(January 2, 1934–April 18, 2020)
John Noble Sorensen, 86, died April 18, 2020, at home in Rockville, Md., following a long degenerative illness. A memorial service will be held in Devils Lake on Saturday, July 17, 2021, at 3 p.m. at St. Olaf Lutheran Church, followed by a service for the interment of ashes in Webster Cemetery.
Jack, as he was always known, was born on January 2, 1934, in Minneapolis, Minn., the younger child of Helen Viola Baker Sorensen and Alfred Noble Sorensen, both natives of Ramsey County. When he was still very young, his parents moved the family back to North Dakota, where they resided in Devils Lake and farmed in Webster. Jack spent the rest of his childhood there among an extended family of farmers who had first acquired their land under the Homestead Act in the1880s.
Following six years after his sister Joyce, Jack attended Devils Lake High School (Class of 1951) and then enrolled at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
During summers as a teenager, he worked on the farm, did odd jobs to earn money, and, beginning at age 14, took flying lessons. He eventually earned his pilot’s license and flew planes as a crop duster.
At UND, Jack pursued an engineering degree and became a member of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity. In 1954, at the beginning of his senior year, he married Joan Elizabeth Reiche, a journalism student two years his junior, at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Devils Lake. Their marriage would last nearly 61 years, until Joan’s death in 2015.
Upon completing his B.S. in 1955, Jack was recognized by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers as the outstanding senior engineering student at UND. Additionally, he was awarded a fellowship by Westinghouse Electric Corp. for graduate study at the University of Pittsburgh. According to a Grand Forks newspaper reporting on the award, Jack was “the first man accepted for direct placement in the program of atomic reactor design” newly created by Westinghouse. Already expecting their first child, the couple moved after Jack’s graduation to Pittsburgh, where all three of their daughters were born between 1956 and 1963.
Jack earned his M.S. in mechanical engineering in 1958. Concurrently with starting his graduate studies and his family, he launched his professional engineering career in the nascent nuclear power industry. At the Bettis Atomic Power Laboratory at Westinghouse, he was a reactor physicist and thermal-hydraulic analyst from 1955 to 1967. During that time, he served as senior nuclear design director for the ship reactor core for the U.S.S. Enterprise (CVN-65), the first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.
In 1967, Jack accepted a position at NUS Corporation, a company in Washington, D.C., specializing in technical consulting in the nuclear power industry. The family settled in Rockville, Md., where Jack and Joan would live for the rest of their lives. During his nearly 20-year tenure at NUS, Jack took on technical management roles of increasing responsibility, finally serving for seven years as VP and General Manager, Consulting Division. In that role, he oversaw the company’s business providing industry services including nuclear licensing, safety analysis, quality assurance, and risk assessment. Clients of the business included numerous foreign and domestic public utilities as well as the U.S. Department of Energy.
In 1986, Jack left NUS and with several partners formed Grove Engineering, an engineering consulting company, in Gaithersburg, Md. In 1993, he joined the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission as technical assistant to the one of the agency’s five Commissioners. In this role, he provided technical analysis and recommendations on issues with broad public policy implications. Beginning in 1997, he served in additional posts at the agency including Senior Fellow on the Advisory Committee on Reactor Safety and Senior Fellow on the Advisory Committee on Nuclear Waste. After completing his last full-time appointment in 2005, he continued to work for several years as a consultant, transitioning gradually to full retirement. Jack held memberships in the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the National Society of Professional Engineers, and the American Nuclear Society.
When Jack moved east, he carried with him a love of hunting, camping, and the outdoors cultivated in the rural Midwest. While his daughters were growing up, he took the family camping in the Shenandoah Mountains, the White Mountains, and—annually for many years—on the eastern shore of Maryland. Jack was an avid reader, an enthusiastic motorcyclist and driver of British sports cars, and an accomplished photographer who especially loved capturing Dakota fields and skies with his camera.
Above all, Jack was a loving and beloved husband and father who prioritized his family’s needs over everything else in his life. He devoted himself tirelessly to caring for his wife during many years of chronic illness, and throughout his life he expressed pride in his daughters’ accomplishments, respect for their decisions, and joy in their company. He taught by example that cherishing family and friends lies at the heart of a life well lived.
During Jack’s retirement, he and Joan spent several summers in Webster, living in the farmhouse on the land originally homesteaded by his grandfather, Rasmus Sorensen. Although Joan’s health prevented them from returning as often as he had envisioned, he treasured those months spent reconnecting with the clan and the landscape of his youth.
After Joan’s death, Jack’s own health declined rapidly. During the extremely isolating early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, his daughters were blessed to be with him in their family home during the final days of his life. Jack is survived by his three daughters— Laura Sorensen Dodge (Mrs. Stephen) of Wolfsville, Md., Nancy Sorensen of Rockville, Md., and Kaaren Sorensen of Swarthmore, Pa.; his sister Joyce Sorensen Northrop (Mrs. William) of Salt Lake City, Utah; and eight grandchildren and five great grandchildren.