John A. Focht, Sr.


John A. Focht, Sr.

Civil Engineer – Educator – Administrator – Soldier

City Engineering – County Engineering – Highways – Teaching

Thirty-sixth National Honor Member Nominated by the Supreme Council & Elevated by the Society April 22, 1972

John Arnold Focht has dedicated most of his civil engineering career of 58 years to the teaching and guidance of young men at the University of Texas engaged in the pursuit of engineering study leading to a growth as professional men in civil engineering. Forty years have been devoted to Chi Epsilon as a faculty advisor, councilor, and national secretary/treasurer.

He was born in Sweetwater, Texas, on February 15, 1894, the son of Israel Shell Focht and Mattie Arnold Focht; and he received his grammar school and secondary school education in Sweetwater, Texas. Immediately following his graduation with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in 1914 from the University of Texas, John A. Focht spent a period of time in municipal government and service in World War I, prior to marrying Fay Goss in 1920.

Two boys, John A., Jr. and F. Tuck, and one girl, Fay Madeline, were born of that union. All three are graduates of the university, the boys in civil engineering and Fay Madeline in chemistry. Both John Jr. and Tuck are members of Chi Epsilon.

For the three years following graduation with bachelor’s degree, John Focht was assistant city engineer and city engineer in Sweetwater, engaged in the development of water supply systems, dams and sewerage facilities. During the school year 1915-1916 and prior to becoming a city engineer, John Focht returned to the University of Texas for additional schooling (there was no formal master’s program at that time). A number of years later, 1929, he earned a master’s degree in civil engineering.

In 1917, the United States was preparing for World War I, and John Focht enlisted for training in the U.S. Army and was commissioned a second lieutenant. He went to France with the 315th Engineers of the 90th Division in 1918; he was wounded twice and was awarded a Distinguished Service Cross for gallantry in action.

Between 1919 and 1926, John Focht worked as assistant county engineer and county engineer in Rockwall County performing surveys, planning, and construction of state and county roads. Following his Rockwall County assignment, he worked as county engineer in Nolan County doing similar work. Although Rockwall is the smallest county in Texas, it was during John’s Period of employment that the county completed the first cross-county concrete highway in the State of Texas.

In 1926, Dean T. U. Taylor persuaded John A. Focht to begin his major contribution to the civil engineering profession, the education of the young Texas men, as a professor of civil engineering at the University of Texas. Teaching mainly in the area of highways, he also taught surveying, mechanics, and strength of materials. As a part of his teaching, Professor Focht taught the first soil mechanics course in the southwest. Much of his teaching was not done in the formal classroom, but rather in the counseling of his students on all matters of their education and life and in his work with the students through the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the Chi Epsilon chapter on the University of Texas campus.

John A. Focht became assistant dean of the College of Engineering in 1950. At that time he became counselor until 1964, when he reached full retirement from the faculty. Besides his normal teaching assignments, Dean Focht assisted the Texas Highway Department in sponsoring the first Traffic Engineers Conference held in the state and helped the General Land Office to sponsor the first surveyor’s short course, which led to the formation of the Texas Land Surveyors Association.

Throughout his professional career, John Arnold Focht diligently served the civil engineering profession. In 1933, he was elected second vice-president of the Texas Section, American Society of Civil Engineers, because of his efforts in promoting civil engineering in Texas. The following year, he was first vice-president, and in 1935, he became president. Two years later, he became secretary-treasurer and contributed ten years of intense service to the section through the World War II period. He has never stopped contributing to the Texas Section, having served on many committees, and also serving as the official photographer, one of his hobbies. In 1955, he was granted the Texas Section Award of Honor, the section’s highest award.

In addition to his activities in Chi Epsilon and the American Society of Civil Engineers, Dean Focht found time in his busy life to serve as a scoutmaster and troop committee member, receiving the Silver Beaver Award for his outstanding work. He was a faithful servant of God in his activities at the University United Methodist Church of Austin, where he was a member of the board of trustees and a past chairman.

John Focht was a Shriner, a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers, and holds license number 100 in the State of Texas to practice professional engineering.

John Focht was first elected to Chi Epsilon in 1934, at the University of Texas, Austin (chapter no. 13, chartered in 1934), with a general number of 1,721 and an individual chapter number of 27, and served as faculty advisor until 1952, when he was elected to the Supreme Council. During those years, he also served as adviser to the ASCE student chapter and adviser to the Tau Beta Pi chapter. In 1952, Dean Focht was elected secretary-treasurer of Chi Epsilon and continued to serve until early 1972, when he was named Councillor Emeritus. For 40 years, John Arnold Focht has given faithful service to Chi Epsilon and the outstanding young men honored by the national civil engineering honor society.

Chi Epsilon was proud to make John Arnold Focht its 36th National Honor Member on April 22, 1972, at the University of Illinois.

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