GREENVILLE — An engineer is defined as a person trained and skilled in design, construction and use.
Art Compton was the exemplification of an engineer.
Literally, he was an engineer, having earned several engineering degrees and worked in the field all his life. But his love of researching and learning how things worked and coming up with ideas to make things work better — he was born deeply ingrained with that passion and those traits were fated to define his life, college education or not.
Compton died Sunday at Metron of Belding, where he had been residing since July 2011. He was 96 years old.
He was born in 1917 to Arthur and Gertrude (Whitaker) Compton in Davenport, Iowa. His parents were strict and he was raised thusly so, as were his own children, recalled his daughter, Kate Mason of Greenville.
Compton graduated with engineering degrees from both Grinnell College in Iowa and California Institute of Technology (Caltech) in California. He took a job with Standard Steel Works in Kansas City, Mo., working on trucks and also obtaining a number of patents on products he came up with related to the trucking industry.
“I grew up with truck chassis under the sofa,” Mason recalled with a laugh. “I used to play with them.”
Compton went into the transportation field before moving his family to Michigan. He began working as a self-employed professional witness involving accidents in the furniture industry, traveling throughout the United States to do research and then testifying at trials.
“He was a researcher,” Mason said. “That was his whole life, besides being an engineer. He had a knack for designing things, like a car in the 1950s that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the 1950s. He designed safer furniture for children. He designed a wheelchair that wouldn’t tip over.”
Much of Compton’s lifelong engineering and research work was used as the basis for a weekly column he wrote for The Daily News, at first sporadically in the 1970s and then regularly every Friday from about 2001 to 2009. He continued to write sporadically again into 2011.
“Art was one of our frequent letter to the editor and guest view writers in the late 1990s and 2000s,” said Daily News Managing Editor Darrin Clark. “We found his life experiences and perspective to be unique among people in our area, so we offered him a chance to write a weekly column.
“Art told a lot of interesting stories in his columns,” Clark said. “He was really good at relating one of his past experiences to a current event. His topics ranged from politics to engineering to baseball, which seemed to be his favorite. I knew he was a proud Caltech grad, had a long career in engineering and was a big sports fan.
“Art’s perspective was unique compared to most anyone I’ve met in this area,” Clark said.
Mason said her father’s Daily News columns were all based on his own unique experiences.
“That lifelong research, that’s where your articles came from,” she said. “He was so well-read. He was extremely smart. He was just a continual student.”
Compton retired in his 80s, but his mind never quit. When his eyesight began to fail, his daughter would transcribe his ideas while he dictated.
Mason said she will miss her father’s mind the most.
“He instilled education in us and doing the best we can in everything,” she said.
Compton is survived by five children, Mason, Carolyn Compton of Texas, Charles Compton of England, Veronica Thompson of California and Josh Compton of Australia, alone with many grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
A memorial celebration will be held at Mason’s house the afternoon of Saturday, Oct. 26. Johnson-Feuerstein Funeral Home in Belding is handling arrangements.