July 29, 1923 – July 3, 2019
Nelson M. Isada was in the Philippine capital, Manila, near the end of World War II and was about to retrieve a bicycle he had taken to be repaired when one of his older brothers, Cesar, offered to go get it.
Cesar, an outstanding student and athlete, never came back. Japanese forces were bombarding American troops nearby and one of the shells blew up the bicycle shop.
A promising student in his own right, he continued his brother’s academic legacy by earning a doctorate at the University of Michigan and becoming a professor and researcher in mechanical and aerospace engineering at the University at Buffalo.
The first non-Caucasian professor to be granted tenure at UB, he died July 3 in Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital, Amherst, after a short illness. He was 95.
Born in Dao in the province of Capiz in the central Philippines, Nelson Mijares Isada was one of five children. His father died when he was young and by the time he was a teen, his mother had moved the family to Manila and he was attending a collegiate institute there.
His oldest brother, Sergio, served in the Philippine Army, was captured by the Japanese and survived the Bataan Death March. He went on to become a brigadier general.
Mr. Isada was passed over for military service, first because he was too young and later because he was partially colorblind.
He was chosen to come to the United States in 1947 as a government scholar under a post-World War II reparations program and received a degree in meteorology from the University of Chicago. He then attended the University of Michigan, where he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees and completed a doctorate in civil engineering in 1956.
At Michigan, he was president of the university’s Filipino-American organization and began dating another graduate student from the Philippines, Beatriz Manuel. They were married in the student Newman Chapel in Ann Arbor in 1952.
He taught at the University of Michigan, worked as a design engineer for two years for a company in Detroit and became an assistant professor at Syracuse University in 1957. He came to UB in 1959.
As a researcher, he worked with Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory, later Calspan, in developing simulators for crash testing.
“We had crash test dummies in our basement,” his daughter Juliana Dompkowski said. “It was very entertaining.”
At UB, he helped develop the doctoral program in the Engineering Department and was among the first to use computers for research. He became a professor emeritus of mechanical and aerospace engineering in 1993.
A longtime resident of the University Heights neighborhood, in retirement he owned several houses and was a landlord for UB students.
“I think he still liked to have contact with the students,” his daughter said. “They were all fond of him. They would ask him for advice on their curriculum. He was very paternal. He was always the professor.”
He was a longtime parishioner at St. Joseph University Catholic Church and a founding member of the Fil-Am Association of Western New York.
He also was an enthusiastic stock trader and followed the market minute to minute on his computer, even at the age of 95.
“He did quite well at it,” his daughter said. “I couldn’t call him until after the market closed.”
When his wife, who was a substitute English teacher at Our Lady of Victory High School and Bennett High School, began to experience declining health about 10 years ago, they moved to a suburb of Cleveland, where their son, Dr. Carlos M. Isada, is an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. After she died in 2012, he returned to his house in University Heights.
Another son, Dr. Nelson B. Isada, is a perinatologist in Anchorage, Alaska. His daughter previously served as an analyst for the U.S. Customs Service in the New York City area.
In addition to his children, he is survived by five grandchildren.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 11 a.m. Saturday, July 13, in St. Joseph University Catholic Church, 3269 Main St.