Herman Ralph Gelbach

Nov 12, 1926 – Mar 13, 2018

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November 12, 1926 - March 13, 2018

The world lost two brilliant men this week; Theoretical Physicist Stephen Hawking and Herman Gelbach of Normandy Park, Washington who passed away peacefully on March 13, just 5 years and one day after his late wife - Vera.

Herman grew up in Pullman Washington and graduated from Washington State University with an Electrical Engineering degree.  After a short stint with KIRO radio, he began his 40 year career as an instrumentation engineer in the Boeing wind tunnel.   He was a registered Professional Engineer, always curious on how things worked and could be improved. 

Throughout his life he was recognized and honored for his numerous contributions to Boeing, the aerospace industry, the medical industry, radio wave and instrumentation technology.   He held numerous patents, had several published papers and was recognized for his knowledge and expertise in analogue design.  From improving Commercial Airplane efficiencies, Military program designs and various instrumentation applications, Herman was widely known as an expert.   In 1970 he was recognized for his design of critical circuitry for the first medical commercial portable defibrillator.  In 1990, Herman was named the Boeing Engineering Employee of the Year for innovation supporting Hybrid Laminar Flow Control;  an honor he was very proud of for the rest of his life.  

Leading by example, Herman portrayed the best of hard work and dedication.  Always tinkering with something - trying to fix what was broken, understand how things worked and how they could be improved - he never hesitated in stepping in to help. We will remember countless days where he would show up to change the locks, build swing set or a play house from scratch, install a sink or work on cars; if something “wasn’t quite right” he would always find a solution to make it better.   Herman had very deep, long-term and loyal friendships and was the first to help. 

Herman and his wife Vera had a passion for "rock hunting".  They were members of Boeing's Rock Club and traveled the world searching for the elusive sapphires, opals and gems.  From Coober Pedy, Australia to Madras, Oregon or other local venues, it was not uncommon for them to hop in their "Winnie" and head out for the weekend or the summer trek with fellow colleagues to dig through abandoned rock quarries; often returning home with a bucket of treasures to polish. They enjoyed spending time with family as well and often met for “family dinner” at a local buffet.  

Herman was always quiet, listening to what everyone had to say - grandkids talking about school, friends, activities; or the family sharing the latest at work; friends discussing what’s new; and of course anyone talking about their pets. His face always lit up when his grandkids were around.

As residents of Normandy Park, for over 60 years Herman and Vera were active members in the community.  He was a past president of the Normandy Park Community Club, a “founding family” of the Normandy Park Cove, members of the Normandy Park Swim Club and served for many years on the Riviera section restrictions committee.

 They were members of the "Friends of Youth" an organization that provided assistance to teens and contributed countless hours volunteering their services.  Herman was a “Fellow” and past president of the Instrument Society of America (ISA); several of his papers on electrical engineering applications were published by this professional organization.    He was also a “HAM” radio operator since has early days in Pullman. 

 Herman lived his final years quietly at Judson Park Retirement Community.  Though his workspace was reduced, he continued to tinker with radios and clocks repairing or looking for ways to improve on a design. He loved listening to dance music that was popular in the 30's and had stacks of cassette tapes that he collected over the years. The grandchildren loved visiting with their Grandfather.  He was always thrilled to see them and they never left without a tight squeeze, a gentle kiss on the cheek and a faint “I love you”.  Herman’s family meant the world to him and he will always mean the world to us.   Truly a remarkable man; husband, father, grandfather, great grandfather, son and friend….. who will be remembered and missed by many…

Herman Ralph Gelbach was the only child of Ralph and Geneva Gelbach.  His death was preceded by his late wife of 64 years, Vera Gelbach. He leaves behind two sons, Roger Gelbach (Debra) of Seabeck and Lyle Gelbach (Debora) of Grapeview and six grandchildren, Paul Gelbach (Jen), Ruth Gelbach, Beck Gelbach, Kristen Blankenship (James Blankenship), Meghan Gelbach, and Sarah Gelbach (Erik Montgomery), one great-grandchild Zander Gelbach and his beloved white cat Alfred “aka Great White Hunter & Winter”.

A special thanks to the dedicated staff at Judson Park, in Des Moines, for the care and friendship of Herman over the last several years of his life.

Services will be at Riverton Crest Cemetery, Tukwila, 10:00 am, March 26.   A Memorial / celebration of life to follow at 1:00pm at The Cove, Normandy Park.




Marian Peterson
Normandy Park,, WA
Mar 28, 2018

Herman was a dear friend to my husband, Dick Peterson, a fellow Boeing Engineer. They went on many Wind Tunnel trips together. Herman was always willing to help out whenever a helping hand was needed. When Dick could no longer drive due to his dementia, Herman picked him up every week to take him along to their regular Wednesday lunch meeting with old friends from Boeing. We were friends with Vera & Herman for many years.

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