The Passing of Wes Eckenfelder marks the End of an Era in Industrial Wastewater Treatment Profession
Posted April 12, 2010
By Joe Cleary
Dr. William Wesley Eckenfelder passed away on Sunday March 28, 2010. Wes was a pioneer and living legend in the profession and also a great friend and colleague. I had the distinct priviledge to work with him on many projects and workshops over the last ten years. What a great tribute to Wes last week at the service in Nashville on April 1, 2010. Anyone who was there will never forget it nor forget Wes. He was the “godfather” of our industrial wastewater profession for many years.
I have so many great memories of Wes and would like to share a few here. I graduated from Manhattan College’s Environmental Engineering in the early 70s. Wes graduated from Manhattan in the mid 40s and taught there for several years. He was a legend there and left for the University of Texas in the mid 60’s and then to Vanderbilt in 1969. I used Wes’s textbooks in school, and I learned about him from a couple of my professors. Don O’Connor, the professor who really got me interested in Environmental Engineering, was a colleague of Wes and co-author of his first book in 1960. I missed by about 5 years having Wes as a teacher. I then missed Wes at Hydroscience Inc. since he had left a few years prior to my arrival. Don and Wes started Hydroscience in 1961. Over the years I met Wes a few times at the Manhattan Alumni Plumbers dinners but never really got to know the man, the legend. I never imagined I would get to work with him and become friends with him many years later.
It wasn’t until the year 2000 when I was recruited to Brown and Caldwell (B&C) that I had the opportunity to get to know and work with Wes. The main reason for taking this job over others was to be able to work with Wes, the legend I had heard so much about. I was always amazed when I met someone who had attended one of his workshops years ago and still spoke about it as a memorable experience.
Wes and I conducted many workshops over the last ten years at several key WEF industrial waste conferences and other venues and universities. The first workshop we did together was held at the El Conquistador hotel in Fajardo, Puerto Rico. We had invited pharmaceutical industry clients who filled the room. One of the highlights for me at these workshops was Wes always telling the audience that he always finished by 5 PM, so he did not miss any of the time allotted for the cocktail hour. The cocktail hour was always very special with the clients listening to Wes’s stories.
I could not believe that Wes asked me to fill in for him one year at the Manhattan College’s Summer Institute and do his talk, which I had heard many times at workshops. That was in 2002 and I am still doing the Summer Institute today. I spoke with him each year to review how to improve the content of the course. One of the key memoirs was at the 50th Anniversary of the Summer Institute. Wes was one of the four speakers that Friday afternoon at a major gathering of alumni who were to attend the Plumbers dinner that Friday night. Wes, Bob Thomann, Charles O’Melia and Dom Ditoro, the four keynote speakers all gave presentations. It was a great event in which Wes led off with the 50 years of history of industrial wastewater treatment technology developments. Wes is the only engineer in the business who could do that talk because he was one of the co-founders 50 years ago. Even though he could not see well, he went through all the slides and received a standing ovation. It may have been the best presentations I have seen Wes perform. He had the unique ability and talent to take a complex subject and present it so that is easily understood as well as very entertaining and enjoyable.
After working together for several years and spending time with him on numerous trips I was honored to know Wes now as a friend. He has been a great colleague and mentor to me on projects, proposals and workshop presentations. I am amazed at how he continued to have the passion for helping clients solve their wastewater issues as well as the passion to teach engineers and students at the workshops. He did all of this with hardly any vision left and a need to sit during the lectures. He is truly one of the greats in the Environmental Engineering field and Industrial Wastewater profession.
A final memoir for me was in July 2007. Wes received the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the Water Environment Federation at the Industrial Waste Conference in Providence Rhode Island. No one is more deserving of that award, which was named in his honor. Sometimes I envy the students who were lucky to have him in college and the long time friends who knew him much longer, but I feel so very fortunate to have had the opportunity late in my career with my colleague and friend. I will really miss him and know that many of you will also. He was truly one of a kind with a great heart and a great mind.