George MacZura—A life defined by alumina, refractories, family, and ice cream | The American Ceramic Society

George MacZura—A life defined by alumina, refractories, family, and ice cream

0324 MacZura ice cream lores

0324 MacZura lores

[Image above] George MacZura is surprised with an enormous ice cream sundae by John Karson and Leslie Power at the 1998 Pittsburgh Section Bleininger Award banquet. Credit: ACerS Bulletin

The Refractory Ceramics Division meets this week at the St. Louis Section’s 51st symposium. No doubt, they will spend some time remembering George MacZura, who made his career developing innovative refractory aluminas and cements at Alcoa. Sadly, MacZura died on March 13 at the age of 85. He struggled with strokes and dementia in the last years of his life.

MacZura was the youngest of four children born to Slovak immigrant parents. He grew up during the Great Depression in southern Illinois, outside of St. Louis. He was the only MacZura to attend college, selecting University of Missouri-Rolla (now the Missouri University of Science and Technology). MacZura’s father died during his high school years, which made college challenging as he worked to pay his way and held himself to an “economical” diet. Later, MacZura was well-known for a passionate appreciation for ice cream.

According to a 1999 ACerS Bulletin profile, MacZura learned about ceramic engineering through an acquaintance in Rolla’s ceramic engineering program during a ride home for a weekend visit. Professor Ted Planje exerted a strong influence over the young ceramic engineer, teaching him to apply critical thinking skills to problems. MacZura admired Planje, too, for his approach to teamwork that included working alongside plant operators. “An engineer can learn an awful lot from the operators,” MacZura said in the Bulletin article.

After graduating in 1952, MacZura accepted a position with Alcoa’s chemical research plant in East St. Louis, Ill. He expected to work for a few years, gain some experience, and move on to new opportunities. Instead, “a few years” became 44 years, he recounts in the Bulletin article. “As it turned out, there was always a new challenge in research that intrigued me and [the move] never happened.”  

Over the course of his career, he traveled to more than 50 countries to introduce new products and teach customers how to use them, often accompanied by his wife Mary. At the time of his retirement in 1997, he held the position of international refractories market development manager.

His prestige in the refractories industry and global network of contacts made him a natural choice to lead the first UNITECR (Unified International Technical Conference on Refractores) in 1989. He also served as the first president of UNITECR, which was established in 1987.

His involvement with The American Ceramic Society was equally distinguished. He was a Fellow, served as Society president 1992–1993, and was elevated to Distinguished Life Member in 2009. The St. Louis Section recognized him with the Theodore J. Planje Award, and the Pittsburgh Section awarded him the Albert Victor Bleininger Memorial Award. The National Institute of Ceramic Engineers awarded him the ACerS/NICE Greaves–Walker Award.

The refractories community often refers to itself as a family. In that spirit, his professional brethren liked to tease him about his affection for ice cream. Early images from UNITECR, for example, often feature MacZura and an ice cream creation. His colleagues even imagined a few “custom flavors” for him, including Lemon & Limestone Sherbet, Toffee Tabular Crunch, and Calcined & Cream. 

MacZura and Mary, his wife of 62 years, had ten children (one deceased), 17 grandchildren, and one great-grandchild. Despite the demands of his career, his family was always a first priority. He spent many years coaching youth soccer. One of his most cherished accolades came when East St. Louis named MacZura Field in his honor.

If the test of a life well-lived is that you leave it better than when you arrived, MacZura passes the test professionally and personally. How wonderful that this intelligent, dedicated, generous man chose ceramic engineering as his career and “family.”