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History and Heritage

The following is a synopsis of a talk given by Del Ballard, Historian and Life Member of the Columbia Section, at a picnic in Charbonneau Park on June 11, 2000. NOTE: we now have a wonderful 50th Anniversary Booklet for sale as CD-ROM or hard copy. Copies of the book “History of the Columbia Section – Bridging the Years 1950-2000” are no longer available for purchase, but one is available for download here:  History of the Columbia Section-Bridging the Years 1950-2000


As everyone knows, we are here today to recognize, remember, and celebrate the 50th Anniversary of the Columbia Section of The American Society of Civil Engineers.

I know that our Section has had a vigorous and honorable history over those 5 decades. I believe the Section activities have been memorable and rewarding to those that have belonged and participated.

Engineers from our midst have managed or been contributors on some of the most challenging and impressive projects in the country. We have had many valuable technical seminars, innumerable interesting and educational dinner programs, have provided scholarships to college students, and I hope have inspired at least some youngsters to enter the field of Civil Engineering.

I would like to touch on just a few of the Programs, People, and Projects that I consider as being highlights in the history off the Columbia Section.

Origins of the Columbia Section

So how did we become a Section? The first recorded minutes that I have in the Section history files are the minutes of the Jan. 19 meeting in 1948. That meeting was held in the Lewis & Clark School in Richland. The minutes state that the purpose of the meeting was for the organizing of a local section of ASCE. There were 17 ASCE members there, including 10 Jr. , 5 Assoc. and 2 Members. They announced that their initial request for Section Status had been rejected by National and they had been requested to operate as a Sub Section for a period of time.

That group then combined with the interested ones from Walla Walla and operated as a Branch under the Spokane Section until the fall of 1950. In the fall of 1950 a new petition was signed and submitted to National. Just prior to the Fall Board Meeting word came down from on high that the Board was going to take no action on our request. However, thanks to the behind the scenes workings of an active committee consisting Hank. L. Friend, F. A Thorkelson and Jim Travis, the Board did take action.

At the Oct 10, 1950 the National Board Meeting, full Section Status for the Columbia Section was granted.. We were the 72nd Section of ASCE. Our boundaries include a total of 10 counties in this corner of WA and NE Oregon.

Several “memory books”, history records, photographs, etc. have been retrieved from our files and are on display here today. One item that I found very interesting was article printed in the Hanford Work News in the fall of 1950. It includes a picture of many of the charter members.

Columbia has operated as a designated Section since 1950. In 1989 a Branch organization was structured to serve the Yakima area engineers. That group is represented here today by Rick Gifford and his family.

The first year that our Section was host to the Pacific Northwest Conference (PNC) was in 1952.

Early Events

I fondly remember my first connection with the Section was the field trip for that conference. A small freight barge and tug boat was rented, and we took a pleasure boat ride down the Columbia River to McNary Dam (which had just recently been completed), and passed through the lock. Sack lunches were provided on the barge and everyone had a very enjoyable day.

Based on a rotation established by PNC the Conference has been hosted by the Columbia Section in ’57, ’65, ’74, ’84, ’94, and is scheduled to again host that group in 2001. At each of these conferences we have provided a technical program in conjunction with business meetings. Just to show how old and “Historical” some of us are getting to be, I was chairman of that conference in ’84 and Larry Gaddis was chair in ’94.

During my many years as the Sections representative to the PNC, I got the feeling that the PNC was one of the most vigorous and outspoken regional groups with respect to professional and administrative issues. We had a reputation for many challenging Resolutions for the Na. Board to act on. I recall many nights at PNC meeting drafting and redrafting some of those resolutions.

