Harvey Mudd Says Farewell to Howard Critchell

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Howard “Critch” Critchell, longtime friend, supporter and honorary alumnus of Harvey Mudd College, passed away peacefully Jan. 17, 2015. He was 95.

Critch helped create and nurture Harvey Mudd’s aeronautics program, which provided flight instruction to hundreds of students for 28 years. In 1962, Critch and his wife, Iris Cummings Critchell, aeronautics instructor emerita, began directing the Bates Foundation Aeronautics Program, established at Harvey Mudd by pilot and philanthropist Isabel Bates. More than just a tool for enhancing science education, the program taught student pilots responsibility and self-reliance amid the demanding conditions of an airplane cockpit.

Critch retired from the Bates Aeronautics Program in 1979, and Iris continued as instructor until the program’s end in 1990. Graduates of the Bates Program include distinguished NASA scientists, aerospace engineers and two astronauts. Interest in aeronautics continues at the College through the Barnstormers student club and Bates Foundation alumni events. The Aviation Room in Hoch-Shanahan celebrates the Bates Program and its graduates, as does the College’s Aeronautical Library Special Collections, curated by Iris.

HMC Bates Aeronautics 1970s
Howard and Iris Critchell instruct Bates Aeronautics students.

Born on April 1, 1919, in Chicago, Illinois, Critch grew up in New York City. He studied vocal music before enlisting in the Army Air Corps, where he served as a pilot for four years during World War II. Critch met Iris Cummings in 1942 while stationed in Monroe, Louisiana. At the time, Iris was a civilian ferry pilot with the Army Air Corps, ferrying newly built Army planes to United States military bases, including Monroe. The couple wed on New Year’s Eve in 1944 at a Kansas military base, where Critch and his crew were training on B-24s in anticipation of overseas assignment—2014 marked their 70th wedding anniversary. After the war, Critch became a pilot for Western Airlines, a businessman and a flight instructor.

Critch loved to tell stories and had a wry sense of humor. Since the age of 10, he was a ham radio operator, call sign, W6IHP. One of his primary avocations was woodworking, and among his construction projects were a canoe, kayaks and a small sailboat. He loved music too, and over the last 20 years, he not only learned to play the violin, but also became a luthier and rebuilt violins. Always interested in learning something new, even in his last year he was learning to play the ukulele.

A Harvey Mudd College Honorary Alumnus (1990), Critch received the College’s Lifetime Recognition award (along with Iris) in 2007. With Iris, he was a member of the Galileo and Harvey Mudd College Legacy societies. The Iris and Howard Critchell Annual Aeronautical Scholarship was established by devoted alumni. Later, another group of Bates alumni established the Endowed Iris and Howard Critchell Assistant Professorship, which honors a junior professor who has exhibited an unusual talent for mentoring and counseling students in all aspects of their lives. The professorship, currently held by Sharon Gerbode, assistant professor of physics, honors the couple’s long service to the College.

In addition to Iris, Critch is survived by two children, three grandchildren, and seven great grandchildren.

The family requests that any remembrance gifts go to the fund for the curator of the Harvey Mudd Aero Library or to the Iris and Howard Critchell Annual Aeronautical Scholarship. A celebration of Critch’s life is planned for later this year.