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Retired MIT professor and active alumnus John Hrones dies at 87

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- John A. Hrones of Sarasota, FL, and Jaffrey, NH, a former professor and proud alumnus of MIT, died Wednesday of brain cancer at the Briarwood Health Center in Needham. He was 87 years old.

When he entered MIT as a freshman, he was told: "MIT is a place for men to work and not for boys to play." That no-nonsense introduction blossomed into a lifelong love affair between the man and his alma mater.

Professor Hrones, whose parents were Czech immigrants, graduated from MIT in 1934 and taught in the Department of Mechanical Engineering for 19 years. His ties to MIT remained strong even after he left his alma mater in 1957 to become vice president of academic affairs at Case Institute of Technology in Cleveland, now Case Western Reserve University.

A longtime resident of Wellesley, MA, he was awarded the Bronze Beaver award in 1992 "in grateful recognition of distinguished service to the MIT Association of Alumni and Alumnae." It is the highest honor the Association can bestow upon a member.

Professor Hrones was a member of the MIT Alumni Club of Southwest Florida for more than 20 years and served as its president from 1985-91 and 1993-99. He also was President of the Class of 1934 from 1989-99 and a member of the Alumni Association Board of Directors from 1993-95.

Born on Sept. 28, 1912 and brought up in Boston, Professor Hrones attended Mechanic Arts High School, later known as Boston Tech, before he matriculated at MIT in 1930, the same year Karl Taylor Compton became the Institute's ninth president. He occasionally quipped that they were "freshmen at the same time." An avid skater, Professor Hrones played three years of varsity hockey, serving as the team's captain as a junior. He was also a member of the Engineering Society and ROTC.

Upon graduation, Professor Hrones served as an instructor in mechanical engineering for two years while he worked toward his master's degree. He was assistant manager of a lawnmower factory from 1937-39 before returning to MIT to pursue a doctorate. He was appointed assistant professor in 1941 and received the PhD the following year.

During World War II, Dr. Hrones worked on the automatic positioning of gun mounts at the MIT Servomechanisms Laboratory. In 1944, he joined the Draper Instrumentation Laboratory to work on the A-1 bombsight for the Army Air Corps. He helped create the DEW line to detect enemy planes flying toward the US over Canada and played a role in designing an automatic control device for a new aircraft engine for Chrysler Corp. He also taught Dynamics to the Navy V-12 Group.

After the war, he helped develop the first power brakes for Chrysler in the 1950s.

Dr. Hrones was appointed an associate professor in 1945 and full professor in 1948. He also headed the Machine Design Division and was director of the Dynamic Analysis and Control Laboratory.

He became provost at Case Institute in 1964 and continued to serve in that capacity at Case-Western Reserve University from 1967-76. He was a trustee of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History and the Cleveland Skating Club. He also was a founder and life trustee of the Asian Institute of Technology in Bangkok.

Professor Hrones was a member of the American Society for Engineering Education, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Academy of Engineers, the Academy of Arts and Science, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Xi and Pi Tau Sigma. He wrote numerous articles and technical papers for scientific journals.

Upon retirement, Professor Hrones divided his time between New Hampshire and Florida.

Professor Hrones is survived by two daughters, Janet Roach of Waldron Island, WA, and Mary Parsons of Ann Arbor, MI; two sons, Stephen of Concord and John Anthony Jr. of Needham; seven grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. His wife of 53 years, the former Margaret Baylis, died in 1991.

A memorial service will be held on Aug. 12 at 2pm at the First Church in Jaffrey Center, NH. Contributions in his memory may be made to the John Hrones Scholarship Fund, MIT Alumni Association, 77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139. The fund will support scholarships for needy students from the city of Boston.

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