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Official Obituary of

Ronald J. Hartranft

March 26, 1941 ~ January 30, 2023 (age 81) 81 Years Old

Ronald Hartranft Obituary

Ronald J. Hartranft’s journey through an amazing life was completed on January 30, 2023.

He entered the world on March 26, 1941 and grew up along the Susquehanna River’s West Branch in Montgomery, PA.  He is the first born son to Shirley N. And Philip F. Hartranft, two of the great examples of the Greatest Generation.

He graduated from Montgomery Area High School in 1959, after playing football, wrestling, ducking under desks during air raid drills, and with a curiosity about the universe. This motivated him to enroll at Lehigh University to study engineering to make the world a better place using his brain, primed for science and math, and his pragmatic worldview. He paid his tuition with the benefits of being a National Merit Scholar, earned through his love of learning and the support of his family, teachers, and community.

No doubt, studying mechanical engineering is an ambitious pursuit. But folks, get this:  Within seven years (again, with the help of his family, etc.) he had earned a B.S in Engineering Mechanics (Highest Honors), an M.S. and a Phd in Applied Mechanics, all from Lehigh, with support from General Motors and the National Science Foundation. 

The published title of his Phd dissertation is “On Some Problems involving Singularities in Reissner’s Theory of Plate Bending.“ He gave it a nickname.

“You mean you’ve never heard of Hartranft's Famous Sih Theory of Plates?” he’d ask us with a chuckle and nod to his Lehigh mentor, Dr. George Sih. 

We all, of course, thought it was less rabble-rousing than his master’s thesis, “The Effect of Couple-Stresses on the Extension of an Elastic Material Containing an Elastic Circular Cylindrical Insert”, which sounds slightly suggestive.

Wait ... there’s more. At his 1966 Ph.D commencement ceremony, his four children joined him, ages two to six, begat in partnership with his then-wife, Carolyn Hartranft. The responsibilities of academic life and raising a family were in high gear.

Professor Hartranft joined the Lehigh faculty in 1966, advancing to full professor by 1976.  His early research in fracture mechanics was sponsored by several governmental agencies, most notably by NASA. Some later work involved numerical analysis of conditions that lead to failure in applications ranging from huge boilers of electric generating plants to interfaces in tiny electronic devices.

In the 1970s, despite a personal preference for quieter outdoor activities such as sailing, he formed a team of Lehigh undergraduates to design and build an all-terrain vehicle for an intercollegiate competition, and in the 1990s, because of student interest, he became the advisor of the first Formula SAE (a mini-Indy race car) team at Lehigh.

He served on the University Committee on Educational Policy from 1995 to 1998, chairing it in 1997-1998. He was a member of the Faculty Steering Committee from 1997 to 2002 and served as its chair in 2000-2001.  He was active in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, serving as Chair of The Anthracite-Lehigh Valley Section and as advisor to Lehigh’s Student Section.  He served as Chair of the Society of Automotive Engineers Lehigh Valley Section. He was a member of Sigma Xi, The Scientific Research Society. 

He retired from Lehigh in 2007, moved from Bethlehem to Watsontown, near his family's roots, and treasured his time with his family while keeping in touch with colleagues and friends. He was an excellent retiree.

He loved picnics, 4th of July celebrations, attending his children's and grandchildren’s events. Because he took up rugby at age 36 with the Bethlehem Hooligans Rugby Club, he gained life long friends, a now twice-broken nose and cracked ribs, and eventually a new hip, to enjoy during retirement.

He supported the arts, served on the board of Touchstone Theater in Bethlehem, PA and was a regular patron of the Pennsylvania Ballet. Give at least partial credit for family musical talent and resolve to channeling his guitar playing and his appreciation for Tina Turner. 

Any rabbit that dared to pick from his garden was taking a big risk. The rhubarb, tomatoes and squash were ingredients for the many recipes he collected, most without varmints. His simple tastes in life were congruent with his preference for cookies--leave out the nuts.

He believed high school graduates should be proficient through Algebra 2, and have the ability to do word problems. People, we can do this! Kids: read and do the work. Stick with it. Ask for help if needed. It’s not always easy. This also applies to fixing things around the house, taking care of your family, making good noodles for pot pie, and telling a good joke.  

He is survived by his brothers Philip Hartranft (Donna) of Montgomery, PA and Thomas Hartranft (Carolyn) of Mahomet, IL; children Keith Hartranft (Sherri) of Hellertown, PA, Christine Brehm (John) of Port Royal, PA, Juliana Deen (Rich) of Port Royal, PA, and John Hartranft (Andrea) of Rockville, MD.

He embraced his role as Grandpa to Rebecca Perry (Matt), Richie Deen, Alyssa Deen and Jacob Hartranft (Hannah) and as Great-Grandpa to Dash and Arlo. He spoke fondly about his extensive family, including cousins, nieces and nephews, and special friends and colleagues. He maintained the memories of our family that have passed before, and filled his life with love.

There is much more to Ronald Hartranft's life, but it is now up to the rest of us to move forward with his story, enriched by his time with us, and primed by him to make the world a better place.  We love you, Dad, etc.

Private services conducted at the convenience of the family. Visit for more information about public activities and considerations to celebrate Ronald Hartranft's life. 

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