Clarence L. Eckel


Clarence L. Eckel

Civil Engineer – Teacher – Consultant – Author – Soldier – Designer – Administrator

Professional Development – Structures – Concrete – Construction – Bridges – Mill Buildings

Twenty-seventh National Honor Member Nominated by the University of Colorado Chapter

One of the outstanding contributors to the growth and stability of Chi Epsilon Fraternity is Clarence Lewis Eckel. Basically quiet-spoken and friendly, he sowed a spirit of confidence in those with whom he came in contact. It was possible to know him for just a few minutes and feel that you had known him a long, long time.

Born in Buffalo, Sangamon County, Illinois, on March 2, 1892, he moved to Colorado with his parents at a very early age, and he was identified with that state for the remainder of his life, no matter how far afield he traveled.

He received his early education in the public schools of Denver, and graduated from the North Side High School in that city. He entered the University of Colorado and graduated from that institution in 1914 with the bachelor of science degree in civil engineering. He played center on the University of Colorado football team in 1912 and 1913, and was named the “All Rocky Mountain Center” in 1913, when the University of Colorado won the conference championship.

From September, 1914, until June, 1960, expect for two interruptions, he was a member of the teaching staff at the university. In the summer of 1914, immediately after graduation, he was engaged as a concrete detailer and designer for Colonel Herbert S. Crocker, consulting engineer (seventh National Honor Member of Chi Epsilon), on the Colfax-Larimer Viaduct in Denver. In the summer of 1915, he was in charge of the construction of a concrete grain elevator at Longmont, Colorado, for the Farmers Union Cooperative Elevator and Supply Company. For a brief time in 1916, he worked as a steel detailer for the American Bridge Company at Gary, Indiana, but was called back to Colorado for military duty during the Mexican Border trouble.

He enlisted as a private, but three days later, on March 23, 1916, he received a commission as lieutenant in Company B, Engineers. Then, because most of his company was university students, Company B was mustered out of federal service at the end of September, 1916. In July, 1917, his National Guard Unit was mustered into the regular army again, for service in World War I, and Eckel was commissioned a captain of Company A, 115th Engineers. The major in his unit was on detached service during quite a bit of their time in Europe (1918-19), and in his absence, Eckel was acting commander of the First Battalion, 115th Engineers. In Europe, the battalion was, at various times, attached to VI Corps, IX Corps, and the Third Army, doing road work, patching macadam, filling shell holes, etc., before the armistice, and other construction work afterward. Thus, he served with this outfit in the American Expeditionary Force, in France and Germany, until he was discharged in 1919 as captain, Engineers, in the Officers Reserve Corps.

The primary aspect of Jimmy Eckel’s professional life was the communication of knowledge to future engineers. On June 12, 1917, the month prior to his recall into the army, he had married Florence Robinson at Glendale, California. Early in their courtship, she had expressed a dislike for the name “Clarence” and his earlier nickname of “Eck”. So, when the friendship developed past the “Mr. Eckel” stage, she began calling him “Jimmy” for no particular reason. It could just as well have been “Pete” for “Bill,” but the name “Jimmy Eckel” followed Dean Eckel through his entire career.

Mustered out of service in June, 1919, he spent the summer as assistant professor of civil engineering, going with Dean Milo S. Ketchum (National Honor Member Number One) from the University of Colorado to the University of Pennsylvania. In September, 1923, he was back at the University of Colorado again, this time as professor of civil engineering. In September, 1926, he became head of the Civil Engineering Department, and in November, 1943, Dean of the College of Engineering, from which important post he retired in 1960.

