Rudolph A. Wolfson, P.E.: A Rewarding Career

Modesty is an important quality in any individual, but Rudolph A. Wolfson, P.E.-Rudy, to his friends-often seems so humble as to be unconvinced of his standing and impact on the U.S. engineering scene.

By C.C. Sullivan, Editorial Director December 1, 2000

Modesty is an important quality in any individual, but Rudolph A. Wolfson, P.E.-Rudy, to his friends-often seems so humble as to be unconvinced of his standing and impact on the U.S. engineering scene. The facts belie his unpretentious demeanor, however: recipient of numerous awards, designer of major groundbreaking projects and mentor to more young engineers than he cares to admit, Wolfson is a legend and arguably one of the most important consulting engineers in the world today.

For these reasons, Wolfson is also the inaugural recipient of the Integrator of the Year award, a new honor bestowed by the editors of Consulting-Specifying Engineer to a P.E. who has demonstrated a career of technical excellence and a commitment to furthering the profession.

Innovation and mentorship

Wolfson’s commitment to the profession is legendary, says Kenneth E. Nelson, P.E., executive vice president with Clark Dietz Inc., Chicago, and current president of the Springfield-based Consulting Engineers Council of Illinois (CECI). “What’s special about Rudy is his ability to mentor people of all ages and to provide leadership while remaining technically involved,” he says. “Rudy is technically outstanding, but what really makes him special is that he’s such a great mentor. He may have been decades older than many he worked with, but he was always able to relate to them.”

“Rudy’s been in business for more than 50 years, and most of the time he has been the owner of his own consulting firm,” adds Don Glays, executive director of the Darien, Ill.-based Electric Association, which in mid-October bestowed upon Wolfson their George Nejdl Award for Technical Merit. “The award goes annually to engineers who have made significant contributions to the improvement and enhancement of the practice of consulting engineering.”

Other awards and credits include Distinguished Service Awards from the CECI in 1969 and later from the Illinois Society of Professional Engineers. Wolfson also served as president of the CECI from 1968 to 1969, and he earned a fellowship at the American Consulting Engineers Council in 1987. He was a member of numerous national groups, and in 1974, he joined Actual Specifying Engineer as a consulting editor, a post he held until this year with Consulting-Specifying Engineer .

But those are just icing on a very big, multilayered cake. Wolfson’s career began in 1945 with the Western Electric Co., and at about that time, he helped a small cadre of leading engineers reestablish the engineer’s council, which was disbanded during World War II. Less than a decade later, he had opened his own consulting practice, starting four decades of design leadership.

Large-scale projects

Over the next 40 years, Wolfson was registered in seven states, and his firm advanced the science and art of engineering large-scale building systems, hospitals and industrial facilities. To his credit are three airports, two rapid-transit upgrades, eight water-treatment plants and several studies in protective-relaying coordination. Wolfson also pioneered designs for cogeneration plants, landfill-gas generators and uninterruptible electrical service for data centers.

Wolfson still consults two days a week, lending his knowledge of medium-voltage substations and distribution, large drives and controls, sludge- and landfill-gas cogeneration, and low-voltage distribution.

He is best known, however, for the sage advice that has has helped many a young engineer succeed (see “Advice from Rudolph A. Wolfson, P.E.,” above). One of his mentorees, Greeley & Hansen’s Stephen Palac, P.E., put it best in his nomination for Wolfson’s most recent award: “The primary reason for this nomination is his contribution as a mentor and a teacher to the many less experienced electrical engineers he has worked with,” Palac wrote. “He has taught us much about technical services, but equally importantly, he has shown us how to communicate our designs and decisions to others … at least a dozen electrical engineers.write, lay out drawings and verbally communicate the way they do in part because of the teachings of Mr. Wolfson,” he added, pointing to another unique legacy of his admirable career.