Over the course of his life, John Opie has been a Michigan Technological University student, an active alumnus, a Board of Trustees member and an extremely generous benefactor. Now the retired GE executive is the recipient of the University’s highest honor.
University President Glenn Mroz announced he has presented Opie with the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction.
Opie graduated from Michigan Tech with a bachelor’s degree in Metallurgical Engineering in 1961. The Detroit native spent most of his career with General Electric, retiring in 2000 as vice chairman/executive director.
Time and time again, Opie and his wife Ruanne demonstrated their commitment to Michigan Tech’s students through their generous gifts. Over the years, they have donated millions to the University including a 1999 gift to the Leaders for Innovation Campaign, one of the largest individual gifts ever to Michigan Tech.
Opie has repeatedly donated to Michigan Tech athletics, including significant gifts to the Hockey Enrichment Campaign, contributing to the video scoreboard in the MacInnes Student Ice Arena and the hockey renovation project. He was inducted into the Michigan Tech Sports Hall of Fame in 2009.
Tech Athletic Director Suzanne Sanregret says the Opies have had a tremendous impact on athletics, specifically the hockey program. “Their generosity has enabled us to keep pace with other NCAA Division I programs with major improvements to the MacInnes Student Ice Arena,” she points out. “They are also incredibly supportive of our coaches and student athletes and recognize the value that Athletics brings to Michigan Tech and the community.”
Opie’s philanthropy and support of students resulted in several honors and accolades from the University. He delivered Tech’s commencement address in 1987 and again in 2001 receiving honorary doctorates in engineering and business. He has been awarded the Board of Trustees Silver Medal and the Distinguished Alumni Award. He is a Michigan Tech Fund Life Trustee, Alumni Association life member, Alumni Association Golden M member and a member of the Materials Science and Engineering Academy.
Mroz says while Opie spent years working around the world, he never forgot where he came from and where his family came from. “Their concern for Michigan Tech’s future is embedded in so many areas of the University, it’s very difficult to find a student, faculty or staff member whose life has not been touched by their generosity.”
Mroz says the Opies have provided scholarships for many students from the local area which, in turn, opened doors to upward mobility that otherwise may have been out of reach. He says they've also helped faculty and staff who have wanted to commercialize research and development through the Michigan Tech Entrepreneurial Support Corporation and Superior Innovations, developing the entrepreneurial culture of the university and the area.
The library that bears their name is a testament to John and Ruanne Opie’s commitment to the University. Mroz states, “Their support for the library expansion and its development into the Information Learning Commons that supports all students and faculty has made the library a showplace for collaborative teaching and learning. And their support for our athletic programs is simply amazing. When you add all this up, it’s clear John believes in the people of Michigan Tech, and what they do. I'd come to rely on John for counsel long ago, and it was an honor for me to be able to work with John and Ruanne all these years and to present the Board's highest honor to him.”
Opie served on the Michigan Tech Board of Trustees while Raymond L. Smith was University president. Smith says that even when he was a student, Opie stood out.
"I've long been a strong partner with Michigan Tech and always thought of it as 'my school'."
“With the many students that pass by, you forget the majority, but not so with John,” Smith says. “I recognized very early that he had an incisive mind. I knew he would be a graduate to enhance the reputation of Michigan Tech. As President Emeritus, I’m honored to note that John Opie, a graduate, is being recognized by the University.”
Opie says he’s grateful to receive the University’s most prestigious honor. “I certainly want to thank the Board of Trustees and President Mroz for the Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction”.
He states, “I’ve long been a strong partner with Michigan Tech and always thought of it as ‘my school,’ including when I was very, very young, visiting my grandparents in Painesdale and then Houghton and Hancock.”
Those early visits to the Keweenaw made attending Michigan Tech a natural fit for Opie. “Eventually I received a degree in metallurgical engineering and later served on the Board of Trustees for many years,” he says. “And now I’m just a strong supporter of the school and proud to receive the Melvin Calvin Medal.”
The Melvin Calvin Medal of Distinction is bestowed on individuals associated with the University who have exhibited especially distinguished professional and personal accomplishments. It is named for 1931 Michigan Tech alumnus Melvin Calvin, who won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for unraveling the biochemical secrets of photosynthesis. The series of biochemical reactions Calvin identified is known as the Calvin Cycle.
Michigan Technological University is a public research university, home to more than 7,000 students from 54 countries. Founded in 1885, the University offers more than 120 undergraduate and graduate degree programs in science and technology, engineering, forestry, business and economics, health professions, humanities, mathematics, and social sciences. Our campus in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula overlooks the Keweenaw Waterway and is just a few miles from Lake Superior.