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Obituary: William “Bill” Gommel, Greenwood

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William “Bill” Gommel

Brig. Gen. William “Bill” Gommel, 89, passed away Tuesday, May 13, 2014, in Greenwood. He was a resident of Greenwood.

Bill was born in Indianapolis on Aug. 16, 1924.

He was preceded in death by his wife, Vivian (Pherigo); his parents, Dewey Ezra and Joy Agnes (Edie) Gommel; and a brother, Hugh Eugene Gommel.

He is survived by a sister, Margaret (Walter) Jurkiewicz; three daughters, Angeline (Steven) O’Malley of Lexington, Kentucky, Virginia (David) Harris of Huntington Beach, California, and Ruth (Stephen) Williams of Noblesville; 11 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

Bill attended IPS School 21 and Arsenal Technical High School, where he was awarded the Faculty Scholarship Medal upon graduation in 1942. He attended Purdue University before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Forces during World War II.

He married Vivian in 1943. They met in the Cradle Roll class at First Evangelical Church (the former Lockerbie Central United Methodist). Throughout their lives, they traveled extensively around the world.

His Air Force assignments ranged from pilot trainee in Panama City Beach, Florida, weather forecaster in the Aleutian Islands and Anchorage, Alaska, to military governor in Neu Isenburg, Germany, to staff scientist at the Pentagon. While in Alaska, he prepared the in-flight Arctic weather forecasts for the record-breaking flights of the U.S. Navy’s Truculent Turtle, the Air Force’s Dreamboat and round-the-world Reynolds Bombshell solo flight by the late Bill Odom.

In the early 1960s, he developed the Atlas Centaur launch system for the first geosynchronous satellite for storm tracking, communications and, later, intelligence.

He retired from the Air Force in 1965 and changed careers, serving as chairman of earth and space sciences and director of the Noblitt Observatory at the University of Indianapolis (then, Indiana Central College). He taught higher mathematics, human geography, astronomy and a popular earth sciences field studies course.

He earned a Ph.D. in earth and atmospheric sciences from Purdue University in 1973.

After retiring from the university in 1992, Bill was designated a professor emeritus, subsequently joined the Indiana Air Guard Reserve with the rank of colonel as director of training, and then served as commander, retiring in 1997 with the rank of brigadier general.

He was one of the founding officers of the Hoosier Association of Science Teachers Inc., named a fellow of the Indiana Academy of Sciences, received the Indiana Distinguished Service Medal, was awarded a Sagamore of the Wabash by Indiana Gov. Frank O’Bannon and commissioned a Kentucky Colonel by Kentucky Gov. Martha Layne Collins.

He served as director of the Central Indiana Science and Engineering Fair for several years. Bill was involved in many other activities and organizations, including several Masonic and Scottish Rite affiliations. He was a founding member and officer of the Century Lodge, served as thrice potent master and treasurer of the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite, and received an honorary 33rd-degree from the Scottish Rite.

He loved downhill skiing, bowling, traveling, church and singing. He was an active member of the choir at University Heights United Methodist Church, Scottish Rite Chorus and other ensembles. He taught Sunday school at all levels, led church youth groups, and served on the pastor-parish committee and administrative board. He took the youth group on a backpacking trip on the Appalachian Trail shortly after its designation as a national trail. His overarching passion throughout his life was education. He loved to learn, and he loved to teach.

Funeral services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Saturday at Singleton Community Mortuary and Memorial Center, 7602 S. Madison Ave., Indianapolis. Visitation will be from 4 to 8 p.m. Friday at the mortuary.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Indianapolis Valley of the Scottish Rite or to University Heights United Methodist Church, in care of the funeral home.

Online condolences may be offered to the family at www.singletonmortuary.com.

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