DCI Principal Dick Hemmen has officially announced his retirement from the firm! What that really means is that he will be part-time, wrapping up two small projects, and attending future social company events. DCI Engineers has become such a big a part of his life, walking away completely and disconnecting from the firm would be hard to do, he confessed. Dick has spent more than 38 years in the engineering field with a career spanning many project types, collaborations with professionals from all disciplines, office leadership, and contributions to the field of engineering.
Humble Beginning for an Engineering Career
It’s hard to imagine Dick struggling with engineering classwork during his undergraduate days since he excelled in math leading up to college. He dropped out of Washington State University after receiving a D- in Statics, a basic structural class necessary to advance in the program. After transferring to the University of Washington, he pursued a degree in Urban Planning.
When his Planning degree couldn’t land him a job, he returned to work as a shoe salesman (at Nordstrom) where he worked during school and stayed at the retail store for seven years eventually becoming a shoe buyer and manager. But this came to an end, and after some career research, he decided to return to school studying Environmental Engineering. This required some mid-course correction when environmental work became politically unpopular in the early ‘80s and he switched back to Civil Engineering to be more marketable. This required retaking Statics. Luck finally smiled upon him in the form of a statics professor named Bruce Adee who made this once unintelligible subject make sense. He went from totally lost to the top student in the class. Dick soon found himself doing better in his structure classes than any of the other classes. With a part-time job as a special construction inspector, Dick’s path as a structural engineer was obvious.
Building Momentum and Hitting His Stride
After Dick earned his Civil degree, he worked for a number of firms in the Seattle area and acquired his Civil and Structural Engineering licenses. While working for Coffman Engineers, he met future DCI colleague Harry Jones and was also introduced to two former Coffman employees named Mark D’Amato and Guy Conversano.
Dick joined DCI in 1996. His leadership skills were quickly recognized and he volunteered to open the DCI San Diego office in 2001. He only had one industry contact in town, so he had the challenge of establishing a new business network from scratch. Dick quickly created fresh alliances with architects and subcontractors when he joined AIA San Diego and volunteered at events. He met architect Tom Angelwicz at MW Steele and Jonathan Segal. To develop more business contacts, Dick reconnected with Seattle clients and general contractors who also had San Diego offices and joined the Downtown San Diego Partnership. He managed to capture some military work which really drove office productivity. When the San Diego office portfolio grew, the timing was perfect for hiring Associate Suzanne Clemmer to focus on business development in southern California; plus adding Principal Ryan Slaybaugh, Associate Principals Jon Deck, Justin Wei, and Maggie Clavijo for engineering leadership and project management.
His Favorite Projects
When describing the general evolution of the structural engineering industry over the decades, Dick summarizes the trend in four simple words: codes, complexity, computers, and competition. These elements constantly change and push engineers to adapt designs, at least from his point of view. His favorite southern California projects addressed these elements, and his team designed structural systems to fulfill the client’s vision for the built environment.
- Trinity Lutheran Church in Sacramento. This was Dick’s first major California project and led to more project opportunities for DCI’s first office in the state.
- Coronado Naval Base Bachelors’ Enlisted Quarters on Coronado Navy Base. This was the San Diego office’s first military project.
- The Rock Academy and Church in San Diego. DCI’s project team was not originally selected for the project. But the pastor of the church liked what DCI had to say, and recommended DCI be the engineer of record (EOR) for the project.
- Park 12 (aka Ball Park Village) in San Diego. Dick was involved with DCI’s selection as EOR. “It was so satisfying to see how the work we had done over the years with architects, contractors, developers, and others elevated us to one of the top structural firms in San Diego,” he said. “Our friends and supporters are what won the project for us.”
- Cal State San Marcos Parking Garage in San Marcos. This was the San Diego office’s first substantial higher education project. A concept Dick came up with during the Design/Build competition saved the client more than $1M in foundation costs and was instrumental in DCI’s team being chosen for the project.
Contributing to the Profession
When asked what he hoped his professional legacy will be, Dick said he would like to be remembered as an engineer who listened to his clients and solved their problems. That has been the work ethic he instilled in the next generation of engineers who had the chance to work with him. To encourage more people to enter the structural engineering profession, Dick taught courses at Seattle University, worked to help them get DCI internships, and mentored and advised students from the UW, his alma mater.
Dick has been active in the Structural Engineers Association of Washington (SEAW) since his college days. He hopes to be made a Life Member of the organization soon, so his involvement will continue. He is also working with Architects Without Borders - Seattle to broaden his horizons and to bring needed projects to underserved communities around the world. Retirement actually sounds busier for Dick!
Dick fooled his granddaughter when he dressed as Santa Claus for Christmas a few years back. He has since become a regular Santa to raise funds for Childhaven and has appeared at company holiday parties to listen to children’s Christmas wishes, pose for pictures, and present gifts. At the first company party, he (and staff volunteer elves) judged a homemade holiday cookie contest. Dick also went into his Santa persona for DCI Spokane’s open house and Seattle’s office festivities. He hit the big time when he was invited to Childhaven headquarters to be a Santa for a morning and bring a special Santa experience and gifts to more than 100 children. He says he is too tired to participate in future back-to-back holiday events, but the reality is he just can’t say “no” to kids. If you ask him to be Santa this holiday season, he might make an exception.
Congratulations on your retirement, Dick!
Thank you for your dedication and leadership at DCI and in the structural engineering industry. The impact you made on the firm is greatly recognized.
Want to catch up with Dick?
Just because he is retired doesn’t mean he is unreachable! He still wants to connect with former clients, subcontractors, professionals, and students. His office email address is still active and the front desk takes phone messages on his behalf. He will gladly ride his Vespa or Honda touring bike to meet with you!
Read Dick’s other web postings and interviews
About the Author
Rose Bechtold, Communications Specialist | Rose comes from a journalism and technical writing background. She is in her element while in research mode and naturally immerses herself in expert knowledge by interviewing staff members about new subjects. In her spare time, Rose practices plein-air sketching of buildings and random scenes around town.