Barry K. Thacker, 2003 Hoover Medal Recipient
For successfully applying his engineering judgment, skill, and ingenuity to meet the social, physical, educational, and environmental needs of the people of the Appalachian Coal Creek Watershed, while, in the process, creating recognition of and admiration for the profession of engineering and the letters P.E.
Barry K. Thacker, P.E., is President of Geo/Environmental Associates, Inc., a consulting firm providing geotechnical and environmental engineering design services to mining and industrial clients. Through the non-profit Coal Creek Watershed Foundation, Inc. he founded, Thacker uses his engineering skills to improve the quality of life in Appalachian coalfield communities in Anderson County, Tennessee. Flood abatement, abandoned mine land reclamation, dental and healthcare services, and tourism initiatives address current socio-economic needs.
Students, who are the community volunteers and leaders of the future, receive training and educational assistance through the Coal Creek Scholars Program which Thacker established. Students learn in elementary school to take pride in the rich coal mining history of their community. They are challenged to excel in middle school and high school, knowing that they have the potential to get a college education. From an essay written by a recent Coal Creek scholarship recipient, "Education is the ticket out of poverty."
Progress in Coal Creek has been made using volunteers recruited from government agencies, the media, elected officials, organizations like ASCE, and the Coal Creek community. A web site at www.coalcreekaml.com serves as a guide for other engineers seeking to lead service efforts in their communities.
Barry K. Thacker, P.E., was born in Louisville, Kentucky, on January 26, 1954. He became interested in engineering when his father took him to career day activities sponsored by the University of Louisville. Thacker worked his way through college as a musician, wedding photographer, and door-to-door salesman. Cooperative internships at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and Law Engineering Company provided valuable training as a technician working for engineers. He earned a B.S. degree in Civil Engineering in 1976 and a Master of Engineering Degree in Geotechnical Engineering in 1977 from the University of Louisville.
Thacker held various engineering positions at Bowser-Morner, Inc. in Dayton, Ohio, and Ogden Environmental and Energy Services Company and its predecessor companies (i.e. Geologic Associates, Inc. and EDGe, Inc.) in Knoxville, Tennessee. In 1995, he founded Geo/Environmental Associates, Inc. in Knoxville, Tennessee, to enable him to work part-time while pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental engineering from the University of Tennessee.
Throughout his career, he has performed regulatory-driven engineering design work for mining and industrial clients. Thacker has designed major tailings dams throughout the Appalachian coal fields and in the zinc-bearing areas of Tennessee. He has designed environmental remediation projects for industrial clients including in-situ bioremediation in Alcoa, Tennessee, that received the 1999 National Ground Water Association's Remediation Project of the Year award.
For many years, ASFE Executive Vice President John Bachner challenged Thacker and other engineers to become leaders in community service efforts. According to Bachner, engineers are designers and builders of the quality of life, but are rarely recognized by the public for their achievements. More often, they are recognized only for their failures. At the Tennessee ASCE annual meeting in 1999, Thacker and other engineers from Tennessee were challenged by ASCE President Dan Turner, P.E., to get involved in community service initiatives.
Thacker accepted these challenges and founded the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation in 2000 to reclaim abandoned mine land in the Coal Creek watershed of Anderson County near where he fishes. His experience in regulatory-driven work often put him in a confrontational position with representatives from government agencies. Community service work in Coal Creek gave him the opportunity to work with them as friends.
At the first public event to promote abandoned mine land reclamation in Coal Creek, residents posted protest signs. Flooding, education, jobs, public drinking water supply, and dental/healthcare were more pressing needs to them. They opposed government "spending one penny on fish because the needs of people are more important". They were right.
In his inaugural address, President George W. Bush challenged us to be citizens; citizens, not spectators; citizens, not subjects; responsible citizens, building communities of service and a nation of character. Who better to accept this challenge than engineers? What began as a weekend community service project to reclaim abandoned mine land and improve fishing turned into a lifetime effort to improve the quality of life in the Coal Creek watershed. And a lifetime reward. Rather than invest time achieving his educational goals, Thacker decided to use that time to assist needy students in Coal Creek by improving their stature in life through education.
In March 2002, the efforts in Coal Creek were tested. A 100-year storm caused flooding in many areas of East Tennessee. The front-page headlines of the Knoxville News-Sentinel reported, "Deluge proves worth of work on flood-prone Coal Creek." According to a FEMA representative, "major improvement projects by the Coal Creek Watershed Foundation and engineer Barry Thacker are paying off." As Bachner and Turner predicted, engineers doing community service work get front-page coverage when it works.
Thacker's accomplishments in Coal Creek were illustrated during a field trip with students from the local elementary school. An environmental scientist demonstrating insect sampling methods encouraged the students to pursue careers in environmental science. Afterwards, he asked one of the students if they would like to be an environmental scientist some day. The student replied, "No, I want to be an engineer like Barry."
The public is watching the community service efforts of an engineer in Coal Creek. Over 200 newspaper articles and television stories have been reported. The web site www.coalcreekaml.com chronicles the progress of the group and has received over 2 million visits.
Thacker and his wife, Mary, have three children, Laura 22, Daniel 19, and Julie 16. They reside in Knoxville, Tennessee. Laura graduated summa cum laude in 2002 with a B.S. in Civil Engineering from the University of Tennessee. She is an engineer-in-training with Geo/Environmental Associates, Inc.
The Medal was presented to Barry K. Thacker by Beatrice E. Hunt, Chair of the Hoover Medal Board of Award, during the Honorary Members Luncheon on November 15, 2003 at the American Society of Civil Engineers Annual Conference at the Gaylord Opryland Resort & Convention Center in Nashville, Tennessee.