Cover photo for Donald Novotny's Obituary
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1934 Donald 2022

Donald Novotny

December 15, 1934 — May 7, 2022


Donald Wayne Novotny passed away peacefully on May 7, 2022. He was born on December 15, 1934, in Chicago, IL, to parents Adolph and Margaret Novotny. Donald is survived by his wife Louise, daughter Donna (Bruce) Kopp, daughter Cindy (Mark) Mason, brother Tom Novotny and family, grandchildren Noah Kopp, Ben (Lisa) Kopp, John Mason, Diana Mason, great-grandchildren Levi Kopp, Havana Kopp, Peter Kopp, James Kopp, and prior daughter-in-law Loni Kopp.

Don’s mother died in 1946 and his father took on the role of a single parent until his second marriage in 1949.  In 1954 he married his high school sweetheart, Louise J. Eenigenburg, and they had 2 daughters, Donna Jo and Cindy Jean. Based on work experience with his father, he chose to study Electrical Engineering at Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and received a BS (1956) and an MS (1957).  He accepted a temporary teaching position at IIT for the 1957-58 academic year, and the experience was so positive that he decided a career in engineering education was his calling in life.

In 1958, he moved his family to Madison, WI, where he was accepted as a PhD candidate and given a position as a full-time instructor. He completed his PhD in 1962 and joined the University of Wisconsin-Madison Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department as an Assistant Professor, launching a highly successful career of teaching, research, and service that lasted over 57 years in that department.

Don’s true passion was teaching. In addition to regular campus courses, he taught in short courses, courses at company facilities, video-taped graduate courses, and most recently, internet courses.  During his long career he received a number of teaching awards including the Kiekhofer Award for Excellence in Teaching (UW) in 1964, the Benjamin Smith Reynolds Teaching Award (College of Engineering) in 1984, and the Holdridge Teaching Award (ECE Department) in 1995.  In addition, he was presented the Outstanding Teacher Award by the National Technological University (NTU) and served as a Fulbright Lecturer in Belgium in 1981. He was elected as a Fellow of the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) in 1987 and received the prestigious IEEE Nikola Tesla award in 2009 in recognition of his outstanding technical contributions in the field of AC machines and adjustable-speed motor drives.

Don’s research focused on electrical machines and machine control, topics that first attracted his attention early in his life while working with his father to repair furnace motors.  During his productive career he authored or co-authored over 120 technical articles and three books, as well as numerous tutorials on electrical machines and power electronics.

Don served the UW-Madison Electrical and Computer Engineering (ECE) Department as Associate Chair from 1971 to 1974 and as Chair from 1976 to 1980. From 1989 to 2003 he was Chair of the EE Program at the National Technological University, a nationwide group of universities offering graduate courses via satellite. In 1980 he co-founded the Wisconsin Electric Machines and Power Electronics Consortium (WEMPEC), an internationally-renowned academic-industry consortium that applies funding provided by sponsoring companies to conduct cutting-edge research and to educate the next generation of world-class engineers who are highly sought-after by the WEMPEC sponsors.  This valuable support from sponsors has resulted in more than 600 masters and PhD degrees that were earned by students during their association with WEMPEC, and the consortium continues to thrive today.

His family viewed Don as both interesting, and interested – in everything. He passed on his love of learning and belief that every moment is a teaching moment. Of particular impact on family was his love of fishing, rocks and minerals, and enjoyment of Northern Wisconsin. He hosted the family for yearly northern WI vacations in addition to a week experiencing Alaska…twice! He also hosted Czech dinners and Hungarian bacon frys! He will be greatly missed.

A celebration of Don’s life for family, friends and colleagues is being planned for this summer. Memorials to the Donald W. Novotny Scholarship Fund for undergraduate students in the UW-Madison ECE Department can be made by contacting Daniel Sims at the UW Foundation (, 608-440-1120).

Don was also active in the Fitchburg Verona Horizons Rotary Club and donations in his name can be sent to P.O. Box 930553, Verona, WI 53593.

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6021 University Ave. Madison

(608) 238-8406

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