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Owned and Operated by the Owens Family Since 1925

Welcome to the memorial page for

Jerry S. Dobrovolny

November 2, 1922 ~ October 27, 2017 (age 94)

Jerry Dobrovolny passed away the evening of October 27 at his home in Naples, Florida.

His contributions to the University of Illinois, the field of engineering, and the Champaign-Urbana community are immeasurable.

Jerry Dobrovolny was the most influential force behind the building of the General Engineering Department—now the Department of Industrial and Enterprise Systems Engineering (ISE)—in the College of Engineering.

His achievements as an engineer warrant recognition on their own, but his enduring commitment to ISE is remarkable and unprecedented. 

Jerry grew up on the east side of Chicago, the son of Czechoslovakian immigrants Stanley Dobrovolny and Mary (Barone) Dobrovolny. Despite not speaking English when he started elementary school, his inherent understanding of mathematics guided his studies and astounded his teachers. In high school, his ability to work with numbers led to his instructors petitioning his parents to allow Dobrovolny to attend the University of Illinois.

He started his career at Illinois as an undergraduate student in General Engineering Drawing (a discipline which would become General Engineering, and is now known as the major of Systems Engineering and Design in ISE), and he never truly left the University. 

After graduation in 1943, during the height of World War II, he completed the Army Officers Candidate School Program. One week before deployment, he contracted severe rheumatic fever and spent a year recovering in Walter Reed.

Later he would serve his nation as a broadcaster for Radio Free Europe during The Cold War, as he spoke fluent Czech.

After recovering from his illness, Dobrovolny returned to Champaign-Urbana to pursue engineering. There was a strong need for teachers on the home front, and he was invited to teach Engineering in the Army Specialist Training Reserve Program. He was involved with the Department of Civil Engineering on a navy research project involving liberty ships.

He received an MS in Mechanical Engineering in 1948, and secured an academic position in General Engineering Drawing, overseeing its transition to the Department of General Engineering in 1953.

Jerry served as General Engineering department head from 1959 to 1987. 

His achievements as department head are myriad. In 1960, Dobrovolny created a Summer Science Training Program (SSTP) for high school students that had finished their junior year. SSTP was a six-week summer institute at Illinois for 40 outstanding high school students. He launched the ISE Senior Engineering Program in 1961. This program was possibly the first Senior Engineering Program ever implemented, since emulated by engineering schools across the country. In 1969, Dobrovolny started the first Minority Introduction to Engineering (MITE) program, a two-week program aimed at preparing minority high school students for college. MITE served as a model for colleges throughout the United States.  

Dobrovolny chaired a number of Senate committees, including the Military Education Council, for seven years. From 1986 to 1992, he served on the NROTC Association of Schools and Colleges Executive Committee, which advised the admiral overseeing the NROTC program.

Throughout his career, he accumulated over 90 engineering awards. Dobrovolny officially retired in 1987, but he remained passionately engaged with ISE. The Jerry S. Dobrovolny Scholarship Fund was established in his honor for a student in the Department with leadership abilities and academic skill. 

The Jerry S. Dobrovolny Faculty Chair in Systems Engineering and Design was established in 2016 to continue his legacy at ISE. 

His daughter Janet well knows Dobrovolny put his heart into ISE. "He spent his whole adult lifetime creating this department," says Janet. "He wanted it to live on for a very long time."

In addition to his stellar engineering portfolio, Dobrovolny was also very civic-minded, and made many contributions to the Champaign-Urbana community.  His contributions include his instrumental work as chairman of the Mass Transit District Board, where he obtained the funding, developed the building plans, and supervised the construction of the landscape-changing Illinois Terminal in downtown Champaign. His goal was a revenue-neutral operation, and the building to this day continues to meet that goal.

He also served on the President’s Counsel on Vocational Education which was the driving force behind the creation of many junior colleges and vocational schools around the country.  The legislation that created and funded Parkland College was signed into law after Jerry lobbied the senator who oversaw the bill. He was an active member of both the Champaign and Naples Rotary Association, and also active with the veteran’s association Forty and Eight.

As a local businessman, property owner, and landlord, he managed 157 beds in local apartments.

Jerry is survived by his wife Joan, son Jim (Katie), daughter Janet, grandchildren Spencer (Siobhain) and Christopher (Katrina), and great grandchild Collin Dobrovolny. Janet says, “Our family is grateful for everything he gave us, how he has cared for and protected his wife and our mother, and for all the many contributions he made to the community.”

A service will be held Sunday, November 12th at 2 p.m. at the Mount Hope Cemetery, with Reverend Eric Corbin officiating. A reception will follow at 3 p.m. at the Champaign Country Club.

For those who would like to commemorate Jerry, the family suggests donations be given to Professor Dobrovolny’s scholarship fund, to help assist engineering students. All gifts made to the fund will be matched one-to-one by the Grainger Foundation. Checks may be made payable to: “U of I Foundation” in care of The Jerry S. Dobrovolny Scholarship Fund, ISE Department, 104 South Mathews Avenue, Urbana, IL 61801



 Service Information

Funeral Service
November 12, 2017

2:00 PM
Mt. Hope Cemetery Mausoleum
611 East Pennsylvania Avenue
Champaign, IL 61820

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