Louis M. “Lou” Sardella, a mechanical engineer who held patents related to corrugated boxes and was a Johns Hopkins University donor, died of heart failure Jan. 21 at his home in Crystal Bay, Nevada. He was 73 and formerly resided in Hunt Valley.
Born in Baltimore, and raised in Hampden, he was the son of Gaetano “Guy” Sardella, who had an Italian-American radio show, “The Voice of Italy,” and taught Italian at the Peabody Conservatory, and his wife, Maria DeLeonardis, who worked at the Roma Travel Agency.
As a child, he made visits with his family to their former home in the Abruzzo region of Italy.
He attended the old Mount Washington Country School for Boys and was a catcher on its baseball team. He was a 1964 graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. He earned a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Johns Hopkins University and a master’s degree from the University of Maryland, College Park. He played soccer at Hopkins.
He was mentored by an uncle, Alfonso DeLeonardis, an engineer who lived with the Sardella family.
He worked at Ward Machinery in Cockeysville, William C. Staley Machinery in Phoenix, Maryland Cup and Prime Technology.
“We all lived in the Colony apartments as a young group of people,” said Joe Herbert, a close friend. “We all had brunch every Sunday after Mass at the Crease, and we called ourselves The Wild Bunch. Lou liked the Hunt Cup and the Preakness. These were big rituals. In the winter, we rented a house in the Poconos for skiing.”
Mr. Sardella went into the corrugated box-making industry.
“There were a number of corrugated box businesses in Hunt Valley at the time,” said his friend and business associate, Patrick “Pat” O’Connor. “We called Hunt Valley the corrugated valley.”
Mr. O’Connor said that he knew Mr. Sardella from earlier jobs they both held. Their friendship was rekindled at a trade show in Duesseldorf, Germany.
“Lou was not only a talented engineer,” said his business partner, Mr. O’Connor. “He had a creative spark that allowed him to come up with the bright idea and the new thing. He was also one of the most honest, generous and loyal persons I have ever known.”
They founded Sun Automation in 1985 and initially worked from a drafting table in Mr. Sardella’s Cockeysville home. They later expanded the business and had operations on Loveton Circle and in Rosedale and Abingdon. They designed, built and installed machinery that made corrugated paper boxes.
Sun Automation also had an office in England and in China.
Mr. Sardella and his partner sold the business to its employees in 2005, and remained on its board until 2012.
Family members said Mr. Sardella was an entrepreneur and inventor and held 17 patents. He developed the Sun Extend-O-Feed, a mechanism for feeding sheets of corrugated cardboard into box-manufacturing presses.
Mr. Sardella remained a loyal Johns Hopkins University alumnus. He was a member of the Whiting School of Engineering Advisory Council and served in the Society of Engineering Alumni for more than a decade.
“Professors challenged us and taught us to think critically,” Mr. Sardella said in a Hopkins publication. "And it opened up the world for me."
In 1999, he established the Sardella Scholarship Fund — describing it as "a way to give back.”
The money he gave to the university supported both engineering students and lacrosse players.
In 2005, he endowed the Louis M. Sardella Professorship in Mechanical Engineering.
“He was a great friend of the school of engineering and generated bonds that never wavered,” said Charles Meneveau, who holds the professorship that Mr. Sardella endowed. “He was upbeat but modest. He had accomplishments but never bragged. He got to the point and had an inquisitive mind. He remained interested in what we were doing in the department.”
Mr. Sardella attended numerous Johns Hopkins athletics events and also donated funds to the lacrosse and soccer programs. He regularly attended Hopkins men’s lacrosse games.
“He believed in education,” said his cousin, Lisa DeLeonardis. “Lou worked hard to be successful, and he saw his success as a means to give back. It was all part of the same dream. He was a humble and sincere person as well."
After retiring to Nevada several years ago, he remained a Ravens fan. He returned to Baltimore last month and watched the Ravens’ AFC divisional-round playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.
Since 2015, he coached men’s lacrosse at Sierra Nevada University.
Mr. Sardella played tennis and soccer, and went kayaking and skiing in and around Lake Tahoe. He built and flew model airplanes.
A life celebration will be held from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday at Hayfields Country Club, Hunt Valley.
Mr. Sardella is survived by a family of aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews.