Memorial honors CSUN engineering professor

Catherine Sheehy

His wife of 64 years, Jo, and more than 100 guests, including friends, family and faculty from CSUN’s College of Engineering and Computer Science, celebrated the life and legacy of former CSUN professor and engineering pioneer John J. Guarrera on Friday at Jacaranda Hall’s Johnson Auditorium.

Guarrera died Dec. 6, 2006 near his home in El Cajon, Calif. He was 84.

A tireless supporter of the College of Engineering and Computer Science, Guarrera is known for saving the college in the early 1970s from being incorporated into the College of Science and Mathematics. When the CSU Chancellor’s Office considered making it a department within Science and Mathematics, Guarrera found himself at the lieutenant governor’s office protesting the proposed takeover, colleague and friend Chuck Osevsky said.

Guarrera’s presence throughout the College of Engineering and Computer Science went beyond the classroom. “Guarrera almost meant to this college a bridge between the world of theory and the world of the practical,” CSUN president Jolene Koester said.

A strong community leader, Guarrera was involved with the Institute of Radio Engineers, which later became the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, where Guarrera served as president. He was also commissioner for the Department of Water and Power. He fought for the engineers’ wages and was involved in many legal battles for fair wages with companies such as the Radio Corporation of America and General Electric.

“Guarrera was great at getting people to do things,” Osevsky said.

Guarrera was born in Rochester, N.Y. on March 4, 1922, the first son of Italian immigrants. In an interview he gave in 1995, he said he started a contracting business at the age of 12, and even converted his uncle’s gas-powered home to electric.

He knew his wife Jo from his childhood, but she would not go out with him until he learned how to dance.

A graduate of the engineering program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Guarrera spent much of his career at RadLab, which investigated the use of microwave electronics.

At CSUN, Guarrera served as director of the Center for Research and Services, which was created in 1976 to strengthen ties with local industry and professional communities. He was dedicated to research, all who spoke of him said, and would do anything for a research proposal to succeed. He remained the director of the center until his retirement in 2004. He continued to consult for the college after his retirement.

He was praised as a warrior by the engineers he represented and believed that good people should be paid accordingly for their hard work.

Tim Fox, professor of mechanical engineering, said that Guarrera thought that government, industry and academics should be intertwined.

Guarrera and his family created a $100,000 scholarship endowment at CSUN for the College of Engineering and Computer Science in 2004.

“John saw society’s needs and he tried to satisfy them. John was a giant and we shall not see another like him, not in this lifetime,” said emeritus professor Rick Ratcliffe.