Michael C. Aguirre, Sr.
July 8, 1934 to Nov 11, 2012
 
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Click here for the documentary about some of his life
 

Mike is not an easy man to categorize. He was an electrical engineer, athlete, carpenter, mechanic and family man. Born in Las Cruces, NM he moved to El Paso, TX with his mother in 1938 after his father and mother separated. His father in an attempt to reconcile with Mike's mother traveled by car from San Miguel with a priest to El Paso. During the return trip to his father's home in San Miguel after the failed attempt to reconcile with his estranged wife & Mike's mother, Adela, they got a flat tire. While trying to change the tire his father stepped back into the road and was struck by a car killing him instantly. At only four years of age at the time of his father's demise he had no real memories or impressions of him. His father's family, the Aguirres, disowned his widow and only son going so far as to prevent her from receiving anything from his estate and severed all ties. As a result his father was somewhat of an enigma to him, being more of a ghost than a man.

 

 

Modesto "Ted" Aguirre

 

As an eleven year old he saw the first atomic bomb detonate early one morning in 1945 near the end of World War II from far away Alamogordo, NM. While sleeping on a screened in porch to escape the summer heat he was awakened by his grandfather exclaiming that the sun was rising in the wrong direction. He looked to the northwest to see a glow rising in the sky then slowly fading out after a few minutes. Not long after a low rumble followed that was more felt than heard. The newspapers the following day reported that an ammunition dump had exploded in the nearby desert but was later revealed to be cover story to hide the culmination of the secret atomic bomb program known as the Manhattan Project. Only years later did Mike make the connection between the early morning false dawn and the detonation of the first atomic bomb.

Mike at 11 years of age

Mike at 11 years of age and the first atomic bomb July 16, 1945

In high school (1949 - 1952) he became the star quarterback known as "The General" being one of the early players to dominate the gridiron with the new concept of the passing game. The team's weekly games frequently drew capacity crowds of almost 20,000 generating so much revenue that the high school bought a DC-3 to fly the team to away games. For a high school team this was an amazing luxury even by today's standards, enabling them to play teams as far away as Phoenix and Oklahoma City. Despite a bright future in football that career was cut short due to a severe knee injury.

Nov 11, 1952

Even though the prospects of a professional football career had been dashed, Mike had hedged his bets early on by being an exceptional student with his sites set on becoming an engineer. Starting out in pursuit of an aeronautical engineering degree he soon changed his major to electrical engineering, graduating into what was then a young and budding field. One of his professors introduced him to what was to become the wave of the future and change the field of electronics forever: The transistor. This innovation would soon replace the hot bulky power hungry vacuum tubes that were at the heart of all electronic devices at that time. Mike had a leg up on his fellow electrical engineers as many of them were skeptical about the transistor's future. But Mike knew better.

Moving to Utica, NY he began working for General Electric where his career took him from designing components for spy satellites, submarine GPS systems, nuclear missiles guidance systems and subsequently to early hard disk drive memory for computers. 

Skybolt

 

An early spy satellite

 

Typical main frame computer

One of the Cold War era classified projects he worked on during the Kennedy presidency was the air launched nuclear missile called Skybolt. This formidable and for it's time exotic weapon could be launched from a moving B-52 Stratofortress at a target several thousand miles away. Mike observed that compared to the then current stationary silo launched ICBM missiles this weapon was virtually unstoppable since it was very difficult to take out the moving B-52 at such distances from a target and once launched there was no existing technology that could stop Skybolt. The project was reaching fruition just as the United Sates & Russia entered into the Cuban Missile Crisis which threatened to ignite a nuclear war between the two super powers. The Skybolt had two initial launches with each ending in failure to hit the target but according to Mike, the team he was a member of identified and fixed the problems resulting in a successful third launch. Ironically the project was canceled the next day. The cover story floated for the cancellation of the secret project to our British ally, who very much wanted this new technology for it's defense, was that the Skybolt had insurmountable technical problems and huge cost overruns. According to Mike this was far from the truth as evidenced by the third successful launch. In reality, he speculated that, during a secret meeting, Kennedy had agreed to kill the project as a concession to Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev for pulling the Soviet missiles out of Cuba. Despite being a secret project Khrushchev had found out about Skybolt and wanted it's further development stopped since the Russians had nothing that could counter it. As Mike put it, the Russians were scared to death of Skybolt. The legacy of the defunct Skybolt missile and associated technology lives on in it's successor the Cruise missile which is deployed routinely today.

