A wealth of knowledge. A humble gentleman who continues to engage in the community and the profession well into his 80s. A mentor with a talent for sketching plans by hand. A quiet, unassuming colleague with a keen sense of humor and a competitive streak when it comes to playing horseshoes.
Left to right: Kittelson transportation professionals Molly McCormick, Ron Failmezger and Patrick Marnell.
Those are a few of the ways colleagues describe Ron Failmezger, PE, who recently celebrated his 25th anniversary with Kittelson & Associates, Inc. and 60 years of working in the transportation profession. Among his many career highlights is his longtime involvement in the Institute of Transportation Engineers. He joined ITE’s Western District chapter in 1960, became a scribe, and wrote several reports about studies he conducted for the Oregon Department of Transportation and articles for the ITE Journal over the years. In 1965, ITE presented him with an award – its signature fur-lined pot trophy – in recognition of his writing. He also served as Oregon Section President in the late 1960s.
“I learned a little bit about leadership because I was in a leadership role and it helped getting in front of people, which wasn’t my number one thing,” Ron says.
Kittelson’s “Go-To Guy”
When he comes into Kittelson’s office – these days just for a few hours each Monday through Thursday – Ron offers to help others with plans and cost analysis for traffic control, widening lanes, signing and striping, preliminary intersection designs, and staging for construction projects in multiple jurisdictions.
“I’m kind of the go-to guy when they need somebody to get something done quickly,” Ron says. “I’m a person who works best by himself. However, if somebody wants to learn something I’m happy to sit down with them and talk them through it.”
While Ron jokes that he was there when the state painted the first stripes on the Columbia River Gorge Highway in 1916, he truly did witness Oregon’s first fog lines, bike lanes and the opening of the Glenn Jackson Bridge. Read a previous article about Ron’s career with the Oregon Department of Transportation and Kittleson.
In the 10 years since that article, Ron says, he has appreciated seeing more young engineers, many of them women, joining the profession.
“We have a very rigorous hiring process so it’s no surprise we’ve got the best of the best,” he says, adding that he enjoys his role as a mentor. “I like showing them how to think through a staging project. You have to know how the contractor is going to build the project and then you have to design the staging based on that process.”
A Perspective Spanning Decades
Senior Principal Engineer Chris Brehmer, PE, who has worked with Ron at Kittelson for 22 years, says it’s been fascinating to hear him talk about how transportation has transformed Oregon over the decades. As an example, Ron shared stories of riding the streetcar to baseball games in Portland and riding the trolley as a young man. Now, the city is considering bringing streetcar service back to the Montgomery Park area.
Chris continues to work with Ron on projects and considers him a valued mentor. He says Ron’s priority on safety stems from an accident when Ron worked at ODOT in which two colleagues were hit by a vehicle and killed while placing traffic counting equipment in a roadway.
“It struck me how much that hurt him and how that translates to the safety of our staff. You can’t take life for granted, and you have to be thinking on your feet and really watching what you are doing. Ron didn’t convey it in an earth-shattering way, but it grounds you when you hear something like that,” he says.
Chris also admires Ron on a personal level, noting he has a strong moral compass and high ethical values.
“Ron has a lot of integrity. There is a right and a wrong, and he is always going to follow the right thing to do,” he says. “He shows that you can work with other people, conform to requirements and meet clients’ needs, but at the end of the day you are a professional and need to act like one and make decisions responsibly.”
Hermanus Steyn, PE, a senior principal engineer who joined Kittelson 18 years ago, is originally from South Africa and says Ron has been like an American father to him.
“He always wants to know how things are going with my family and, over the years, we’ve talked about how to find a balance in life and a lot of other things outside of the office,” Hermanus says. “He’s also a great example of a strong finish to a long and successful career. He always stays up to date on an industry that is constantly changing and evolving.”
He has seen the evolution of the industry from being auto-centric to how we started to become more multimodal.- Charles Radosta, PE, Senior Engineer, Portland Bureau of Transportation
Charles Radosta, PE, a senior engineer at the Portland Bureau of Transportation, worked with Ron at Kittelson for 18 years and the pair collaborated on several projects. Charles says Ron’s big-picture perspective and knack for explaining the rationale behind transportation planning in Oregon made working with him even more rewarding.
“Among many things, he’s efficient and certainly has a wealth of knowledge. He has seen the evolution of the industry from being auto-centric to how we started to become more multimodal. He has a lot of historical knowledge and that made it nice to work with him,” he says. “He’s really made a number of nice contributions to the industry, and that’s probably an understatement.”
Impact on Emerging Professionals
Patrick Marnell, PE, a senior engineer with Kittelson, calls Ron an impressive gentleman who remains engaged, helpful and unassuming despite his 60 years of expertise.
“You’d think someone with that level of success and drive could be overbearing, but that’s simply not the case with Ron. He’s the kind of guy that, if you take the time to ask him a question he’ll give you an answer, but he’s not going to by any means force himself into the conversation,” he says.
Patrick recalls asking Ron to join him on a site visit in Portland’s East County and the pair talking about Ron’s work on the I-205 bridge while he was with ODOT. Ron also quipped that he was the junior man on the survey crew for the East County visit that day. Patrick notes that Ron has a personalized safety vest covered in patches, including one that reads, “Watch out, old timer crossing.”
“He’s definitely got a sense of humor about him and I don’t think that’s something that people recognize about him right off the bat,” Patrick says. “He’s also really talented in sketching. Ron can sit down with some colored pencils and 30 minutes later there’s a fairly fleshed-out design that he can hand off and someone can take to a computer.”
Patrick is president of the ITE Oregon Section and his colleague, Molly McCormick, engineering associate, serves as the section’s scribe. Molly, who joined Kittelson upon earning her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Northwestern University, is an active member of WTS and ITE and says being a scribe involves taking notes during each of the Oregon section’s board meetings and providing two or three reports for the Western District each year.
“It’s been a great way to get to know what ITE is about, and especially the Oregon section because we’re a little different,” she says. “By taking notes, I also get to stay up to date about what’s going on with the other sections.”
Molly McCormick won the same award in 2018 that Ron Failmezger won in 1965.
Molly recently was presented with the Western District ITE award for “wisest and windiest” scribe. When she received the award, she was pleasantly surprised to see Ron’s name on it and the year – 1965 – that he received it.
“It was fun to share that link with Ron,” she says. “I didn’t really know him that well before and I think this award has made him feel more comfortable to joke around with me, which is nice. He’s really fun to talk to and he brings in a bunch of plums this time of year because he has a plum tree. He always has a smile to share.”
Ron’s 60 years in the industry is a testament to his strong work ethic and passion for the profession. He’s continued to learn and adapt as times have changed while consistently adding value by applying fundamental engineering principles and methods that are relevant today. Patrick and Molly are emerging professionals who, among so many others, are impacting the industry via their contributions. Ron has positively guided and influenced the growth and development of others over the years. As Ron begins his 61st year, Patrick and Molly are in the relative initial stages of theirs and positively impacting the profession. The cycle continues.