When he was in Kindergarten, Stu Walesh’s teacher wrote on his report card that he was “too serious.” What? A 5-year-old who’s too serious? Maybe what his Kindergarten teacher saw was Stu’s intensity. “I loved my life as a kid,” Stu says. “It was wonderful, and I wouldn’t trade my childhood for anything.” His folks lived across the highway from Lake Michigan, and there was a creek nearby that flowed into a marshy area near the lake. He loved to go down there and play in the water – not just splashing around, but building dams, levees and canals and watching what happened. “I always loved nature,” he says.
He loved school, too, and he did take his learning seriously. “I was a darn good student,” he says. “Maybe I wasn’t the brightest bulb in the chandelier, but I made up for it with persistence. I loved to study and do research.” Well, that persistence paid off. Stu studied and researched his way up through a Ph.D. and beyond. He has devoted his life to being an “Improver” – first, improving himself; second, helping others to improve themselves; and third, improving his and our environment, offering us a better life.
His playing in the water as a youngster gave impetus to Stu’s lifelong interest in water management. After graduating from high school, he earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering at Valparaiso (Indiana) University, got his M.S. degree in sanitary engineering and water resources at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, and his Ph.D. in hydraulics and water resources at the University of Wisconsin in 1969.
He spent the next 24 years in the civil engineering and water resource industry, serving as a technical expert on water management, first for the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission, then for Donohue & Associates, a large consulting firm, and finally as Dean of the College of Engineering at Valparaiso. “I loved that first job, but after seven or eight years it became boring, doing the same thing over and over again. I wanted to move on. In any job I had,” he says, “as soon as it became maintenance, I was out of there. I was a builder, not a maintainer.”
Eventually Stu went into doing consulting work, providing management, engineering and educational or training services to private, public, academic and volunteer organizations. His client list would make many an independent consultant weep with envy: engineering companies, nonprofit organizations, universities, state and local governments, manufacturing corporations, even the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
In 1993 he went on sabbatical leave from Valparaiso, and he and wife Jerrie bought a boat – a 34-foot trawler that they named “Sabbatical” – and took it around the Great Lakes, down the Hudson River and eventually to Southwest Florida. During that time, they told anyone who asked why they did that “We’re on Sabbatical.” Stu says, “That boat was my dream. I taught myself how to operate it, and I told my wife, ‘Keep in mind that I’m the Captain of this ship.’ She said, ‘Yes, you are, and I’m the Admiral.’ She drew the line, and I knew when to toe it.”
Along the way, Stu became interested in artistry, and he began reading up on what made the minds of artists seem so different from the minds of the engineers he was used to dealing with. “After all,” he says, “landscapes are just the canvases that engineers work on.” He got hold of a book by Betty Edwards, called “Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain,” and “that got me interested in learning more about this thing inside our heads. Now I’ve got a library of at least 50 books on the subject at home.” And now, in his late 70s, he does most of his presentations for groups – schools, universities, Rotary Clubs, local societies and other nonprofit organizations – on the structure and function of the brain and how to use it effectively. “I’ve done dozens of presentations on the subject,” he says. “I keep it nontechnical and basic. I want to convince people that an active physical and mental life will make it less likely that they’ll get Alzheimer’s disease” or some other form of dementia.
“I don’t consider myself retired,” he says. He has a website. He has authored seven books and written or co-authored hundreds of publications on engineering, education and management. He has spoken at engineering education conventions, twice as keynote speaker, in eight countries outside the United States. And like the Energizer Bunny, he’s still going. “Sometimes when I’m here in my home and office, I’ll think, ‘I could be at the pool right now, getting some sun and relaxing.’ But then I realize that I like what I’m doing. I’d rather be writing and doing research. That’s what I enjoy doing.”
For all he has done or is doing, Stu has won more awards than you’ll see in a night at the Oscars. Some of the glitziest: the Alumni Achievement Award from Valparaiso University, Engineer of the Year by the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers, the Distinguished Service Citation from the College of Engineering at the University of Wisconsin, the Public Service Award from the Consulting Engineers of Indiana, the Excellence in Civil Engineering Education Leadership Award by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), the Distinguished Service Award from the National Society of Professional Engineers, the William H. Wisely American Civil Engineer Award, the Thomas A. Morris Leadership Award from the Indiana Society of Professional Engineers and the Glen L. Martin Practitioner Service Award from the American Society for Engineering Education.
A guy could get a pretty swelled head from all those kudos coming his way. But I think Admiral Jerrie probably helps Stu keep on an even keel.
Dean Laux is exploring interesting folks living in our community. If you know of anyone with an interesting background please send an email to: email@example.com. Include the person’s name, contact info and give a brief description of the person’s background.