Richard S. Engelbrecht

Educator, Researcher, pioneering leader in environmental pollution control, especially water

Richard S. EngelbrechtBy Professors Emeritus William J. Hall,  Vernon L. Snoeyink and John D. Haltiwanger

Richard S. Engelbrecht was born on March 11, 1926, in Ft. Wayne, Ind.  He received an A.B. degree in Zoology from Indiana University-Bloomington in 1948, after which he pursued graduate studies in microbiology and biochemistry at the same institution.  Subsequently he received M.S. and Sc.D. degrees in Sanitary Science from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952 and 1954, respectively.  

Engelbrecht joined the Department of Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1954 as an Assistant Professor, and held the rank of Professor of Environmental Engineering from 1959 until he retired in 1992, when he became Professor Emeritus of Environmental Engineering.  From 1987-89 he held the Ivan Racheff Professorship of Environmental Engineering, and during 1979-1991 he was Director of the UIUC Advanced Environmental Control Technology Research Center. For a period of time in 1973, he was Visiting Professor at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Haifa, Israel.

Engelbrecht’s forte was public service.  He served on numerous national and international committees, commissions, and boards of governmental agencies and professional societies.  By way of example, he was a member of the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO) from 1976 until his death, serving as Chairman of the Commission in 1980-82 and again in 1993-94; at the time of his death he had just been appointed to another term by the State of Illinois Governor James Edgar.  He served on numerous committees, panels and boards of the National Research Council (NAS/NAE/IOM), and was a member of the NRC Water Science and Technology Board from 1982-86.  He also served as a consultant to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the World Health Organization, the National Science Foundation, and many other governmental and private agencies; among the latter were the American Forest & Paper Association, and Kurita Water Industries, Ltd., Tokyo Japan.

His contributions to the solution of societal problems led to an immense number of professional awards.  Among these were the Harrison Prescott Eddy Medal for noteworthy Research (1966) and the Arthur Sidney Bedell Award (1973), both from the Water Pollution Control Federation; the George W. Fuller Award (1974) and the Publication Award (1975), both from the American Water Works Association; and the Eric H. Vick Award (1979) from the Institution of Public Health Engineers (UK).  Engelbrecht was elected to membership in the National Academy of Engineering in 1976, and to Honorary Membership in Abwassertechnische Vereiningung (West Germany) in 1978.  In 1974 he received the Radebaugh Award, and in 1985 the George J. Schroepfer Award from the Central States Water Pollution Control Association.  The Benjamin Garver Lamme Award of the American Society of Engineering Education was bestowed upon him in 1985.

In 1986 he was elected to Honorary Membership in the Water Environment Federation, and was awarded the Gordon Maskew Fair Medal by the same organization in 1987.  He was elected to Honorary Membership in the International Association on Water Pollution Research and Control in 1990.  In 1992 he received a Certificate of Appreciation from the Japan Sewage Works Agency, and because of his long involvement with many environmental projects and his help to Japanese graduate students at the University of Illinois, he received a national decoration from the Emperor of Japan in 1993, namely the Order of the Sacred Treasure, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon.  The Association of Environmental Engineering Professors honored him in 1993 with its Founders’ Award for sustained and outstanding contributions to environmental engineering education.  A month prior to his death he had been awarded the Warren A. Hall Medal from the Universities Council on Water Resources (UCOWR).

Prof. Engelbrecht  was the author or co-author of more than 122 articles, proceedings papers and chapters in books. Among the many professional organizations in which he was active were the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society for Microbiology, the American Water Works Association (Chairman, Illinois Section, 1970, Life Member), The Water Environment Federation, formerly the Water Pollution Control Federation (President, 1977), and the International Association on Water Quality, formerly the International Association on Water Pollution Research and Control (President 1980-1986). 

Like many other outstanding engineers, Dick was an “early to bed, early to rise” man, accomplishing much of his most creative work in the early morning hours.  Consistent with this mode of operation, he frequently faded in early evening, but at intimate social gatherings quite often humorously wore a large badge which read, “I am awake and having fun.”
 Engelbrecht’s death left a large void in the profession.  He provided strong, well-directed leadership and served as a role model for others, who through similar professional services worked for the betterment of society.  He will long be remembered by his friends and associates worldwide.  He was literally an “institution” nationally as well as internationally, and in the National Research Council he was known as “Mr. Water.”

Professor Engelbrecht died on September 1, 1996 in Urbana, Ill.   He is survived by his wife, Mary, two sons, and five grandchildren.