Prunkard retires after nearly 25 years
By Celeste Bock
Tim Prunkard, CEE’s Technical Services Supervisor, retired from the University of Illinois in December 2019 after nearly 25 years in the department. Prunkard led the team who supported research by faculty and students with skilled labor in the machine shop, concrete lab, wood shop and throughout the department’s facilities.
At the time of Prunkard’s retirement, his staff numbered eight people but over the years had been as high as 12, depending on the amount and type of research being conducted in the department, he said. The team also occasionally did work for the University’s Facilities and Services division. A recent project involved building guard rails for the entrance ramp of a sorority house, skillfully replicating the antique rails to match the historic building.
Raised in the small Vermilion County town of Indianola, Ill., Prunkard joined the department in 1995. He worked under six department heads and through the planning and construction of both the M.T. Geoffrey Yeh Student Center in Newmark Civil Engineering Laboratory and the current, ongoing project to build a Smart Bridge and large addition to the Hydrosystems Laboratory.
“It is an extreme amazement for me – humbling – that I’ve sat in on office meetings with some of the most intelligent people in the world and that they cared about my opinion,” Prunkard said. “It’s fascinating for me that I got to play a part. I’ve worked with some of the most intelligent students in the world, and they have become my friends. They’re all over the world, so I feel like I could go anywhere in the world and feel at home. I’m a guy who came from a little town of 300 people, and wow, my eyes opened up when I came here!”
The position has been a demanding one, with long hours and frequent phone calls even during Prunkard’s off hours, he said.
“I tease my wife that this was my first marriage and she was my second because of the amount of time and hours,” he said. “But I love this place. This was my home. I made this my career.”
As the primary staff person in charge of CEE’s facilities, Prunkard has been called on to respond to a wide range of situations at all hours of the day and night, from building occupants reporting that their offices were too hot or too cold to serious health or safety emergencies. When campus police found a student practicing rock-climbing on the strong wall in the Newmark crane bay late at night, Prunkard got the call. When an aging retired professor went missing on campus, Prunkard helped him get home. One of the accomplishments of which he is most proud has been cultivating a reputation for being approachable and doing his best to respond to all issues quickly and professionally, he said.
“My daughter said, ‘The thing you’re going to miss is everybody needing you’,” Prunkard said.
Looking back, Prunkard said he has valued the opportunity to work with world-class faculty, talented students and dedicated staff.
“I’m so fortunate to have had people working with me every day who cared as much about what we did as I did,” he said.
Prunkard leaves with mixed feelings; although sad that this is the end of his time in CEE, he said he doesn’t consider his career over. He is still interested in applying his knowledge of research testing environments and would welcome the chance to work in that field again – possibly as a consultant.
“I’m excited about having new opportunities; I just don’t know what those will be yet,” he said. “I’m going to treat this like graduation. I still have a lot to offer.”