Donald Ernest Niles


Nov. 3, 1922 - Jan. 25, 2010



Donald Ernest Niles of Oconomowoc died at his home Monday, Jan. 25, 2010, after a brief illness. He was surrounded by his family, with his four children arriving in time to make final farewells.


He was born in Oconomowoc on Nov. 3, 1922, in a house that occupied the site where the Oconomowoc Middle School currently stands (The house is still standing, too, but has been moved to the other side of Summit Avenue). He was the third child of Ernest and Lizzie Niles. The family moved to Hartland when Don was 3 years old, when his father became the owner and manager of the White Elm Nursery, Hartland, the main building of which still stands on West Capitol Drive.


Don attended Hartland Public Schools, where as a high school junior he met Loella Frederick, who recently moved to Hartland from West Allis. The two began dating in 1938, and would remain together for the next 72 years.


After graduating from Hartland High School in 1940, Don attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where he aspired to be a mechanical engineer. He and Loella accelerated their plans to marry as the United States entered World War II; they wed at the First Congregational Church of Hartland on Dec. 26, 1942 (the only Saturday during the universityís Christmas holiday)Expecting to live on Donís salary as a teaching assistant, they returned to school in winter of 1943 to learn that he had no job, as nearly all of the freshmen students had been drafted. Loella left college to support the couple while Don completed his biomedical engineering degree, graduating in summer of 1944.


They moved to Hampton, Va., immediately following college, where Donald worked as an engineer for the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics, or NACA - Americaís top aircraft research organization, and the precursor to NASA. After the war, they returned to Wisconsin, where Don and Lou lived in West Allis, Brookfield, Nashotah and finally Oconomowoc. Along the way, he worked as a research engineer for Oil Gear, Caterpillar and finally Outboard Marine Corp., from which he retired as senior research engineer in 1988. During the 1950s, Don was instrumental in bringing the first computer to Milwaukee, persuading his employers at Oil Gear that the new-fangled machine would be a useful asset in stress analysis.


The study of metal fatigue became Donís specialty, and he was one of the countryís premier experts in that field. He earned a masterís degree in engineering from UWM in the early 1970s. He served as president of the Society for Experimental Stress Analysis (SESA) for many years and was also a longtime member of the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE). During his career, he taught evening classes in engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee for more than 30 years and was a charter member of the Wisconsin Society of Professional Engineers.


Don was a devoted citizen and public servant, and served as the president of the Nashotah School Board while that small village was still an independent district. When it merged with other districts to become the Arrowhead School District, he served as school board treasurer, and later as president of that board.


Don and Lou were charter members of the Brookfield Congregational Church, joining with several other couples to found that church in 1956. He served as a Sunday school teacher for many years. The family moved to Nashotah in 1967 and soon joined the First Congregational Church of Oconomowoc. There he became the church historian, a position he held until very recently.


Don was a meticulous craftsman in his many hobbies, which included photography, airplane modeling and woodworking. He used his engineering skills to draft plans for three houses: his family homes in Brookfield and Nashotah, as well as one in Delavan, where his son and daughter-in-law still live. He was an enthusiastic aviation buff and a longtime member of the Experimental Aircraft Association (EAA). Following retirement, he took up genealogy, and over the course of 10 years, compiled an extensive family history that traces the Niles clan in American back through nine generations, to 1634. During the project, Don became adept at the use of the personal computer and the Internet, establishing contact with other Niles family members all around the United States.


He was preceded in death by his parents; his brother, Allen; and sister, Virginia.


He is survived by his sons, Douglas (Chris) of Delavan, Donald Jr. (Ann) of Casco and Dirk (Anne) of Zumbrota, Minn.; his daughter, Allison (Doug) Weber of Lancaster, Pa.; as well as nine grandchildren.


Visitation will be held from 10 a.m. until the noon memorial service Friday,  Jan. 29, at the First Congregational Church, 815 S. Concord Road, Oconomowoc. A luncheon will follow in the churchís fellowship hall.


In lieu of flowers, friends are asked to please consider a donation to the First Congregational Church of Oconomowoc, AngelsGrace Hospice in Oconomowoc or the University of Wisconsin School of Engineering Scholarship Fund www.engr.wisc.edu/ep/giving.


Evert-Luko Funeral Home is serving the family. For more information, call 367-2156 or visit online at www.evertlukofuneralhome.com.