Gerry Bellendir retires after 37 years at Fermilab

Gerry Bellendir

Few people could imagine the digital age of today back in 1974, when Gerald Bellendir worked with paper tapes and a teletype machine in an office that was nothing more than a converted bedroom of a house on the village grounds. Bellendir retired on Oct. 7.

Working with the accelerator design theory group, Bellendir was the first programmer ever hired. Since then, he has been instrumental in keeping Fermilab at the forefront of managing some of the world’s most complex scientific data. From the earliest versions of Fortran to the rise and fall of mainframe computing, Bellendir was able to keep up with the laboratory’s ever-changing computing needs.

“It’s kind of my legacy,” said Bellendir, who was actively involved in moving the computing division out of the Wilson Hall and into the Feynman Computing Center back in the 1980s.

By 1994, he was heading the systems programming group and was witness to the official end of the mainframe era and the need to revamp the Feynman space to accommodate the changing computing technologies that came in the next decade.

“Gerry has been in the center of all of this activity and has helped us to realize that we had to take the steps to modernize our facilities, something he continues even today,” said Steve Wolbers, a group leader in the Computing Division.

Wolbers said one Bellendir’s biggest jobs was the huge expansion in the computer rooms at Fermilab over the past decade or so.

“Gerry led the effort to outfit the Feynman Center with a backup generator and UPS batteries that allowed the building to run,” said Wolbers. But Bellendir correctly projected that the continuing changes in computing technology would eventually exceed the limitations of the Feynman building.

“It took a large effort over many years,” said Wolbers, referring to the upgrade of the computer infrastructures of Feynman as well as the Wilson Hall and the New Muon Lab.

“It’s been a tremendous challenge for me – what we’ve done and what we’ve accomplished and I’ll miss that challenge for sure,” said Bellendir, who lives in Geneva. He plans to stay in the area and keep in touch with his co-workers and the work at the laboratory.

After four decades devoted to continuous technological progress, Bellendir said he’s planning on scaling down his design projects. He is toying with the idea of building a model train layout in his basement. He hopes to interest his youngest grandson in the project.

“That is, if I can get him away from his video games,” said Bellendir.

—Rita Hoover