John Mungenast — steamboat mechanic, missile technician, power electronics pioneer/engineer/marketer, manufacturing plant manager, magazine creator/publisher, tradeshow organizer, tennis player, and raconteur extraordinaire — died peacefully in his sleep on May 3 in Oxnard, Calif., after a decade-long battle with cancer.
John, an active leader and passionate advocate of the power engineering industry for the last 52 years, was a senior life member of IEEE. His patent awards include motor-drive protection and the light-activated silicon-controlled rectifier (SCR). In 1970, he was one of the early recipients of the President's “E for Export” award.
John was a generalist who thought in terms of systems. His love for hands-on problem solving started not with electricity, but with steam. His early years were spent working on the Mississippi River in his father's steamboat. He would tend the steam engine for the privilege of running the ice cream counter, where he would — as he laughingly put it — “eat the profits.”
John's passion for steam engines eventually led to an interest in gas turbines, generators, and high-power SCRs. But steam engines remained John's avocation throughout his life. He was a member of the Historical Train Society and, in recent years, he worked with his friends on the short-line track in Fillmore, Calif. For years he compiled an extensive and unique library on historical trains.
John graduated from St. Louis U. High and Washington University and then served in the U.S. Army where he worked on guided missiles at White Sands, N.M. John's father cofounded the Junior Chamber of Commerce (Jaycees) in 1915 to promote leadership and community service among young men and women. John followed his father's legacy by becoming president of the Lynchburg, Va., chapter. He remained active over the years as a senator and charter member. In the spirit of the foundation, John and his wife Alice (see photo) “adopted” Hideo Shikata of Kyoto, Japan, and formed personal ties with the entire Shikata family, prominent industrialists in the power electronics industry.
John's semiconductor career began with General Electric (GE), where he employed the novelty of solid-state power conversion to motivate a generation of practical visionaries. In 1967, in collaboration with three GE colleagues, John helped create Power Semiconductors Inc. (PSI), which quickly became the principle worldwide supplier of large thyristors and diodes. John also developed the first solid-state motor starter and GE, his former employer, became PSI's largest customer.
John joined Intertec International as marketing director in 1989, where he and Myron Miller founded the Power Quality magazine and conference. In 1994, UtiliCorp United established the John Mungenast Power Quality Award to raise awareness of power quality as an important engineering discipline. The annual award was named for John in honor of his pioneering efforts in the industry and for making Power Quality magazine the leading voice of the industry.
After retiring from the magazine in 1999, John joined Myron Miller to help found the Gold Coast Innovation Center (GCIC), a nonprofit organization devoted to planning, evaluating, and testing new systems and strategies for tomorrow's electrical energy. At GCIC, John was participating in formalizing the “Silicon Seniors” global database, a group of retired senior engineers ready to assist in future GCIC collaboration projects.
John was a person who enjoyed conversation on any subject, at any level, with anyone from CEOs to busboys. The anecdotes and jokes he pulled from a bottomless reservoir of experience were interesting and funny, even when heard more than once (some a lot more than once). Throughout his life, John encouraged retirees to remain active in inventing, completing, and critiquing designs while also recruiting and mentoring young engineers. His infectious enthusiasm and encouragement to everyone in the industry will be greatly missed.