University of Dayton Campus

Distinguished Alumnus Award

For National or International Achievements

The Distinguished Alumnus Award is the highest honor accorded by the Alumni Association and recognizes a graduate of the University of Dayton who has earned special distinction, thereby reflecting great honor on the University of Dayton and its alumni.

The award is given to a person who has sustained a record of accomplishment and whose reputation is widespread.

In selecting the distinguished alumnus, special attention shall be given to the accomplishments that embody the University’s goal to participate effectively in the quest for a more perfect human society. To be eligible, a person must be a graduate of the University of Dayton with an associate’s, bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree, and must have received the degree at least 25 years prior to being nominated for the award.  Unless there is a compelling reason to merit an exception, only one award will be given each year.

Joseph Desch (posthumously awarded)

Bachelor of Science, Electrical Engineering '29

Joseph Desch '29

Joseph Desch was an electrical engineer and inventor, and a 1929 University of Dayton graduate with a degree in Electrical Engineering. During World War II, he was Research Director of the project to design and manufacture the US Navy version of the bombe, a cryptanalytic machine designed to read communications enciphered by the German Enigma.

Upon graduation, Joe joined the National Cash Register Company where he worked under the direction of Edward A. Deeds, then president of the company, conducting research to develop high speed mathematical and computing machines to augment or replace the company’s mechanical machines.

Beginning in 1940, Joe's lab at NCR was awarded several contracts by the National Defense Research Committee, one of which was used in a counter capable of millisecond speed for the University of Chicago Manhattan Project. His research helped NCR convince the United States Navy that they could decrypt the coded messages better than the technology at the time. Two years later, his research resulted in his lab at NCR being named the United States Naval Computing Laboratory. In 1943, at the height of World War II, Joe's department was successful in breaking Japanese communications. Over a period of 14 months, he and his team of 600 WAVES (Women Accepted for Voluntary Emergency Service) who lived near here at Sugarcamp, created 121 top-secret decoding machines. The pressure of cryptanalytic work and the continuing toll of the loss of life in the Pacific theater led to his withdrawal from the project in late 1944. He returned to assist in 1945.

In 1946 Joe filed an application for a patent on an electronic calculator designed by him and Bob Mumma, resulting in receipt of the first patent on the modern digital computer. His career after this point was noteworthy, and he was especially proud in later years of his work with Bob Mumma in the development of the NCR 304, the first completely solid state computer. He continued to be an integral part of NCR until his retirement in 1972. This remarkable man lived an unassuming life, but his accomplishments were critical to bringing about an end to World War II, and his role in the development of the modern computer cannot be overstated.

Joe was awarded the Medal of Merit by President Harry S Truman July 16, 1947.

Past Recipients

Katherine Schipper '71
Richard A. Abdoo '65
John B. Alexander '25
Paul W. Armstrong '67
Edwin G. Becker '14
Erma F. Bombeck '49
David Bradley '71
Ricardo Bressani, Ph.D. '48
Edward L. Buescher '45
Simon Burick '30
Doris I. Charles '52
Ronald W. Collins '57
John E. Condon '51
Carl J. Crane '24
Richard P. Davis '72
Ralph D. Delaney '55
Eileen Dolan '79

Dr. Sean Donahue '84
F. Thomas Eggemeier '67
Richard H. Finan '54
Brother Raymond L. Fitz, S.M. '64
George E. Freitas '29
Thomas J. Frericks '53
Donald R. Geiger, S.M. '55
William E. Hammer, Jr. '62
James C. Herbert '63
Martin J. Hillenbrand '37
Carroll A. Hochwalt '20
George K. Houghtailing '29
Howard L. Hughes, S.M. '51
Cordell W. Hull '56
Clement G. Jauch '08
Soichi Kawazoe '30
Joseph E. Keller '29
Thomas C. Kennedy '59
Donald M. Knowlan '51
John L. Lahey '68, '70
Frank F. Ledford, Jr. '55
John A. Lombardo '71
John J. Lucier, S.M. '37
Peter A. Luongo '65
John T. Makley '57
Torrence A. Makley, Jr. '40
Al H. Mahrt '12
M. Michele Mariscalco, M.D. '77
Paul V. McEnroe '59
John F. McHale '78
Theodore Q. Miller '68
Simon Nathan '42
Colombe Nicholas '64
Charles H. Noll '53
John L. O'Grady '68
Joseph D. Park '29
Charles J. Pedersen '26
David Phillips '62
Shirley A. Pohl '57
Rita M. Rapp '50
Irmengard Raush '55
Raymond A. Roesch, S.M. '36
Col. Gordon R. Roberts '74
Dr. Richard M. Schoen '72
Sanford M. Shapero '50
Katherine Schipper '71
Barry J. Shillito '49
James R. Spotila '66
Eugene Steuerle '68
George E. Thoma '43
Fred Tenover, Ph.D. '76
Charles L. Weber '58
John R. Westerheide '47
Charles W. Whalen, Jr. '42
Bernard L. Whelan '09
Donald W. Wigal '55
Charles R. Wilke '40


Alumni Relations

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300 College Park  
Dayton, Ohio 45469 - 7052