James Brandeberry, former WSU engineering dean and winery founder, dies at 78 

Sept 08, 2018
CHRIS STEWART/DAYTON DAILY NEWS/Dayton Daily News
In this file photo from 2005, James Brandeberry pours a glass of his cabernet sauvignon.

James Brandeberry, who served as dean of Wright State University’s College of Engineering for nearly two decades before founding his own winery, died Friday at his home near Enon. He was 78.

Brandeberry joined Wright State’s engineering faculty as an assistant professor in 1969. He helped launch the university's computer science department, became its chairman, left to work in the private sector, returned a year later and was named the founding dean of WSU’s college of engineering in 1986.  

Brandeberry oversaw rapid growth at WSU, including the creation of programs in systems, materials, human factors and biomedical engineering. Graduate programs, including a Ph.D. in computer science, also helped boost WSU's engineering presence, and Brandeberry helped create a trailblazing collaborative program in graduate engineering programs among Wright State, the University of Dayton and the Air Force Institute of Technology.

In his non-academic time, Brandeberry’s passion was making wine. He was an avid home winemaker during the last decade of his tenure at WSU, earning scores of medals and awards in home-winemaking competitions. 

In a 1997 interview with the Dayton Daily News, Brandeberry said he loved the blend of both precision and creativity that winemaking demands. And it satisfied his engineer’s love of tinkering.  

"That's the neat thing," he said. "I like to cook, but I don't like to follow recipes. Making wine is kind of like cooking: you mix all these things together, keep tabs on it, add things to it to alter the taste."

The recognition of his winemaking skills continued well after he founded his winery. His Brandeberry Winery Blackberry wine won “Best Fruit Wine” designation in the 2013 and 2017 Ohio Wine Competitions, and his “Black Dog” blend was named best fruit wine in the same competition in 2015.

Kelly Brandeberry, one of Jim’s three daughters, said her father’s “integrity and honesty in everything he did and with everyone he met caused people to have such a deep respect and love for him.”

“He had two wonderful careers that he loved. And in both he loved to teach. He was a teacher at heart. Whether he was teaching engineering at WSU or winemaking at the winery, it’s what made him tick. He was an open book and loved to share his knowledge.”

Brian Rigling, interim dean of WSU’s College of Engineering & Computer Science, said of his predecessor, “Directly or through the legacy of his work and contributions, he has had a profound impact on all of us within the college, the broader Wright State community, and the Dayton region. His presence changed the landscape of the fields of engineering and computer science in the Miami Valley, and the alum of the college that he first led will be impacting communities around the globe for generations to come."

Brandeberry taught Sunday School and served on the church council at St. Andrew Lutheran Church in Enon. He is survived by his wife Sharon (Niederhauser) Brandeberry, whom he married on Sept. 8, 1962; by his three daughters: Susan (Martin) Wright, Kelly Brandeberry, and Tammy (Alan) Flanegin; five grandchildren: Alexander, Andrew, Keegan, Victoria and Connor; one sister, Janis Below, and one brother, Dale (Patricia) Brandeberry, and several nieces and nephews.

A gathering of family and friends will be held from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Sunday in the Littleton & Rue Funeral Home in Springfield. A celebration of his life and career will be held at 11 a.m. on Monday at St. Andrew Lutheran Church, 7128 Stine Rd., Enon. Burial will follow in the Enon Cemetery. 

Memorial contributions may be made to the James and Sharon Brandeberry Endowed Scholarship Fund in care of Wright State University.