At 91, Harry Vogel Reflects and Offers Advice for Young EngineersAt 91 years old, Henry “Harry” Vogel’s (Theta Chapter, University of British Columbia) Sigma Phi Delta days were very long ago, but that doesn’t mean he has forgotten about them. We caught up with Harry from his home in Courtenay B.C., Canada. He was kind enough to answer a few questions about his time at Sigma Phi Delta and share his story with us in his own words.

From earning 30 cents/hour digging ditches after high school, to becoming the District Engineer for all of the Indian reserves in the Campbell River District, Harry encourages today’s engineering students to follow the old adage of “measure twice and cut once.”

When he joined Sigma Phi Delta, Harry was a few years older than his brothers, and he was already married to his wife, Mary. They were married for 60 years before she sadly passed away in 2012. In sharing his story with us, Harry recounts his early days in the military during WWII, the ups and downs of his career as an engineer, and a few key life lessons that have served him well along the way.

Q: What are some of your fondest memories of your time at Sigma Phi Delta?  
A: Being several years older than the other students, I felt that membership in a fraternity would help me to blend in and get to make new friends. At Sigma Phi Delta, I feel that I received special respect and consideration of my years and war experience. 

Q: What life lessons did you learn at Sigma Phi Delta?  
A: I respected my fellow Actives and got along well with them. I have never taken advantage of anyone–which may have helped me to attain the respect that I have enjoyed over many years.

Q: Have you continued to stay involved with the fraternity and your fraternity brothers?  
A: Since leaving university, my work has taken me to many places in the Province of British Columbia. Outside of my friend, Mel, I don’t recall ever encountering another Sigma Phi Delta in my travels. Mel and I have a special relationship, and we have exchanged Christmas greetings over 60+ years. I have, at times, made monetary contributions to the fraternity, and I attended the 75th birthday celebration that was held in Vancouver, B.C. 

Q: In your lifetime, what changes have you seen in the field of engineering? 
A: Computers were in their infancy during much of my life as a Professional Engineer. I never truly gained the ability to use computers to assist me in the performance of my work. 

I applied my knowledge of engineering as though computers had never been invented (along with cell phones, Wi-Fi, etc., which came along, more or less, after I retired). I sometimes had the feeling that too much reliance was being placed on computers. I had developed a good knowledge of mathematics and enjoyed solving engineering problems using basic principles, and was proud that I could do so without the help of inanimate equipment. At the same time, however, I respect the ability of others who can use such aids. 

Q: What advice do you have for future engineers? 
A: Yours is a proud profession and is highly respected throughout the world. Treat everyone with whom you come in contact with the respect they deserve. Do not act superior. Never do anything, intentionally, to draw disrespect on yourself and/or other engineers. There is an old saying, “A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay”.  Never take short cuts, or “cut corners”, in order to save time. Check your work–an assistant I once had had an expression “Measure twice and cut once.” Even now, many years later, I still follow that little piece of advice. Show confidence in your presentations–your superiors will recognize your value and your life will be much easier and satisfying.

Harry’s story in his own words

After graduating from high school, in 1943, I worked for a few months as a laborer on the new airport in the Comox Valley (digging ditches for 30 cents/hour!!), until I volunteered for the Canadian Army in World War II. During this same time, I was a member of the Pacific Coast Militia Rangers, a Home Guard unit, meant to be the first defense should the Japanese attack the west coast of Vancouver Island. After joining the regular army, and taking basic training in eastern Canada, I was sent overseas to England where I was assigned to the Survey Branch of the Royal Canadian Artillery Regiment. It was here that I received my training in survey which was to influence my future when I returned to civilian life.

At the end of the war in Europe, in view of my training and qualifications, I was encouraged to volunteer for service in the Pacific War Zone and I was sent home for a month of Pacific leave before reporting for jungle training, somewhere in the southern United States. Two weeks into my leave, “the Bomb” was dropped on Hiroshima and the Japanese capitulated. On return to duty, I applied for discharge in order to attend university. After one year in the Arts Faculty (Senior Matriculation), I entered the Applied Science Faculty for four years of instruction in the engineering profession. During my second year in Applied Science, I fell ill with a serious medical condition (nephritis) which resulted in a one month stay in a military hospital. During this time, I fell behind in my studies, mostly in the field of mathematics, with the result that I failed several of my final exams. For three years, I kept trying to pass the supplemental exams, with no success. I then thanked the university for their patience and advised them that I intended to repeat my second year. In retrospect, this gave me a better understanding of the subjects I had failed, but it put me several years behind my “peers.”

During my three-year hiatus, I worked as a surveyor for a steel construction company. It was during this time that I met my future wife, Mary, and we were married on December 1, 1951. We enjoyed a long life together and celebrated our 60th anniversary on December 1, 2011, a mere three months before she passed away on February 1, 2012. Following my graduation (with second class honors) in 1955, I returned to the steel company, as a Field Engineer/Supervisor. Our first son, John, was born in 1956, in time for his mother to attend my graduation. Three more sons followed, Bruce, David, and Trevor. Three of these sons have survived–we lost David in 1993, in a marine accident, on the eve of his 34th birthday. (We have no idea of what happened).

 After graduation, I worked, full time, for the steel company, in construction, contracting, and cost estimating. During 1964, there was a “slowdown” in the steel industry together with possibilities of staff reductions, causing me to look elsewhere for employment opportunities. I competed for, and won, the position of Assistant Projects Engineer for the City of Vancouver, B.C., and a year later, was promoted to the senior position of Projects Engineer. In this capacity, I represented the City in several large projects that were undertaken. Several years later, due to an unsatisfactory “shuffling” in the Engineering Department, I left the City and shortly after, gained a position with the Federal Government of Canada–Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development–as a Field Engineer in one of the British Columbia Districts of Indian Affairs. A year later, I applied for, and became, the Maintenance Engineer for all Indian reserves in B.C.

After a year in this position, I was contacted, one day, by the Manager of the Campbell River District, with the question, “When are you coming to work in Campbell River?” I responded, “You get a position of District Engineer and I’ll apply”. To make a long story short–he did, and I did–and in 1979 we moved to Campbell River where I stayed until I retired in 1987. The District consisted of all the Indian reserves, from Comox, B.C., on the south, to the north end of Vancouver Island, plus some adjacent reserves on the mainland of B.C. My responsibilities involved all aspects of engineering–water systems, sewer systems, electrical, roads, housing, etc. Some of control of financial expenditures was also involved. My assistant and I attained excellent relations with our clients and were welcomed every time we visited the reserve(s).

In 1987, my immediate superior was ordered to downsize his staff from 45 person years to 28 in 5 years. My wife and I considered the future (pensions, etc.) and I offered to take early retirement. I retired on September 30, 1987–somewhat traumatic at the time, but I have never regretted the move. On December 3, we moved to Mission, B.C., where Mary’s family had ties and lived there until late 2015, when I moved to Courtenay B.C. to be near one of my sons and his wife.

During my working years, I always enjoyed the respect of my fellow workers and superiors (save one, and that was personal, not involving my engineering abilities–I feel he considered me a threat to his own ambitions). I always treated the “clients” with respect and friendship, which served me well through the years.

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