Eventually Mike left the military division of General Electric when the Honeywell Corporation bought out the Oklahoma City facility that he had been transferred to from Utica in 1963. He moved on to the new emerging technology known as the hard disk drive. The hard disk drive memory used several iron oxide coated 14 inch diameter aluminum disks to record data on to tracks similar to the vinyl audio record that allowed for rapid access of information. Unlike the tape drive units which had to be wound forward and backward to retrieve data the hard disk drive reduced data access times from tens of seconds to a few milliseconds. It was a vast improvement in computing speed. Over time the drives were able to store greater and greater amounts of data at ever higher access rates and eventually went from the size of a refrigerator to a unit that could fit in the palm of one's hand. What was once an expensive device that was only available for use on large room sized main frame computers, the hard drive became a relatively cheap component for gadgets from iPods to laptops with Mike being very much a part of that evolution. Near the end of his career he went from designer to managing a large hard disk drive research and manufacturing facility for Storage Technology Corporation in Broomfield, Colorado. He had resisted taking management positions for years as he wanted to keep his hand in research and development which was, for him, far more satisfying. During his time working with hard drives he was awarded three U.S. patents for fundamental components which are still used in drives to this day. Inside every hard drive throughout the world is a little bit of Mike Aguirre.

Along with his growing career was his growing family. Marrying Sandy "Arlene" Guerry in 1955 his family began in 1957 with his first born son, Michael Jr., who was soon followed by two daughters (Colette & Karen - late 1950'S) and later two more sons (Lance early 1960's & André late 1960's). The Aguirre clan moved from Utica in 1963 to Oklahoma City, OK and remained there until the mid seventies. During that time he loved to watch his then beloved Dallas Cowboys with his family on many a Sunday. 1976 saw them moving to Colorado. Every year during the summer the whole family would go on a camping trip to almost anywhere in the nation. Early on while living in New York state, New England was heavily explored by the family. Once they had moved to Oklahoma the rest of the country was only two or so days away from the centrally located state. Mike tended to stay away from what he called "tourist traps" which he saw as anyplace that was overrun with people and too commercialized. As a result they went to somewhat remote untouched areas of great beauty and solitude. His choices instilled a great love and appreciation of the places that man had not yet spoiled. For the most part the family roughed it during their trips with the only modern conveniences being a Coleman stove and the car radio. With him they really did get away from it all.

As a father he was the disciplinarian with none of his children ever wanting to get his look of disapproval which was worse than any spanking. But he could be fun and playful flying kites with his sons, giving "horsey" rides to his daughters and making even his sneezes a big event. His laugh could amply fill a room. His favorite cartoon was that of the Roadrunner and Wile E. Coyote's never ending battle. He loved the parts where the coyote's elaborate plans to capture the Roadrunner went terribly wrong. Another one of his favorite comedy routines was Ernie Kovac's classic skit The Nairobi Trio which has to be seen to be believed. Being bilingual, learning English and Spanish at the same time from school and family respectively, his children thought the language he often used to speak with his mother was very funny. Giggling they would badly pronounce overheard phrases though oddly never learning the language itself.

Through Mike and his wife, Arlene, they showed their children what a loving relationship was. Yes there were conflicts at times between them but there were more ups than downs through their 30 plus years together. Despite what was by anyone's measure a successful marriage it ultimately ended in divorce mostly for reasons known only by them.

In 1990 Mike began a new chapter in his life, moving to Bloomington, MN where he was re-married to Margaret "Peg" Tait. Mike had taken a position at Seagate Technology and eventually met Peg through his church. They quickly became an inseparable couple sharing numerous interests, experiences and many memorable times together. Mike had found his final lasting love in Peg. In addition this phase of his life included retirement and continued with him happily whiling away his days going between their city home and cabin in northern Minnesota with his wife, family & friends. Peg's family became his second family whom, in little time, he grew to love and cherish.

After almost a year long battle with esophageal cancer Mike died peacefully surrounded by his wife and children on November 11, 2012. To the end he was amazingly upbeat even keeping everyone's spirits up with unexpected moments of humor. He went out like a champ. And he was.

Mike's interests included 20th Century American history, spy novels, golf, football (a converted Minnesota Vikings fan), and grilling the perfect steak. Mike's easy going nature, warmth and generosity with everyone in his world belied his highly disciplined mind and tremendous accomplishments. He was a man of little pretense. Mike Aguirre was and still is loved by all who knew him.

He is survived by his wife Peg, his five children, first wife Arlene, six grandchildren, five great grandchildren, and his wife's sons Joe & Jim and their families.