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Robert J. Vlasic: Remembering an engineer, entrepreneur and philanthropist

Vlasic, whose gift established the endowed position of Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, died at the age of 96.

At Michigan Engineering, you hear his name often, right there in the title of the Dean: Alec D. Gallimore, the Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering. Robert J. Vlasic (BSE IOE ‛49), who turned Vlasic Foods into a national brand synonymous with pickles and whose 1996 gift of $3.5 million endowed the position of Dean at Michigan Engineering, passed away peacefully on May 8, 2022.

Vlasic graduated second in his engineering class from the University of Michigan in 1949 with a degree in industrial and mechanical engineering. After joining the family food business and becoming general manager in the 1960s, he began to expand the company from a small local business into a national brand. Under his leadership, Vlasic Foods became the top pickle brand in the United States and was worth $100 million when it was sold to Campbell Soup Company in 1978. After the sale, Vlasic went on to serve as director of Campbell Soup Company for 18 years as well as chair from 1989 to 1993.

“I am honored to hold the position of Robert J. Vlasic Dean of Engineering, and to help ensure the continuing legacy of such an innovative entrepreneur,” said Gallimore, who is also the Richard F. and Eleanor A. Towner Professor, an Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, and a professor of aerospace engineering. “On behalf of Michigan Engineering, I thank Bob for supporting our future with such a remarkable gift 26 years ago.”

In addition to his successful career, Vlasic was a dedicated philanthropist and volunteer. He served as financial advisor to the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, trustee of the Cranbrook Educational Community and vice-chair of the Henry Ford Health System, among other positions. At Michigan Engineering, he was honorary chairman of the College’s Design for Impact Campaign from 1990 to 1997, which exceeded its goal of raising $80 million. In 1996, he endowed the College’s deanship, making it the first endowed position at that level in any U-M college or school.

In a 1996 press release, Vlasic shared, “I am delighted to be able to make this gift because in my business career I learned that a modest amount of money placed at the discretion of a good manager can be multiplied in usefulness many, many times.”

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