School 14

Ernest J. Barenberg

April 9, 1929 ~ January 19, 2021 (age 91)


It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Ernest J. Barenberg Ph.D., P.E. (Ernie) at home on January 19, 2021. Ernie was born on April 9, 1929 to John and Helena Barenberg in Herndon, Kansas. Ernie studied civil engineering at Kansas State University, and belonged to Tau Beta Pi, an engineering honor society. After graduation, he worked briefly in the aviation industry before serving a two year tour as an officer in the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers. After his discharge from the army, Ernie earned his Master’s Degree in structural engineering at University of Kansas, and taught structural engineering design in steel and concrete there for five years. He earned his PhD in Civil Engineering at the University of Illinois, then taught and conducted research in transportation facilities at UIUC for over forty years. Ernie held various positions including a four year term as the Associate Head of Civil Engineering, coordinating the departmental graduate students and research programs. For three years he maintained a joint appointment with UIUC Civil Engineering Department and the U. S. Army Corps of Engineers, Construction Engineering Research Laboratory. 

Dr. Barenberg focused on the early development of theoretical/empirical design procedures for concrete pavements and premier pavements for long life and low maintenance. He developed a theoretical model for the analysis of concrete pavements (ILLISLAB). Ernie also developed the background and framework for the mechanistic-based design procedures currently used by the Illinois Department of Transportation. Working through various consultants and government agencies, he was instrumental in developing standards for pavements at international airports including Chicago O’Hare and London’s Heathrow and Gatwick airports. Ernie was part of the design team for several post-tensioned concrete pavements, including those currently in service at O’Hare and Rockford Airport. The pavement at Rockford Airport is unique in that the post-tensioned pavement is 1200 feet long and 75 feet wide and does not have a joint in either the longitudinal or transverse direction. Ernie served as Associate Director of the FAA Center of Excellence for airport pavements (8yrs).  More recently he was working with a manufacturer in the development of precast pavements for rapid repair of concrete pavements with minimal traffic disruption.

In response to a Request for Proposal, Dr. Barenberg restarted the Railway Civil Engineering program at UIUC that had been directed by Dr. William Hay from 1947 to 1977. Ernie served as director of the Association of American Railroads (AAR) affiliate program at UIUC from its inception in 1983 through 1998. Ernie’s primary interests were railroad track systems, particularly concrete ties.

Ernie loved solving novel engineering problems, teaching (not grading papers), and his students. He authored over 200 technical papers on paving materials, design and transportation facilities and lectured on six continents. After retiring from full-time teaching, he continued consulting until he was 85 years old.

With colleagues, Dr. Barenberg created the International Society for Concrete Pavements and served as its first president. Honors for Dr. Barenberg include the Kent faculty award, ASCE Air Transportation Division Robert Horonjeff Award, American Association for Concrete Pavements Educator of the Year, Emeritus member for the Transportation Research Board Committees, lifetime National Associate of the National Academy of Sciences and the CEE Distinguished Faculty Award. He was honored when the Ernest J. Barenberg Professorship was created and delighted when his former student Jeffery Roesler was designated as the first Barenberg Professor. The concrete materials and pavement laboratory in the new CEE instructional building will be named for Ernie.

As well as being an extraordinary engineer, Ernie was a loving husband, father and grandfather. He married Virgie Rawline after graduating from KSU and after her death, married Nancy J. Pogue. Ernie is survived by his wife, Nancy, and children: Katie (Bill), Janet, Mike (Cheryl), Gena (Bob), and Myra, and two Pogue sons, Keith (Christi) and Steve (Kelly) and thirteen grandchildren. He is also survived by two sisters (Mary Ann and Eileen) and 2 brothers (Charles and Maurice). He was predeceased by his parents, daughter Rita, five sisters (Alvina, Rosemary, Carol, Lucille, and Dorothy) and two brothers (Dennis and Eugene).

At home, Ernie was actively involved with his family. When Mike played baseball, Ernie served as the little league commissioner and he rose early on weekends to time swim meets for daughter Janet’s team.  You could count on him to be in the stands cheering at innumerable games. Ernie found ways to encourage each child in endeavors that they excelled in, support their education, and he was immensely proud that they all had independent, successful lives. Ernie never boasted about his career and some of his children were adults before they learned the extent of his accomplishments. Ernie enjoyed traveling with Nancy, family and friends throughout the US with activities ranging from skiing to white water rafting to kayaking for whale watching in Alaska. International travel allowed Ernie and Nancy to explore many parts of Europe, Scandinavia, Africa, and East Asia. He truly loved life, good music and a good scotch.

Ernie was a spiritual man and often volunteered to assist with church services. He was a member of St. Patrick’s Catholic Church at the time of his death. During his prolonged illness, his deep faith allowed him to live with grace and humor.

A family mass will be conducted at St. Patrick’s Church in Urbana, with a celebration of life to be scheduled at a later time. Our special thanks to Kiara Clark-Lewis and Stephanie Martin from Synergy Homecare, who helped care for Ernie during the past year. Memorial gifts may be made to the Ernest J. Barenberg faculty fund (number 774934) or the CEE concrete lab at University of Illinois in Urbana, IL or the Eastern Illinois Foodbank. The address for gifts to U of I is: U of I Foundation, Gift Planning and Trust Services, room 214, 1305 W. Green Street, Urbana, IL 61801.

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