT. I will miss him tremendously and wish his family God's peace!

Posted by Jay Wrobleski - Houston, TX - Friend   January 18, 2019

Alden and Barbara Smith shall always remember Dr. McKetta as an insightful, business savvy and kind man. We were lucky to be partners in business for many, many years. A true loss to our community.

Posted by Alden & Barbara Smith - Austin, TX - Friend   January 18, 2019

I was sorry to hear of the passing of Dr McKetta. Like all UT ChE students in the 1960's, I considered him a strong positive influence, even a friend. Later, he showed me how much of a friend he really was. Once, at a Dow Chem meeting in which he was making a talk to about 200 important people, he stopped in the middle and greeted me personally. Also, the way he conducted himself around the students taught me , more than any other UT professor, how an engineer conducted himself. He was a great man and friend. I shall never forget him.

Posted by Clif DUSEK - LAKE JACKSON, TX - Student   January 18, 2019

To the McKetta Family, I am so blessed that my Grandfather & Dad (both chemical engineers) introduced me to Dr. McKetta when I was young & so grateful that Dr. McKetta and I kept in touch through the years. Imagine my extreme joy when my daughter was admitted to the University of Texas McKetta Department of Chemical Engineering. She is currently a senior in the undergraduate program. Our family enjoyed Elisabeth Sharp McKetta's book "Energy: The Life of John J. McKetta Jr." about her Grandfather, and were honored to meet her at a book signing. What a labor of love that she could present the finished copy to her Grandfather and that he could enjoy reading it! Dr. McKetta's legacy will live on through all he has accomplished & he has truly changed the world. While changing the world, he always stayed humble and was just a fabulous and fun person.

Posted by Cathy O'Brien - Arlington, TX - Friend   January 18, 2019

Dear McKetta family,

I send my condolences on the passing Johnny. He hired me in 1968, and was my mentor and friend. He was a force at UT and in the RFSA, and we shall miss him greatly. You are in my thoughts and prayers.

Jim Stice

Posted by James Stice - Austin, TX - Coworker   January 17, 2019

My deepest sympathy to the family of Dr. McKetta. It is an honor and a privilege to have known him and to be one of his students at The University of Texas. I will remember him as my favorite professor.

Posted by Jenny Seagraves - Spring, TX - Student   January 17, 2019

The families of the Austin State Supported Living Center Family/Guardian Association wish to express our deepest sympathies to the family of Dr. McKetta. Dr. McKetta and his family have been wonderful supporters of the residents who live at Austin State Supported Living Center in Austin, Texas, and our members will keep the family in our thoughts. What a wonderful privilege and blessing for all of us to have known Dr. McKetta and his family.
Sincerely,
Nona Rogers (President, Austin State Supported Living Center Family/ Guardian Association)

Posted by Nona Rogers    January 16, 2019

Love and prayers to the family of Dr. McKetta in his passing. Melanie Markow Wilkes BS ChE UT 1984

Posted by Melanie Markow Wilkes - Austin, TX - Student   January 16, 2019

I am not an engineer by education, but worked at the UT College of Engineering for 15 years. Since I was in donor and alumni relations, Johnny McKetta was a living Rolodex of people. If I had a question, I could always go to him. One of the highlights of my career was working on The McKetta Challenge, an ambitious $1,000,000 effort to match Dr. McKetta giving back his salary to UT. His active involvement made that effort a success. While I never studied Chemical Engineering under his instruction, I learned people skills watching him interact with everyone. I am thankful to have known John McKetta and an honor to be called one of my boys. I will always cherish this tie. Blessings to the family as you grieve, but rejoice in man who was important to so many people.

Posted by Jeffery McLain - Houston, TX   January 16, 2019

It is one of the greatest treasures of my life to have known Dr. McKetta. I was a 1964 BSChE graduate of the University of Texas, and have had wonderful memories of him ever since. I was fortunate enough to have visited him in his last years both on campus, and at his home in Austin. My wife and I called him every year, since his 100st birthday, through his 103rd birthday, and it was always so good to talk with him and to enjoy his great humor. The world is truly different today. May Almighty God Bless and Keep John J. McKetta. My family and I will remember him all the days of our lives.

Posted by Dennis Giuffre - Houston, TX - Student   January 16, 2019

January 16, 2019

I only had the pleasure of meeting Dean McKetta on one occasion, when he took me to lunch following my visit to UT Austin. We had a great conversation and I still remember him taking out a leather (made from whale-skin from a body part I shall not mention here) coin purse which his Texas A&M colleagues had given him as a memento before he left for UT Austin The inscription on the coin purse was choice, and (again) I shall not repeat it here. I immediately thought, "This is my kind of guy". I feel a great loss with his passing, as does, in my opinion, the entire US engineering community.

David M. Barnett
Professor Emeritus
Stanford University
Depts. of Materials Science & (jointly) of Mechanical Engineering

Posted by A friend   January 16, 2019

Mike and family, I was so sad to hear about your dad but what a life he lived. Mike, you were always a special friend to me at McCallum, UT, and afterwards at reunions. I know your dad was proud of you. You and your family will be in my prayers. Love, Judy Britt Goerner

Posted by Judy Goerner - Baytown, TX   January 16, 2019


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Dr. JJ McKetta was probably the most influential person in my life, so far. In two Unit Ops classes with him, I learned discipline, respect, and most of all "how to solve complex problems" using the General Engineering Equation that can be used to solve any engineering problem in the world. But Dr. McKetta and I also gelled on the issues of Energy Politics as he helped me to create a weekly advertisement in the Daily Texan known as "Nuclear Facts". I think he got the biggest kick out of our "Yes Nukes" bumper stickers, one of which he placed on his orange Mercedes. We will miss you Dr. McKetta, but you live on in all of those that you touched. Thank you. Rick Perkins ChE Class of '83.
Brian K Wilson UTChEng'13 graduation Party
One of the kindest men I've ever had the pleasure of meeting. Dr. McKetta was not only a great engineer and professor but had an aura about him that instantly lit up the room. Although we only became acquainted over a short luncheon at UT, I could instantly tell from our conversation that Dr. McKetta cared deeply about his students and genuinely wanted each and every one of them to succeed. I'm very thankful I was able to meet Dr. McKetta; it really is amazing how profound of an impact he had on the lives of so many. My thoughts and prayers go out to the McKetta family.