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This is the third volume in the series of Memorial Tributes compiled by the National Academy of Engineering as a personal remembrance of the lives and outstanding achievements of its members and international members. These volumes are intended to stand as an enduring record of the many contributions of engineers and engineering to the benefit of humankind. In most cases, the authors of the tributes are contemporaries or colleagues who had personal knowledge of the interests and the engineering accomplishments of the deceased.
BY JOSEPH T. LING
George John Schroepfer, a pioneering leader in the design and management of wastewater treatment and disposal systems and professor emeritus of sanitary engineering in the Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering at the University of Minnesota, died in Minneapolis on March 11, 1984.
George Schroepfer was born in St. Paul, Minnesota, on September 7, 1906. He graduated in March 1928 with a B.S. in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota. An M.S. followed in June 1930, and a professional civil engineering degree was awarded in June 1932. Schroepfer began studies for a Ph.D., but he was soon sidetracked by an exceptional opportunity and the challenge to play a key role in the development of major (capital costs of $16 million in 1933) new sewage treatment facilities for the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan region.
In November 1933 he accepted the position as assistant chief engineer for the Minneapolis/St. Paul Sanitary District (now the Metropolitan Waste Control Commission) and was assigned responsibility for the design and construction of these new facilities. In June 1938 he was appointed chief engineer and superintendent of the Sanitary District.
These official duties notwithstanding, George Schroepfer maintained an active involvement with the University of Minnesota and with sanitary engineering education. In September 1945 he accepted an appointment as professor of sanitary engineering in the Civil Engineering Department of the University of Minnesota. Research laboratories were quickly established, and graduate students from around the world arrived to study under Professor Schroepfer's direction. In addition, the University of Minnesota quickly became recognized as a leader in sanitary engineering research education.
Recognition of the exceptional academic and professional talents of George Schroepfer came early. As a senior-year undergraduate student, he was admitted to the national honor societies of Chi Epsilon and Tau Beta Pi and received the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Northwestern Section Senior Student Award. In 1932 he was admitted to Sigma Xi. Ten years later, George Schroepfer was elected president of the Water Pollution Control Federation; in 1943 he became president of the Northwest Section of ASCE.
He was a consultant to the National War Production Board from 1942 to 1945 and in the postwar years was in great demand as a consultant to companies both in the United States and abroad. His services were especially sought by developing countries and by such agencies as the Pan American Health Organization, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, and the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Professor Schroepfer devoted much of his effort to technical and professional societies and received a number of medals and awards in recognition of his contributions. Included among his honors are the Rudolf Hering Medal of the American Society of Civil Engineers (1945) and the George Warren Fuller Award of the American Water Works Association (1957).
Beginning in 1947 with the William D. Hatfield Award, he received almost every award and medal of the Water Pollution Control Federation, including the Arthur Sidney Bedell Award in 1955; the Harrison Prescott Eddy Medal (1956); the Radebaugh Award of Central States Water Pollution Control Association, a constituent association (1965); the Charles Alvin Emerson Medal (1968); the Thomas R. Camp Medal (1970); the Gordon Maskew Fair Medal (1976); and the William J. Orchard Medal (1977). In 1983 the Central States Water Pollution Control Association established the George J. Schroepfer Award to honor exceptional contributions of members to the field of water pollution control, and Professor Schroepfer was the first recipient of this award.
The Brazilian Section of the Inter-American Association of Sanitary Engineers, the Water Pollution Control Federation, and ASCE all elected Professor Schroepfer an honorary member. These and other such awards, a long list of publications and consulting reports, and his memberships, both regular and honorary, in many professional organizations, are eloquent testimonials to a most distinguished and productive professional career. In 1981 George Schroepfer was elected a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, the highest professional recognition accorded an engineer by his or her peers and an honor reserved for a very select few in the world engineering community.
Throughout his active professional career, Professor Schroepfer made many outstanding contributions to the field of environmental (sanitary) engineering, ranging from scientific research to professional practice. Particularly noteworthy was his pioneering research work on the anaerobic contact process for treating wastewaters having a high concentration of organic matter. His technical publications in the areas of economics, financing, and charges for wastewater collection and treatment systems were unique; he truly ''bridged the gap'' between research and practice.
The sanitary engineer, through the introduction of safe public drinking water supplies and wastewater treatment facilities, has done more during the past 150 years to raise life expectancy worldwide than any other professional. George Schroepfer was aware of these contributions and was also profoundly concerned that a large part of the world still suffered from a lack of these basic needs. He can take comfort from the fact that the many students who came to learn from him, who came from all corners of the globe, are now themselves pursuing the same objectives and thus multiplying his effectiveness.
I became acquainted with Professor Schroepfer in 1948, when I became his first Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota. Those who were privileged to know George Schroepfer quickly recognized a man of resolution, determination, and independence; a commanding figure and natural leader—attributes that certainly helped him toward success in his long professional career. Less immediately visible were his deep and abiding humanitarian concern for others and the wit and charm with which he endeared himself to his colleagues, especially his students.
Undoubtedly, George Schroepfer will be missed. Recently, those who were associated with him resolved collectively to equip a conference center, in the newly constructed Civil and Mineral Engineering Building at the University of Minnesota, to be named in Professor Schroepfer's honor. This represents one small way to remember this outstanding man, his good work, and his influence.