Col. Ronald Philipp '54 Distinguished military career and love for learning
Caption: Ron Philipp's 1954 Lafayette yearbook photo
When Phillipsburg, N.J., native Ronald Philipp '54 was ready to attend college, he originally thought he wouldn't follow in his father's engineering footsteps. Philipp's father had been a self-made engineer and was managing a steel fabricating plant, Tippett and Wood, in Phillipsburg at the time. "My father wanted to attend college so badly, but it was during World War I, and his brother was in the Army, making him the sole provider for his mother," explains Philipp. "He was admitted to a Lutheran college in Iowa, and when it came time to go his mother said, 'If you walk out that door you will not be allowed back.' As a dutiful son, he walked right back up the stairs and never attended."
Philipp believes this moment had a profound effect on his father, so when it came to Philipp's education, his father made it a priority. "When I was ready to attend high school, my father did not like Phillipsburg High School so he sent me to Blair Academy," says Philipp. "During my senior year, I thought, 'My dad doesn't want me to be an engineer, so by God I'm going to be one!' He was a master of psychology."
Philipp's father knew the chair of the mechanical engineering department at Lafayette College, Professor Paul B. Eaton. Through this association, he believed that Lafayette would be the best college for his son to earn an engineering degree. Philipp ultimately graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering in 1954 and has fond memories of Professor Eaton.
As a member of the ROTC, Philipp graduated from Lafayette with a distinguished military honor and was offered the opportunity to join the Army as a commissioned officer. However, he turned down this opportunity to pursue a master's degree in mechanical engineering from Lehigh University and subsequently married his wife, Barbara. In 1956, Philipp went on active duty in the Army as a reserve officer for two years. While serving, he knew that he wanted to become a full-time professor and began to think about how he could earn a Ph.D. as a first lieutenant. "There was no way that I wanted to return as a graduate assistant," explains Philipp. "I started knocking on people's doors and finally went to the chief of ordinance, who was a high- ranking civilian, and he said, 'Lieutenant, if the Army would have wanted you to earn a Ph.D., they would have sent you already. But, since you already have your master's degree, we have been sending someone to Purdue to become an instructor at West Point, and he no longer wants to go. Would you be interested?'"
Philipp taught at West Point for four and a half years while earning his Ph.D. at nearby Columbia University under one condition set forth by the Army: He had to integrate into the regular Army, and could no longer serve as a reserve officer. "I never wanted to make the Army a career, but the option was a no-brainer for me as I wanted to earn my degree," says Philipp. "After earning my Ph.D., I ended up serving in Korea and subsequently spent 28 years on active duty. For someone who said they weren't going to make the Army a career, I really came through."
Philipp retired as a colonel, and upon retirement, his engineering degrees came through in helping him take a position with the U.S. Golf Association in its research and development department testing golf equipment. Philipp officially retired in 1995.
When it came time to think about giving back to Lafayette, Philipp fondly thought of his father and his drive to ensure his son had the educational opportunities that he could not achieve. In 1999, Ron and his wife, Barbara, established the Philipp Engineering Fund in memory of his father, Karl H. Philipp. The Philipp Engineering Fund supports scholarships for mechanical engineering students, faculty salaries, and equipment. Since 1999, Ron and Barbara, who passed away two years ago, also created several charitable gift annuities, which will ultimately support the existing fund. "We were fortunate to receive additional income over the years as a result of the CGAs that we created," explains Philipp. "When you decide to give back, it's important to determine if you want a return on your investment."
Philipp has fond memories of Lafayette. He remained connected to the College and also volunteered his time as a member of the executive committee of the Alumni Association for several years. "Lafayette means a lot to me. It is important to give back."