Walt Helmreich met his wife, Margaret, in kindergarten, when they were five. When she died in 2004, he wanted to do something to celebrate the life of the woman he’d known for 82 years. So he established the Margaret and L. Walter Helmreich Scholarship Fund, which will support a Boy Scout or Girl Scout attending MIT.
Growing up in Jefferson City, MO, both Margaret and Walt were Scouts. “I’ve been a Boy Scout for 79 years,” says Helmreich, who became an Eagle Scout in 1931 and always remembered the World Scout Jamboree he attended in Hungary in 1933.
“When my wife passed away, I thought a scholarship was the thing to do,” he says. “I’d been connected with MIT for a long time. I wanted to honor my wife and to draw some attention to the Scouting program.”
The son of an engineer, Helmreich was an ROTC student and began at MIT with the Class of 1940. Soon, he was called to spend five years in the army, four in the South Pacific. Upon his return, he earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering. In 1971, after retiring, he earned an MBA from the University of Michigan.
Helmreich began his career as a radar expert at Emerson Electric in St. Louis. After he’d worked in several cities for Bendix, the company sent him to Ann Arbor, MI, where he specialized in aerospace electronics. His team made instruments that the Apollo 11 astronauts carried onto the moon in 1969.
“I am proud of MIT,” says Helmreich, who believes that the Institute had a lot to do with his success. “It was easier to get a job being an MIT guy. I learned a lot there. I had a lot of good friends, and many of the professors were my friends for a long time.
“I really wanted to give the scholarship. I felt it’s what a good person ought to do. And it gives some recognition to my wife, who was a very, very good person.”