The start of a new year brings with it opportunities to break new ground, tackle new challenges and, on a more bittersweet note, say “goodbye” to an integral part of RJN. With over 40 years under his belt, and being the last of RJN’s original four employees, Al Hollenbeck has taken down his White Sox hats and is headed for retirement at month’s end.
Al has been a force within the company, helping RJN achieve many milestones and charting a course for success. From founder Richard J. Nogaj’s pivotal decision in 1979 to invest in the hardware that would become CASS Software, to the first million-dollar contract that led to the opening of a branch office in College Park, Maryland, to the 2002 champaign toast celebrating the company’s ESOP loan repayment—Al Hollenbeck was there.
Al’s life-long pursuit of a career in engineering got a kick-start when he was in high school during the first ever observance of Earth Day, April 22, 1970. With massive California oil spills fresh in memory and an emerging public awareness of air and water pollution, environmental stewardship struck a chord with then-teenaged Hollenbeck. According to Al, being able to enjoy a career that satisfied his analytical side, while also helping the environment was a winning combination. “I was energized by the first Earth Day in Spring,” Hollenbeck said. “Civil/environmental engineering offered me the best of both worlds: improving the environment and infrastructure, while working in the design and construction profession.”
After beginning his career at RJN in 1977, with a whopping salary of $18,000 per year, Al spearheaded numerous projects, including the 1984 groundwater migration study for WSSC and the winning proposal for the City of Fayetteville in 2003. “The interview included a helicopter flyover of the interceptor sewer route. No Google Earth. And we used a VHS Tape player at the interview.” Hollenbeck said of his experience working on the latter project with now-retired RJN principal, Hugh Kelso.
Reflecting on his long tenure with the company, Al said, “It is extremely gratifying to me to see the success and growth that has been achieved during the management transition that started in 2014. I’ve been here for 42 years, so it’s really like part of my family.”
While Al plans to step down from RJN’s Board and will not be involved in day-to-day operations, he said he does look forward to attending company events, with the caveat, “maybe not in January/February in Chicago,” as well as serving on the RJN Foundation. He noted that he will be reachable if the need arises; however, he echoed the sentiment of the sign that’s long been taped to his office door: “free advice, but no decisions.”
So how will the Hollenbeck’s deal with all of Al’s free time? Rest assured, Al’s got a plan.
“Karen and I have a three-page bucket list, including world travel. I have several volunteer passions, including assisting in programs to encourage more high school girls in the Joliet, Illinois Diocese to pursue engineering careers, along with land conservation. I also plan on attending several more White Sox World Series games,” he said.
As this chapter comes to a close, Al leaves us with a piece of wisdom his parents shared with him:
“Life is short (My parents always said this, I didn’t believe them!), so bring your A Game every day to your family, your faith, your career and to yourself. Have some fun too.”