Skip to main content
Darryl Thelen with the Bligards
August 29, 2021

Engineering degree enables alum to pursue his passion

Written By: Webmanager


Erling “Jake” Bligard’s passion for engineering flourished during his time as a mechanical engineering student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and his education paved the way for a highly rewarding career.

Born and raised in Minneapolis, Bligard, 95, figured he’d attend the University of Minnesota. But then the United States entered World War II, and he joined the Navy with the goal of being a pilot.

“At that time in the war, the military needed people with engineering skills and it was pushing a program called V-12, which I ended up joining, and that shifted my focus to engineering,” Bligard says.

The V-12 Navy College Training Program aimed to generate a large number of officers to meet the demands of World War II. The program Bligard enrolled in was based at UW-Madison.

After earning his bachelor’s degree in 1948, Bligard stayed at UW-Madison for his mechanical engineering master’s degree, which he earned in 1949.

After the war ended, there was a large influx of veterans enrolling in universities—including UW-Madison—through the GI Bill. Many chose to study engineering, creating high demand for instructors. Based on his outstanding performance in the master’s program, UW-Madison hired Bligard as an engineering instructor.

Bligard says his time at UW-Madison had a profound influence on his life. Not only did he receive training that would serve him well throughout his long career, he also met his future wife, Inez, when she was a student at UW-Madison.

“There was a Sunday afternoon dance at the student union; it was a mixer to celebrate a Wisconsin victory in football, and that’s where I met Inez,” Bligard recalls. “I asked her to dance, and we ended up dancing together all afternoon.”

Bligard went on to work at several companies as a chief engineer, first on the East Coast and then later in the greater San Fernando Valley in California, where he and Inez raised their family.

Bligard earned several patents for his engineering work, including patents for airplane engine suspension and mounts. “Throughout my career, my expertise was in vibration control, and I focused on developing solutions to prevent equipment problems due to vibration in vehicles, mostly aircraft,” he says. “There was demand for my skills, and I always enjoyed doing engineering work.”

Bligard spent a significant portion of his career working at Hughes Aircraft Company in California, where he did engineering work related to cruise missile systems.

He retired at age 75. “Engineering is his passion. He just loved being an engineer, and his UW-Madison education made that possible,” says Inez, who graduated from UW-Madison with a psychology degree in 1950.

To show their gratitude, the couple made a $1 million gift to the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

“I appreciated the education I received from UW-Madison, which was valuable for starting my engineering career,” Jake says. “It’s a great institution, and I learned an awful lot about how to develop engineering solutions to various challenges. So, I wanted to do something for the department to give back and help it continue to deliver an outstanding educational experience.”