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The Silver Lining: Alumni Spotlight on Rick Gesue

What does the 1965 Coinage Act have to do with Indiana Tech? What about a brand of plug-in window candles called Sillites? The answer is that both can be directly linked to the life work of Rick Gesue (BSME 1962).

Rick Gesue, a native of Northeast Ohio, has always been a man of action.

At a noticeably youthful age, Rick knew that he wanted to build things. His dad was a builder and Rick gained immeasurable knowledge from him. At the age of 10, Rick had his own company making small wishing wells for a nearby nursery, all while hiring his sister and neighbor to help. He also built a small car from an old lawnmower.

And along with that love of building, Rick had a passion for baseball. In fact, he had a chance to play for the Detroit Tigers after graduating from a high school class of 13 in Mecca, Ohio. However, after getting some input from those he trusted most, he decided to go to college.

His first choice, an engineering school in Pennsylvania, wasn’t a good fit, so he planned to pursue a business degree at a school closer to his home. His mother helped him formulate a different plan. While Rick was building a street rod during some down time, his mom went to the garage to show him an Indiana Tech ad in a magazine that promoted its three-year engineering program.

“I went in and called that same day to see if they had a baseball team. The next day I drove to Fort Wayne, spoke to some admissions people, looked around and felt comfortable. I loved the buildings and smaller class sizes,” Rick said. “I met with athletic director Murray Mendenhall and he explained that if I made the team, Indiana Tech would pay for my tuition.”

Rick pitched for three years, and in his senior year, he was named to the all-conference team, won the Hayashi Award (given to a senior who promotes a Warrior Pride attitude and excels in both academics and athletics) and, in 2009, was inducted into the Indiana Tech Athletics Hall of Fame.

When Rick first arrived at Indiana Tech, it was a three-year engineering school, and he had come in a quarter late. He knew he had prerequisite courses to take, so he met with the dean and was told to enroll in Calculus 1 and Calculus 2 at the same time. This was unheard of. But, the dean believed in him and agreed, giving Rick’s confidence and determination a significant boost. To push through to graduation, he adopted a simple mantra: “Do not leave the classroom until you understand everything that was taught that day. And if you do, do the homework right away while it is still fresh, and then go play baseball and do whatever you want to do.”

Following graduation, Rick decided to pursue an MBA from Purdue University. After graduating from Indiana Tech and achieving an MBA from Purdue University, Rick accepted a position with Texas Instruments as its marketing engineer—a move which sent he and his wife, Carolyn, to Attleboro, Massachusetts.

Little did he know that his first project would involve working with the United States Bureau of the Mint. At the time, the United States was experiencing a coin shortage. The bureau increased production, helping reduce the coin shortages by May 1965, but government stocks of silver were being rapidly reduced, and threatened to run out by 1968. After extensive study by the United States Treasury Department, President Lyndon B. Johnson recommended that Congress pass legislation to allow for silverless dimes and quarters, and debased silver half dollars. The bill progressed rapidly through Congress and was enacted with Johnson’s signature on July 23, 1965.

Rick was assembled with a team of engineers at Texas Instruments that formulated several different metallic blends to be used in the silverless dimes and quarters. One of his group’s blends was chosen for the new silverless coins, and they were put into circulation late in 1965.

“I was so lucky to get involved with Texas Instruments and that job. I knew I was on the right path at this point,” Rick said. “I was so pleased with Indiana Tech’s engineering degree, because without that, I do not know where I would have landed. I learned how to make things happen, how to work with people along the way and how to make my presence known in a positive way.”

Fast forward nearly 40 years: Rick’s wife, Carolyn, decided that while renovating their home, every window should have a candle with no exposed cords. The idea sent Rick back to his workbench, and Sillites—direct plug-in candles powered by house current—were born. Then, a chance meeting on a golf course with a lighting consultant led to him obtaining Underwriters Laboratory approval and two patents. He established a manufacturing process in his workshop and barn, hiring neighbors and retired engineers to help.

It blossomed even bigger when his daughter connected him with the Home Builders Association, who featured Sillites on their HGTV show Dreambuilders. She also introduced her dad to Matt and Sherri whose Room by Room show, also on HGTV, featured Sillites.

Rick has enjoyed a life full of accomplishments, for which he is very thankful—so much so that his philanthropic resume nearly surpasses his work resume. For 33 years, he has been the voice of the Special Olympics in Maryland. He also volunteers with the Cool Kids Campaign for Cancer, judged several Miss USA Pageants and helped with the Baltimore Marathon, LPGA & Senior Golf tournaments and Illuminations, a charity for abused kids with which Sillites has partnered.

And because Indiana Tech was a key factor in helping him amass a lifetime full of stories, adventures, rewards and experiences, he gives back to his alma mater.

“Carolyn and I have established a scholarship at Indiana Tech because it has been such an important foundation for our lives,” Rick said. “We want to help other students have the same experience. Without my mom showing me the Indiana Tech advertisement and without me earning my degree from Indiana Tech, I would have never had the incredible start that I did have. There is no way I could not give back to Indiana Tech due to all of these reasons. I have been so blessed to have so many good people around me and a wonderful wife who joined me and supported me through all of these experiences.”