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22 October 2010

The Price of Gold

One of my CSI hats is History of Fellows Chair for CSI's College of Fellows. As such, I search for background to create or update the biographies that are on the Fellows' website, at This often is a difficult task even with new Fellows, who either can't find the time or are too bashful to write their own biographies. Getting information grows more difficult as time goes on, and becomes a real challenge for those Fellows who are no longer with us.

While my search generally moves along at a pace dictated by work at office and at home, some events, such as each year's elevation of new Fellows, notable achievements of a current Fellow, or the passing of a Fellow, inspire greater effort. One such incident occurred in February of this year, when Joy Davis notified me that a collection of three CSI medals - for President, Past President, and Fellow - were being auctioned off on e-Bay.

Putting on my Sherlock Holmes hat, I tried to deduce who the medals had belonged to. The ad indicated that all of the medals were from 1985 or earlier, so I started with the list of past presidents. An obvious first step was to delete those whose presidency or Fellowship came after 1985; I then eliminated those who were not Fellows (there are a few), and, assuming that a living member would not sell those medals, limited my search to those Fellows who had passed away.

The result was a short list of twenty-two names. I was able to determine from the ad that the seller was in Missouri, but it wouldn’t necessarily follow that the original owner also was from Missouri, so I set that aside for the moment. However, because the advertised collection of medals did not include an Honorary Member's medal, I made a fatal mistake, and eliminated Honorary Members from the list, which was reduced to seven names.

I was tempted to put in a bid, but decided it would be better if an officer of the College of Fellows did the bidding, and started a conversation with Jim Robertson, College of Fellows Chancellor, Bob Kenworthy, COF Bursar, and Dick Robinson, COF Chancellor. We agreed that Bob would submit bids on behalf of the College of Fellows, and that, rather than raise interest by bidding early, he would not place a bid until just before the auction ended.

I sent an e-mail to the seller, asking whose medals they were, and was told that they belonged to Robert Vansant. (Vansant was an Honorary Member, but for some unknown reason, that medal was not included in the collection offered for sale.) The seller's response was especially interesting to me, as Robert Vansant is one of the names I remembered from my early days as an architect. He wrote a monthly article titled “Vansant’s Law” in A/E Concepts in Wood Design, which was always interesting and educational. As I recall, each month's article discussed a limited subject and how it was presented in specifications or drawings.

Robert Vansant is an example of one meaning of FCSI - “future continued service to the Institute.” He didn’t hang it up after becoming a Fellow, but went on to serve as Institute President, and wrote many articles to help others better understand legal concepts related to construction. In addition to A/E Concepts in Wood Design, his articles also appeared in the Construction Specifier, Consulting Engineer, the AWPA Reporter, and Water and Wastes Engineering.

An engineer and attorney at Black & Veatch in Kansas City, Vansant was a charter member of the Kansas City Chapter, which was formed in 1959. He became a Fellow of the Institute in 1970, served as president in 1973-74, received CSI President's Plaques in 1971 and 1972, and was made an Honorary Member in 1986, the year after his death.

Robert Vansant and Glen Ablanalp were instrumental in establishing the Engineers Joint Contract Documents Committee (EJCDC). Vansant also worked with the American Water Works Association, and served as chair of the AWWA Standards Council, and he received the National Society of Professional Engineers' PEPP Award in 1987.

Meanwhile, back at the auction, we saw a sudden flurry of bidding as the deadline approached. As it turned out, one of the bidders was our own Dennis J. Hall, who had seen the medals on e-Bay and didn't want them to be lost to CSI, but he said he had bid as much as he was going to, and dropped out of the bidding. Bob Kenworthy submitted the final bid just before the deadline, winning the auction. Afterward, he contacted the seller to ask about the missing Honorary Member's medal; alas, it seems to have disappeared. Bob mounted the rescued medals in a display case, which was exhibited at the CSI booth in Philadelphia. The medals have since been donated to the Institute, and will soon be on display at CSI's main office, in Alexandria, Virginia.

One of the many interesting things about this treasure hunt was learning what metals are used for CSI medals. What are those metals? Silver for Fellows, copper for presidents, bronze for former presidents, and gold for distinguished or honorary members. However, as former Institute president Gilman Hu said, "A medal awarded to you is only worth the honor that goes with it. A medal purchased isn't worth the metal it was made from."


  1. if we find the Honorary Members metal we will gladly donate it, so sorry we didn't think to donate the others! Susan Vansant Groshong

  2. Just a few comments about Bob Vansant.

    He was one of my best mentors at the Institute level and an inspiration to follow.

    When CSI agreed to provide review services to CSRF on the then new SPECTEXT master specification, an ad-hoc committee was appointed. Some of us called it the 3 chiefs and and 2 indians because it included 3 former presidents. Bob was one of the former presidents and the chairman; I was one of the indians. This is when I found out how brilliant Bob was. He chaired the meetings, was one of the best contributors, and he kept the minutes all at the same time (there was no staff support). He did all this in a very low key friendly manner.

    He could also have some fun. At one of meetings in DC, the group had dinner at one of the expensive embassy row restaurants. Just before the check came, Bob and the rest of the group got up and left me with the check!

    Bob and Ben Greenwood were the first promoters of the Division 1 - General Requirements concept. They did a long series of seminars on the subject all over the country. When Ben was speaking, Bob would be in the back of the room working on his Engineer's Field Manual for Black and Vetch engineers out on sites by themselves during construction, but at the same time he could listen to the discussion and immediately respond to any questions directed to him. The manual provide guidance to field engineers for almost any situation and was constantly growing in content.

    It was Bob's work on that field manual that later inspired me to propose that CSI start what became the Certified Construction Contract Administration (CCCA) MOP/education/certification program.

    Bob was the main trouble shooter for Black and Vetch so he was on the road all the time in the days before cell phones and laptops let alone tablets. His wife always had one suitcase packed so he could leave immediately. Their car had the front seat equipped like an office so that Bob could work while his wife drove him back and forth to the airport (they lived in south Kansas City and the airport was way north of town). I was on one plane trip with him, and he was working the whole way.

    I also remember social gatherings at the conventions where Bob would seat quietly on the edge, but there was always a string of people coming up wanting to talk to him because of the depth of his knowledge and his openness with people. He was a brilliant man and a great quiet leader who had many followers. At the same time he could be your friend.

    Summary: Bob richly deserved all those metals he received! You only meet a few people like him in your lifetime; if you are lucky.

  3. Bob: Thanks for your comments about Bob Vansant. As a rookie architect I looked forward to each month’s A/E Concepts in Wood Design for his next “Vansant’s Law” article.