After 41 years as an electronics engineer at Honeywell, Jerry Hagen retired and turned his creative mind to inventing touch-operated devices to help the physically disabled.
His volunteer efforts won commendations from governors Rudy Perpich and Arne Carlson. And in April, the Minneapolis man received a lifetime achievement award for excellence in assistive technology from the Minnesota STAR program (Systems Technology to Achieve Results).
Hagen, 95, of Minneapolis, died Sept. 29 at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale after a heart attack, said his daughter Mitzi Hagen.
He was a humble guy with a dry sense of humor who listened more than he talked, she said. "He was so interested in others and helping others, especially the less fortunate," she said.
Hagen, the son of a Norwegian immigrant, retired about 1980 from Honeywell, where he was granted a patent in 1956 for a self-driving vehicle. That invention was reported on by the New York Times. He joined a Honeywell retiree volunteer club and for nearly 30 years worked alone and with others on assistive technology. He met with representatives of the Courage Center and Faribault State Hospital to assess needs and design possible solutions to challenges faced by people with disabilities.
Perpich sent him a letter in June 1988: "I understand a catalog with pictures of the adaptive equipment devices you designed is being developed by the Faribault Regional Center and will be made available to other facilities upon request," Perpich wrote. "I want to personally thank you for this excellent support."
Hagen was a forerunner in using simple materials to create affordable devices to help the disabled, some of which were later picked up by businesses and mass-produced, said Joan Gillum, of the state-run, federally funded STAR program. Among Hagen's inventions, she said, were a computer tray attachment for a wheelchair and a bowling ball-holding platform with an electric motor-powered switch to release the ball down the alley.
According to Hagen's wife of 69 years, Mary Jane, "Jerry's volunteerism began long ago when he became Mr. Fixit to our neighbors, repairing their television sets. His basement was an eclectic workshop where he restored, repaired and invented."
Hagen also loved bird-watching and star-gazing, cross-country skiing and sailing homemade boats on the Whitefish chain of lakes, his daughter said. He built a telescope to study the stars and made toys with magnets, and he loved showing his grandchildren how the toys worked.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Hagen is survived by five other daughters, Catherine of Aspen, Colo., Patricia, Monica, Mary Eileen Jaglo and Loretta Whitehouse, all of the Twin Cities area; two sisters, Marian Novak of Prior Lake and Betty Brezny of West St. Paul; 11 grandchildren, 12 great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. Services have been held.