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Published: Tuesday, 3/6/2001

O-I engineer helped develop new products

Dr. Josef Francel of West Toledo, a retired research engineer for Owens-Illinois, Inc., who escaped from Communist-ruled Czechoslovakia in 1948, died Saturday in St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center. He was 76.

Dr. Francel died from congestive heart failure, his son, Dr. George Francel, said. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease about 11/2 years ago, his son said.

Dr. Josef Francel and his wife, Vlasta, fled from the former Czechoslovakia when the country in Eastern Europe was taken over by the Soviet Union after World World II. They had met while they were university students in Brno, where he was studying chemical engineering.

The couple, who were in their mid-20s, were leaders in a student organization that provided people with information and assistance in escaping from the communist-occupied country. His activities with the group became known to the secret police, forcing him to escape to a refugee camp in Naples, in 1948.

The secret police attempted to arrest Mrs. Francel six times at her house before she crossed the border into Austria the same year, going to a displaced-persons camp near Salzburg.

"They escaped separately after the authorities became aware of the student movement," Dr. George Francel said.

He said his mother obtained a student visa in 1949 to travel to Massachusetts, where she enrolled in Smith College in Northampton. His father was granted permission to go to the United States about the same time when he was promised a job in New York. But the job was filled when he arrived, forcing him to work on a farm in Massachusetts for a few months.

Through one of her teachers at Smith College, Mrs. Francel arranged for her future husband to get an interview at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

He was accepted into the college, from which he graduated with a doctor of science degree in 1954.

"The interesting thing was that he knew very little English. He passed a lot of courses by drawing pictures. He was brilliant enough to know the material, but he couldn't communicate in English," his son said.

While they were students, Josef and Vlasta traveled by bus to Cleveland to get married. They professed their vows June 3, 1950, in Our Lady of Lourdes Church, where the monsignor was a relative of Dr. Francel.

Dr. George Francel said his parents fell in love when they met as organizers of the student movement in their home country.

"The love affair occurred over the political struggle. My mom was an admirer of my dad. Not so much because he was the leader of the movement. She fell in love with him as a person, but also for what he stood for and what he was fighting for," he said.

The Francels received their U.S. citizenship in 1957.

The Francels moved to Toledo in 1953 when Owens-Illinois offered Dr. Francel a job at the company's former technology center on Westwood Avenue. Dr. Francel worked in the development of new products for the glass company, including color television tube research, barcode systems, and unbreakable glass. He obtained patents for more than 100 inventions. He retired in 1986.

Dr. Francel, who could speak seven languages, was active with the International Institute of Greater Toledo, serving as its president in 1977 to 1978. In 1976, the organization presented him with its Key to the Golden Door Award, which honors persons of foreign-born birth for their distinguished contributions to American life and culture.

Dr. Francel was the chairman of the International Institute's first International Festival in 1958. The event was held at the Naval Armory building at Bayview Park in Point Place. It later moved to the Sports Arena, where it was held every year until the late 1980s.

Surviving are his wife, Vlasta; sons Dr. George Francel, Dr. Thomas Francel; Dr. Paul Francel, and Peter Francel; daughters, Helen Bissmeyer, Mary Pat Sares, and Ann-Marie Jocz; brothers, Karel Francl and Ladislav Francl, and 19 grandchildren.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. tomorrow in Gesu Church. Visitation will be after 5 p.m. today in the Reeb Funeral Home, where scripture services are scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

The family requests that tributes be to the church.



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