For a number of years in the 50’s, 60’s, and early 70′ the Section was near the top in the Nation for the percentage of assigned members that paid their local dues. For many years those numbers ran in the high 70% range

Included in our record books is a listing of all of the Presidents and Secretary/Treasurers that have worked so hard for the Section since its formation. Not listed are those engineers that were the leaders, Presidents, of the group prior to 1950. Those included Loyal B. Smith in 1950, Jim Travis in ’49, and .HL Friend in ’48 . Of course there are many in the other offices and committees that worked hard and gave vigorous support to the Section.

The Washington Society of Professional Engineers each year sponsors a contest to select an “Engineer of the Year” in the Tri-Cities. Nominations are solicited from all of the many technical groups. The ASCE has received that award for at least three of the many years of that program.. This included Dr. Fred Bennett in ’85, Mark Lindgren ’95, and Victor Madina in 2000.

Technical Seminars & Programs

In May I attended the technical seminar that was sponsored by the Columbia Section and WSU- TC. Our very able President Susan Mikels, along with Victor Madina were the organizers of that program. At that seminar we herd a variety of presenters anoint us with many of the latest and greatest computer software programs in the field of Civil Engineering. I site that just as an example of one of the many technical seminars the Section has sponsored over the years. We have always tried to emphasize subjects of current and popular interest in the varied fields of CE.

Our policy is to try to hold at least one technical seminal each year. I have maintained a listing of the seminars held during the past twenty years or so. Some have been financially profitable, some not. Our best yielded over $6k.

In 1977 our section initiated a scholarship fund; that was largely through the efforts of Dick Hayden. The fund was named the Howard Preston Scholarship Fund in honor of that late and prominent Manager from the COE in Walla Walla. Funds were transferred from profits of the first annual Section seminar and the fund has grown and been increased by subsequent seminars.

Since 1977 annual notices have been sent to colleges and universities in or region asking for applicants. Responses have been less than consistent. Normally one per year is awarded. This year we gave two $1000 scholarships. Recipients were Indra Gertz and Mikels Schwab, both from Walla Walla College.

I believe that our student chapters are an essential and a primary source for new members to the profession to Civil Engineering. Several Decades ago we used to provide support to the WSU and UI student chapters. Both of those groups are now under the auspsis of the Inland Empire Section

Since the late ’70’s our support has gone exclusively to the Student Chapter at WW College. We have had a number of Section representatives working with the students. Dr. Fred Bennett, now retired as dean of the Engineering Department was the students leader and consular for 25 years. We certainly want to give our recognition and thanks to Fred for that relentless and effective efforts.

The Section has consistently provided financial support and many judges for local science fairs and other technical programs in High and Grade Schools.

National Awards Projects & Landmarks

The Section has had many projects worthy of nomination for the Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award Program. A chronologic listing of all of the nominations made by the Columbia Section has been maintained.

Four of those projects that received National Awards are listed here:

1967 Hanford N Reactor OCEA Award of Merit
1976 Lower Snake River Projects OCEA Water Resource Award
1979 Cable Stayed Bridge, Pasco/Kenn OCEA Special Award
1984 Roller Compacted Concrete Dam, OCEA Award Willow Creek.

Lastly I want to mention some national civil engineering landmarks that are within our boarders.

Mullen Road
Constructed in 1858 to 1863 this 625 Mile military road extended ground travel between Fort Benton in Montana and Fort Walla Walla. There were three plaques prepared and presented for that National Landmark: One in Walla Walla, one at the Forth of July Pass in Idaho, and one in Fort Benton, Montana.
Lyons Ferry and railroad bridge across the Snake River (local landmark)
Hanford B Reactor
Our most recent National. Historic Civil Engineering Landmark is the Hanford B Reactor. B Reactor was the worlds first full scale production reactor, built by Civil engineers of the likes of Col. Mathias, Leslie Groves, and many others. That project was carried from start of construction to operation in just 15 months. Today the B Reactor Museum Association is working to assure the preservation and conversion of this edifice to a public museum.

So much for the past very successful and exciting 50 years of the Columbia Section. Here’s hoping the next 50 can be even more productive and rewarding for our members and the public.

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