He believed that engineering teachers should know the application as well as the theory of engineering, and he applied this principle to himself as well as to the members of his staff by taking summer jobs in industry or public works, and by serving as a consultant. For two successive summers, 1922 and 1923, he gained experience as a detailer for the American Bridge Company at Pencoyd, Pennsylvania, and, in the summer of 1926, and again in 1929, he was an engineer on Colonel Herbert S. Crocker’s staff at Denver. Several summers were spent teaching summer courses at the university – 1919 and 1925 as engineer in the university construction department, and, from 1936 to 1960, concurrently with his normal work schedule, he served as consultant to the University Construction Department. From May to October, 1942, he was chief construction engineer for the consulting firm of Crocker and Ryan during the building of Peterson Field (Air Support Command Base) at Colorado Springs. As such, he was in charge of surveys, excavation, and construction of bituminous runways, concrete aprons, railroad, streets, buildings, and utilities. The most difficult problem was the stabilization of an unstable soil and the construction of the runways with local materials that were far from ideal. At the peak of the job there were about 125 engineers, surveyors, and inspectors. In recounting this experience, Dean Eckel cited the contribution of Professor William H. Thoman, of the University of Colorado, chief materials engineer on the project, as most important to its successful completion.

One does not gain an adequate picture of Dean Eckel’s steady and very outstanding contributions to his profession from raw “vital” statistics. He took active roles in his professional societies, both national and local, educational as well as engineering, and in community affairs. He served on the Colorado State Board of Registration for Professional Engineers, and was a president of the National Council of State Boards of Engineering Examiners. He is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers dating from 1920 (president of the Colorado Section in 1932, national director from 1955 to 1958, and honorary member in 1962). He served on many ASCE committees and has been chairman of three: namely, the Committee of Engineering Education (1932-36) and (1943-47), the Committee on Student Chapters (1940-44) and the Committee on Registration of Engineers. For seventeen years (1936-60), he represented ASCE on the Engineers’ Council for Professional Development. He was a member of the Colorado Society of Engineers, the Colorado Educational Association, the Colorado Schoolmasters Club, the Boulder Rotary Club (since 1936), and was, for several years, on the Colorado Engineering Council, the Community Hospital Board (for about ten years), and chairman of the Boulder County Board of Adjustment (about fifteen years). In recognition of Dean Eckel’s efforts to establish a curriculum in architecture at the University of Colorado, and for rendering “the profession of architecture signal and valuable service,” the Colorado chapter of AIA conferred its first honorary membership on him. He also belonged to the National Society of Professional Engineers and the American Society for Engineering Education (member of the Council from 1934 to 1937 and vice-president, 1957-60); and was a member of the National Education Association, Association of University Professors, and the American Concrete Institute.

Dean Eckel was elected to Acacia, Alpha Sigma Pi, Tau Beta Pi, Sigma Tau, and Sigma Xi. His contributions to engineering literature were many and varied, including cooperation with Dean Milo S. Ketchum in preparing engineering designs, investigations, and reports. Before World War I (September, 1914-June, 1915) and again following the War (July, 1919, to October, 1925), he assisted the dean in his revisions of the books on “Steel Mill Buildings,” “Highway Bridges,” and “The Structural Engineers Handbook.” From January, 1920, to January, 1925, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, he served as technical editor on the production of the technical edition, Civil Engineering Class, of “Lefax.” He is co-author with C. K. Wang, of the textbook entitled “Elementary Theory of Structures,” published in 1957. In 1961, the Colorado Engineering Council awarded its gold medal to Dean Eckel. It was its tenth such award in thirty-one years, and the first award to a teacher. In 1966, he was awarded the Distinguished Engineering Alumni Award of the University of Colorado Engineering Development Foundation.Despite the tightly packed activities that mark Jimmy Eckel’s career, he was able to keep in close personal touch with his students and their subsequent careers. He exchanged personal letters and took time out during his travels to make personal calls and to arrange special meetings with men who had been his students twenty-five to thirty-five years previously. This attribute alone identifies his career as “a labor of love” throughout. Clarence L. Eckel invested his life in the men of his profession. Thousands who have benefitted from that investment will never forget the extent by which it molded their character. Many said that he lived as an example to them.

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