Orange County Branch Newsletter

April 2013

Secretary's Column

Secretary's Column - Life Members: A Legacy of Achievement

By Cindy Miller, P.E.

On March 2, 2013 the Los Angeles Section held its Life Member Brunch to honor those members who have advanced to Life Member status in the society and to recognize their career achievements. As in past years, the President-Elect of ASCE was invited to speak at this occasion. Life Member status is conferred by ASCE when the member reaches age 65 and has paid dues for at least 30 years and has 10 years of continuous membership immediately preceding the attainment of Life Membership. The Life Member Forum came into being in the early 1990’s as a result of the efforts of Bob Bein P.E., past President of both the LA Section and National ASCE Society, and retired Caltrans District Director, Keith McKean, P.E., now deceased.

Because of the large number of ASCE members located here in the So Cal region, many of the major engineering achievements in our country over the past 50 years can be traced to the prominent roles that our local Life Members have played. For example, some of these local Life Members have included engineers that were part of the engineering design team who had worked on the Hoover Dam. My husband and I recently attended a behind the scenes tour of the Hoover Dam and we were both deeply struck how technologically advanced the dam power generation system was for having been constructed in the 1930s, years before the advent of CAD systems, computers, and calculators. In fact a History Channel broadcast entitled, “Life After People” shared that if humankind were to die away suddenly much of the world would fall into darkness with the exception of southwest portions of the United States where the mighty Hoover Dam power generators, so finely tuned and constructed, would continue their power generation many months to years without human intervention.

In our society, it is a sad reality that the importance of civil engineers are largely under appreciated by the average citizen and all too often their achievements are lost in history.  Two years ago, I had a unique opportunity to visit the Civil War Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, which I wrote about in my November 2012 Secretary’s Column.  In that article, I wrote about one civil war hero I learned of who was a civil engineer and whose engineering abilities enabled him to defend a critical battle area called Culp’s Hill. That hero’s name was George Sears Greene.  It was not long after this article was published that a friend of mine, Mark Norton, Region 9 Governor-at-Large, informed me of another little known civil engineering hero who also played a significant role at the Battle of Gettysburg.  

In an area known as Little Round Top, a bronze statue is erected of a man looking out over the battle area. It has been said that of all the battles that occurred in the Gettysburg, the battle of Little Round Top was the most pivotal wherein due to one man’s quick ability to visually survey a key strategic battle location and redirect troops to support this high ground, the Union soldiers were able to turn the tide on the third day of the most important battle in the Civil War. That man was Brigadier General Governor Kemble Warren. Warren was a remarkably talented West Point graduate and a civil engineer, taught mathematics at West Point, worked on many transcontinental train routes, completed the first comprehensive map of the western United States and was appointed the Chief Engineer for the Union Army during the Civil War.

This story of civil engineering achievement continues with a surprising twist. Among Brigadier General’s staff was a young civil engineer named Washington Roebling. Roebling married Kemble Warren’s sister, Emily, and then he continued his engineering studies after the war in Europe. After studying European design practices, Roebling returned with his wife to the U.S. to work with his father on the design and construction of one of the most beloved civil engineering achievements and icons in history, media and art, the Brooklyn Bridge.

Upon the death of his father early in the bridge surveying effort, Washington Roebling took on his father’s role as the engineer and designer of the massive bridge project. Over time, unfortunately, the stress and strain of the construction management took its toll on Roebling and he became bedridden. It was Roebling’s wife and Warren’s sister, Emily, who played a prominent role in helping oversee the daily engineering and construction operations of the Brooklyn Bridge as Roebling monitored progress on the bridge from his home overlooking the bridge. It was Warren’s sister who was responsible for the erection of the statue of Governor Kemble Warren on Little Round Top in Gettysburg today. 

Though we may not play as prominent a role in history as Warren or Roebling, the achievements of local Life Members should be remembered and honored. By the very early action of the two civil engineers that formed the Life Member Forum in the ASCE Los Angeles Section, a legacy has been established. We encourage all members to extend a hand of appreciation to those remarkable individuals, our Life Members.

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