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Engineering a career of a lifetime

Engineering a career of a lifetime
By MIKE McINALLY, Gazette-Times gazettetimes.com | Posted: Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Story Next Door

Name: Roger Lindquist

Age: 77 (he turns 78 on Thursday)

Occupation: Engineer, CH2M Hill

Family: Wife, Whitney; two daughters, Sonja Locke and Erika Lindquist; five grandchildren

It doesn't tell you everything you need to know about Roger Lindquist, but his employee number at CH2M Hill isn't a bad place to start the story:

Remember that CH2M Hill, the international engineering company that started in Corvallis, has some 24,000 employees around the globe. Lindquist's employee number? 24.

In fact, Lindquist's career at CH2M Hill dates back to 1955.

Today, 55 years later, the 77-year-old Lindquist still reports to work, logging eight or so hours a week, careful not to take work away from any of the younger engineers.

Not that they mind. One of those younger engineers, Vince Rybel, wrote this of Lindquist back in 2005: "I cannot think of anyone within the company who has provided such outstanding service in training young engineers for such a long period of time as Roger has done. … Without Roger, CH2M Hill would have had fewer successful projects, more projects with major problems and a less stellar reputation."

Lindquist shrugs off the praise. "CH2M has really been a special place to work," he said. "They gave me a lot of respect."

When employee No. 24 started work at CH2M, the company had just landed one of its first big jobs - a Georgia-Pacific mill in Toledo - and it needed, as Lindquist said, "a flunky." Some of Lindquist's professors at Oregon State University recommended the young engineer to the company.

That was 1955. Later that year, however, the draft beckoned, and Lindquist went into the Army. When his hitch ended in 1957, he enrolled in graduate school at the University of Minnesota, earning a master's degree in civil engineering.

In 1958, with graduate school completed, "I loaded up my car and drove to Corvallis. Jim (Howland, one of the company's founders) was expecting me to come back. What dumb luck ... I think they were probably still desperate."

In those days, CH2M was based in a building on Western Boulevard in Corvallis. The partners had offices, while engineers sat three abreast in one big open room. The break room was in the furnace room.

Even then, Lindquist recalled, it was clear that Howland and his co-founders had launched something special. "They respected their fellow employees. They communicated really well ... He created an atmosphere - a working atmosphere - that I've never seen anywhere else."

Working around the world

Later in 1959, Roger met his future wife, Whitney, on a blind date.

"It was a successful first date," said Whitney Lindquist. "We got married in July 1960. I had no clue what an engineer was when I got married."

One thing about an engineer's life became clear as the years went on: "They travel a lot."

In fact, Roger Lindquist has tackled projects near and far for CH2M Hill.

The list is a lengthy, but it includes projects at the wastewater treatment plants in Corvallis, Eugene and Milwaukie. He's also worked on projects at the Portland and Seattle airports and dam projects throughout the United States and elsewhere. Abroad, he's worked on a water-distribution project on the island of Trinidad, and on a wastewater project in Alexandria, Egypt, among many other ports of call.

Whitney got to travel with her husband for some of those projects. But she also had to stay behind in Corvallis to raise their two daughters while Roger's work took him away from home for extended periods.

"The girls and I would get into our little routine," she said, "and then suddenly some guy from Egypt would show up."

Whitney Lindquist also managed some rental units in Corvallis for years, and she learned to handle matters on her own - important when you consider that communications around the world were not as timely or convenient as they are now.

"When he was gone, he was gone," she said. "And I had to figure out how to fix the problems, because there was no one else to help."

But she's clearly proud of Roger's work around the world - and equally proud of the way he still works as a mentor to younger engineers.

The job also has given the Lindquists the freedom to sightsee around the world - in particular, they rave about hiking trips in Switzerland. In fact, one of the reasons why Roger Lindquist hasn't retired yet is that they've already been able to cross many of those "to-dos" off their list.

"Roger has not needed to retire in order to do some of the things that people sometimes need to retire to do," she said.

Some projects do await Roger Lindquist when he does retire, in particular writing a family history.

But it doesn't sound as if he's got plans to take down his shingle anytime soon. "I don't have any idea" when he might officially retire, he said. "I'm sure they'll tell me."

CH2M Hill doesn't seem to be in any hurry to do that, though, and so Lindquist is happy to continue reporting for work: "I come in late and leave early to make up for it. It's more of a hobby than anything else."

And the appeal is much the same as it was back in 1955: Each project is like a puzzle, with its own pieces to try to fit together.

"Everything is different, and it seems like you can make a challenge out of all of them," he said. "It just doesn't get much better than this. It really doesn't."




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