It is with great sadness and heavy hearts that we announce the death of Robert (Bob) M. Koerner on December 1, 2019. He was the loving husband of Pauline (Paula) W. Koerner, and father of three children.
Bob was born on December 2, 1933 in Philadelphia, PA to immigrant parents (Michael and Cecilia Koerner). He grew up in Lansdowne, PA and attended parochial school before entering University. He earned a BSCE degree from Drexel University in 1956, a combined MSCE degree from Columbia, Delaware and Drexel Universities in 1963, and a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Duke University in 1968. He also studied Law at Temple University from 1963-65. Educating himself and others was always a key component to what made and motivated Bob.
After his undergraduate degree, Bob began his career in construction. He worked on a number of projects including: the Walt Whitman bridge in Philadelphia (The Conduit and Foundation Corp.), a Bailey Bridge in Easton, PA and the Cross Bronx Expressway in New York City (James J. Skelly). He married his wife Paula in 1959 and then transitioned into consulting with Dames & Moore (Construction) out of New York City. After three near fatal accidents on the job, Paula convinced Bob that she didn’t want to raise their three young children as a widow, so he needed to find a safer career. Bob loved his first job teaching at Pennsylvania Military College (now Widener University), so he committed to a career path in education by moving his family to North Carolina for his Ph.D. at Duke University.
Bob and Paul moved back to Philadelphia in 1968 to join the Civil Engineering Department at Drexel University. His initial research was on deep foundations, acoustic emission monitoring of soil deformations, and nondestructive testing to locate below ground structured and objects. In the late 1970’s Bob began research in the fledgling field of designing and installing fabrics and polymers in roadways and retaining walls. In 1980, he co-authored the first textbook on geosynthetics, and the “phone never stopped ringing”.
With Bob’s full and complete focus on geosynthetics, he became renowned in the field, in the US and internationally, and is known for over 700 publications, most notably the text “Designing with Geosynthetics,” which he updated to the 6th edition in 2016. He simply never stopped writing (his final CV is 65 pages long). His publications include:
Bob purposed to support the growing industry of geosynthetic education and research by founding the Geosynthetic Research Institute (GRI) in 1986. It was located at Drexel University until 1998 when he moved off-campus to its present location near the Philadelphia International Airport. GRI was tremendously successful as it was shaped by federal, state, and private research interests. A consortium of organizations was formed from the outset, and GRI became the foundation of GSI.
The Geosynthetic Institute (GSI) was formed and incorporated in 1991 and was granted tax-exempt status in 1993. Bylaws, a Board of Directors, annual conferences, annual meetings, specific focus group meetings, and related activities followed in succession and continue to the present. There are currently 73 organizations involved representing the entire cross-section of the industry, including agencies, owners, consultants, testing laboratories, resin producers, manufacturers of all types of geosynthetics, and installers.
In 1998 Bob was elected into the National Academy of Engineering. He proudly served the local, national, and international engineering community for over 50 years. At his core, Bob was a teacher. He was always talking with people, sharing his latest insights, rehearsing lectures to himself if he was running alone, or laughing and talking with others if running in a group (Bob completed 25 marathons, over 200 shorter races and many thousands of training miles.) He taught in lectures, in classrooms, at businesses, at conferences, on the streets, in his home, and even on the beach. He was passionate about making his textbooks and educational materials more affordable and available to students. His latest recorded sessions for digital and web-based education affectionately earned him the title “Webinar Bob”. Each one of us who learned from him is smarter, more inquisitive, more articulate, more thoughtful, and better for knowing him.
Bob is survived by Michael R. Koerner (and wife Mary), George R. Koerner (and wife Jamie), and Pauline Koerner Limberg (and husband Douglas), and his six grandchildren whom he cherished.