CEDAR FALLS — Harlan Welbert Van Gerpen, 88, of Cedar Falls, passed away Sunday, Oct. 21, 2012, at the Western Home Communities, Cedar Falls. He was born June 18, 1924, in Avon, S.D., the son of William R. and Johanna (DeRoos) Van Gerpen. On Aug. 20, 1950, he married Betty Jean Reynolds in Carrollton, Ill. She died Oct. 9, 2012.
Harlan served three years in World War II as a meteorologist in Europe and 16 months in the Korean conflict as an Aircraft Maintenance Officer. He earned a B.S. degree in 1949 from South Dakota School of Mines and received a M.S. degree in electrical engineering from the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana in 1950. He joined the John Deere Product Engineering Center in 1953, where he worked for 28 years, retiring as Manager of Technical Services in 1982. At Deere, he pioneered the first-known use of computers to design gears — reducing a labor-intensive process requiring a week of manual calculations to 15 minutes.
In 1966 he was elected to the first Board of Directors for Hawkeye Community College, where he served for 16 years, including two years as chairman of the board. He also represented Deere for seven years on the Cedar Falls Chamber of Commerce, and he co-chaired the first Cedar Valley Economic Development Committee. He played a leadership role in the founding of Valley View Baptist Church and held virtually every office over the 50-year life of the church.
Following retirement, he was elected to the Iowa State Legislature for two years and was a partner in Van Gerpen-Reece Engineering for 23 years. He served on the Iowa State Board of Education for three years and was a volunteer executive for the International Executive Service Corps in Albania and India. He and his wife enjoyed travelling to many countries around the world in their retirement years. Until his death, he remained actively involved with Hawkeye Community College, serving as a lifetime member of the HCC Foundation Board. He was a member of Waterloo First Baptist Church.
He is survived by his three daughters, JoAnna Van Gerpen of Cedar Falls, Sara (Dave) Bolender of Chewelah, Wash., and Mary (John) Smith of Wilmette, Ill.; two sons, Tom (Connie) of Davenport and Jon (Mary Jo) of Moscow, Idaho; 12 grandchildren, Megan, Kathleen, Grace, Mary Faith and Elizabeth Smith, Katy (Eli) Bolender Gurash, Kristen (John) Bolender Robbins, Kelsy Bolender, Stephen and Jay Van Gerpen, Jamie (Jason) Herring and Abby Van Gerpen; three great-grandchildren, Xander and Oliver Gurash and Sydney Robbins; a sister, Lucille (Jule) Waterman of Corsicana, Texas, a brother, Edward (Sharon) Van Gerpen of Avon, S.D.; a sister-in-law, Louise Van Gerpen of Tyndall, S.D.; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death by a brother, Roland Van Gerpen.
Services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 25, at First Baptist Church, Waterloo, with burial in Fairview Cemetery, Cedar Falls, at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Military honors by Cedar Falls AMVETS Post 49. Visitation will be from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Richardson Funeral Service. Memorials may be directed to the First Baptist Church in Waterloo or the Hawkeye Community College Van Gerpen Endowment for Gerontology. Condolences may be left at www.richardsonfuneralservice.com.