Obituaries: John Polivka, 89, headed GM appliance division

  • Article by: LUCY Y. HER , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 1, 1999 - 11:00 PM

For more than five years, John N. Polivka took an Amtrak train once a week to visit the San Diego Zoo.

He liked looking at building designs along the way, and he enjoyed watching people at the zoo, said his grandson, David Van Puffelen of Minneapolis.

Polivka, 89, an industrial designer, architect and technical illustrator who family members said designed the street sweeper and the first cloverleaf highway ramps in Minnesota, died June 24 of an apparent heart attack in San Diego, where the resident of Oceanside, Calif., had gone to visit the zoo.

He attended Dunwoody Institute in Minneapolis and the University of Minnesota. He worked for the Minnesota Highway Commission designing bridges and historical-site markers, among other projects.

He also worked as a technical illustrator for Modern Mechanix magazine. In 1942 he went to work for General Mills, where he helped develop packing cases for naval fire control instruments. In 1948 he became head of the company's industrial design section. He later became head of its appliance division, where he worked on the automatic toaster and steam ironing attachments.

In 1963, Polivka went to work for Logan Johnson, which is now Polivka Logan Design, an industrial design company. While at Polivka Logan, he designed the Industrial Power Sweeper, which won awards at the Brussels World's Fair. He retired from Logan Design in 1973, then moved to the Oceanside area.

In 1996, his works were entered into the archives of the Minnesota Historical Society and the Chicago Art Institute, where they will be on display from October 1999 to February 2000.

The exhibits include works Polivka did for General Mills and Control Data Corp.

Polivka, who was born in Minneapolis, had been a member of the Society of Industrial Designers of America since 1950.

Dorothy Van Puffelen of Duluth said her father "was just a loving, giving, gentle, creative person who truly added to life on Earth. . . . .

He just helped everybody because he always needed a project to work on or a person to take care of."

In addition to his grandson and daughter, Polivka is survived by two other daughters, Mary Cates of Bountiful, Utah, and Barbara Anderson of Oceanside; two sons, John Jr. of Sitka, Alaska, and Tom of Oceanside; two sisters, Eileen Gobel of Hot Springs, Ark., and Marie of New Jersey; seven other grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren.

Services were held Tuesday in Oceanside.

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