Professor Emeritus Ernest J. Barenberg has died


Ernest J. Barenberg (PhD 65), CEE at Illinois professor emeritus and alumnus, died on Jan. 19, 2021.

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Ernest J. Barenberg (PhD 65), Illinois CEE professor emeritus and alumnus, died on Jan. 19, 2021. During more than 40 years on the University of Illinois CEE faculty, Barenberg educated and inspired generations of transportation engineering professionals.

Barenberg was born on April 9, 1929, to John and Helena Barenberg, in Herndon, Kan. He studied civil engineering at Kansas State University and belonged to Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. After graduation, he worked briefly in the aviation industry before serving a two-year tour as an officer in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. After his discharge from the Army, Barenberg earned his master’s degree in structural engineering at the University of Kansas and taught structural engineering design in steel and concrete there for five years. He earned his Ph.D. in civil engineering at the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign (UIUC), then taught and conducted research in transportation facilities at UIUC for more than 40 years.

Barenberg’s appointments at Illinois included a four-year term as the Associate Head of Civil Engineering, coordinating the departmental graduate students and research programs. For three years he also maintained a joint appointment at the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. In response to a request for proposal, in 1983 Barenberg restarted the Railway Civil Engineering program at UIUC that had been directed by William Hay from 1947 to 1977. He served as director of the Association of American Railroads affiliate program at UIUC from its inception in 1983 through 1998. His primary interests were railroad track systems, particularly concrete ties. He served as an associate director of the FAA Center of Excellence for airport pavements for eight years.

Barenberg’s research focused on the early development of theoretical/empirical design procedures for concrete pavements and premier pavements for long life and low maintenance. He developed a theoretical model for the analysis of concrete pavements (ILLISLAB). He also developed the background and framework for the mechanistic-based design procedures currently used by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Working through various consultants and government agencies, he was instrumental in developing standards for pavements at international airports, including Chicago O’Hare and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. He was part of the design team for several post-tensioned concrete pavements, including those currently in service at O’Hare and the Rockford airport. The pavement at the Rockford airport is unique in that the post-tensioned pavement is 1,200 feet long and 75 feet wide and does not have a joint in either the longitudinal or transverse direction. More recently, he was working with a manufacturer in the development of precast pavements for rapid repair of concrete pavements with minimal traffic disruption.

Barenberg loved solving novel engineering problems, teaching (not grading papers) and his students. He authored more than 200 technical papers on paving materials, design and transportation facilities and lectured on six continents. After retiring from full-time teaching, he continued consulting until he was 85 years old.

With colleagues, Barenberg created the International Society for Concrete Pavements and served as its first president. Barenberg’s honors include the Kent faculty award, ASCE Air Transportation Division Robert Horonjeff Award, American Association for Concrete Pavements Educator of the Year, Emeritus member for the Transportation Research Board Committees, lifetime National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences and the CEE Distinguished Faculty Award (2017). He was honored when the Ernest J. Barenberg Professorship was created and delighted when his former student, Jeffery Roesler (BS 92, MS 94, PhD 98) was designated as the first Barenberg Professor. The concrete materials and pavement laboratory in the new CEE instructional building will be named for Barenberg.

Barenberg (center) received the CEE Distinguished Faculty Award in 2017. Pictured here with the first Barenberg Professor, Jeffery Roesler (left), and co-winner Professor Emeritus Marshall Thompson.
Barenberg (center) received the CEE Distinguished Faculty Award in 2017. Pictured here with the first Barenberg Professor, Jeffery Roesler (left), and co-winner Professor Emeritus Marshall Thompson.

As well as being an extraordinary engineer, Barenberg was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He married Virgie Rawline after graduating from KSU and, after her death, married Nancy J. Pogue. He is survived by his wife, Nancy; children, Katie (Bill), Janet, Mike (Cheryl), Gena (Bob) and Myra; two Pogue sons, Keith (Christi) and Steve (Kelly); and 13 grandchildren.

He is also survived by two sisters, Mary Ann and Eileen, and two brothers, Charles and Maurice.

He was predeceased by his parents; daughter, Rita; five sisters, Alvina, Rosemary, Carol, Lucille and Dorothy; and two brothers, Dennis and Eugene.

Memorial gifts may be made to the Ernest J. Barenberg faculty fund (number 774934); the CEE concrete lab at the University of Illinois in Urbana; or the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. The address for gifts to the UI is: UI Foundation, Gift Planning and Trust Services, room 214, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801.

To add your personal remembrances of Barenberg to the list below, please fill out this form


Quotes and Recollections from colleagues of Ernest J. Barenberg

Jeffery Roesler (BS 92, MS 94, PhD 98)
Professor, University of Illinois
Professor Barenberg was an outstanding mentor of students throughout his career. He had high standards and challenged you to critically think but did it with kindness and desire to see you grow as an engineer and person. One impactful memory was when he and Nancy attended my out of town wedding in 1997. I was quite humbled and excited to see my advisor and wife spending a Saturday with me and my new wife at our wedding. I really learned the importance of valuing people over productivity from him.

Bill Ibbs
Professor of Civil Engineering, UC Berkeley
Ernie was Associate Department head when I joined the faculty in January 1981. He arranged for me to get student RA funding and guided me through the process of hiring and employing a grad student for research purposes. He was a good guy and cared about the university and our students.

Fereidoon Moghadas Nejad
Professor, Amirkabir University of Technology, Tehran, Iran
He was a great researcher in the field of Concrete Pavement. I learned so much from his works. God rest his soul.

Paul Koch (BS 66, MS 68)
Private Consultant
Dr. Barenberg was one of the many phenomenal Professors and human beings that we were honored to have guide us at the U of I. I remember his obvious concern for his students and their understanding of his subject matter, which was the primary focus of his career. His dislike for grading papers was a humorous anecdote and was much appreciated!!! He will certainly be missed.

Steve Donahue (BS 93, MS 95)
President, Horner & Shifrin, Inc.
Professor Barenberg encouraged me to pursue my master's degree in civil engineering. I served as both his teaching assistant and research assistant while in graduate school and learned a lot from him. He was always very kind and would make time to interact with his students.


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This story was published January 21, 2021.