2008 Distinguished achievement award: Charles Gunderson

// Mechanical Engineering

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Charles G. Gunderson
Corporate Director (Retired)
Chrysler Corporation
BSME ’56
Sedona, Arizona

Charles Gunderson credits his mother for sparking his technical interests. He was a comic book fan as a boy, with a stack of comics at least 2 feet high in his closet. His mother offered to buy them from him and his brother, Dennis, at full price if they promised never to purchase a comic book again. The boys took the buy-out, and in place of the comics they began reading magazines like Popular Science and Mechanics Illustrated.

The brothers went on to study mechanical engineering at UW-Madison, where Gunderson met his wife of 52 years, Elaine, on a blind date. When Gunderson graduated in 1956, his mother, Mildred Luella, also received her bachelor’s degree after attending school part-time for eight years.

His childhood fascination with cars and all things mechanical evolved into a 39-year career at Chrysler. While there, Gunderson was part of a multitude of car and truck projects, including the Plymouth Road Runner, Barracuda and Dodge Stealth. He was the original product planning manager for the Chrysler minivan, which became an industry icon.

Gunderson received his master of automotive engineering at Chrysler in 1958 and an executive management diploma from Columbia University in 1985. He held more than a dozen executive positions at Chrysler, including general product manager for Dodge and Plymouth cars, director of program management for small cars, and director of product planning for all Chrysler Corporation cars and trucks.

Beyond work, Gunderson and Elaine, a retired registered nurse, have enjoyed traveling and participating in mission trips in more than 45 countries. One year they spent Christmas in Haiti with four of their five children and provided free meals and small gifts to abandoned children.

Gunderson also gives back to UW-Madison, acting for several years as president of the Detroit Alumni Club, which awarded him a distinguished service award. He has established a scholarship for engineering students and was the chair of Campaign for Wisconsin in the Detroit area.

“UW-Madison has always been important to me, and I never would have achieved what I did without the education and support UW gave me as I started out,” he says.

These days, Gunderson keeps busy with the Church of the Red Rocks in Sedona, Arizona. He and Elaine are part of a Jeep club, where eight couples go “jeeping” each month all over the West. They also travel the country to visit their 11 grandchildren.