In Memoriam: Donald DeJager, 1927-2008

Donald DeJagerDonald DeJager, a classical lens designer who worked under Rudolph Kingslake at the Eastman Kodak Company, died on June 8, 2008. He was 80.

DeJager received a bachelor’s degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan in 1950 and a Masters Degree in Physics from the University of Michigan in 1952. He began his career at General Electric, rotating though Cleveland, Lynn, Cincinnati, and then finally settling down at the GE General Engineering Laboratory in Schenectady, NY. There he worked in the Particle and Wave Optics Group, where his interest in optics began. His first assignment was to figure out the mathematics for a device that would analyze the difference in color between a standard and a sample. In 1961, he took a job at Chicago Arial Industries, where he thought he would have a better chance of lens design assignments. Intermittent funding for projects at CAI caused projects to come and go, with the result that DeJager looked to Rochester, NY for his next opportunity. In 1964, he joined the optical design department at Eastman Kodak Company. He was hired by Rudolph Kingslake, who began to mentor him in the fine art of lens design. DeJager took evening classes from Kingslake twice a week and later recalled that, “It was so nice that Dr. Kingslake ‘took me under his wing.’” DeJager subsequently spent many years in that department. He had dozens of lens designs to his credit, including some the world’s first glass-molded camera lenses that sold in the millions. He transferred to the Kodak Research Laboratory during the later part of his career, but was always the “go to” guy for the most difficult and demanding lens designs.

DeJager published numerous papers, obtained 5 patents, and edited the chapter “Photographic Optics” in the SPSE (now IS&T) Handbook of Photographic Science and Engineering. He was an OSA member for nearly 45 years.

Mark Noethen, a former colleague, recalls:
“I had the pleasure of sharing an office with Don for a few years when he moved over to the Eastman Kodak Research Labs in the late 80’s and early 90’s until his retirement in 1992. He became a mentor and good friend. We had many fun discussions there as I got to know how he approached new design problems. Although he was part of the ‘golden age’ of lens design, Don was very modern at the time I worked with him. He was skilled in the use of popular lens design software, as well as with Kodak’s own internally-developed software. He began his career just as the computer was being utilized more in lens design.

“Don spoke highly of the people that he knew in the optics department and mentioned how amazed he was that he was paid to do something that he so loved to do.

“Of all the things I recall about Don, the one thing that sticks in my mind most has nothing to do with optics. It was the admirable trait of how he took people completely at their word, very literally, more than anyone else I have known. He will be missed.”

Don is survived by his wife of 51 years, Dorothy, son James, 2 grandsons, and two sisters.

This obituary was contributed by Mark Noethen, Tucson Optical Engineering, Inc.