Feedback   |   Contact Us

Founding Partners of CH2M HILL

Founding Partners of CH2M HILL
(Including Major Principals of Acquired Firms)

Fred Merryfield

Fred Merryfield was born in England in the year 1900. Near the end of WWI, although under age, he persuaded the Royal Flying Corps (later the RAF) to accept him as a flying officer. Unfortunately suffered a crash and was severely injured. After his recovery, he was posted to Canada in connection with the trial of persons who had supplied sub-standard wood for airplane construction. Fred intended to work his way to Australia, but got only as far as Oregon where he decided to become an engineering student at the Oregon Agricultural College (OAC, later Oregon State University, or OSU) in Corvallis. He graduated in 1923 and found employment with the Southern Pacific Railway building what is now the main line between Oregon and California. The chief engineer on the project had a niece, Mildred Berkley, who lived in Pendleton. Fred married Mildred and then returned to Corvallis to teach at OAC. He left Oregon temporarily and took a Master's Degree in Sanitary Engineering at North Carolina after which he returned to OAC to resume teaching.

At the outbreak of WWII, Fred managed to be commissioned in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers by his mastery of connivance. Although he could not pass the physical, by again using his marvelous powers of persuasion he was able to convince the right officials to grant him an officer's commission. He was sent to New Guinea (a most unhealthy place at that time!), became very sick, and was shipped back to the States and discharged. After his recovery, he returned to his teaching job at Oregon State University.

Fred was a man who generated ideas at a tremendous rate and had the ability to articulate them, as well as to pick people that could carry them out. In the early days, as a part-time project person, he was a manager's nightmare; always thinking of something different that needed to be done, and dashing off to do it. As the staff manager (selecting and assigning staff), a job he held at CH2M after he retired from Oregon State University, he really focused on the people and did an outstanding job. He seemed to realize he had a strong will and was not always easy to work with, and thus tended to associate with people who were also both strong and understanding.

Behind all the arm waving and strong will, Fred had a great concern for people, particularly the underdog. He was a tremendous humanitarian as well as an outstanding thinker. Fred became an officer in virtually every organization he joined; most notably, he was national president of the American Water Works Association and later president of the worldwide International Water Works Federation...

As undergraduate civil engineering students, Holly and Jim both had classes under Fred's tutelage. The Hayes family and the family of Mildred Merryfield were close friends in Pendleton, and Fred knew Burke. Thus it was Fred's talent as a supreme judge of talent in his friends and students that caused him to first propose that the Northwest was a perfect place for himself and the three young engineers to start an engineering firm.

Fred passed away in 1977 having contributed heavily to the growth and development of CH2M HILL. He left a legacy of professionalism and integrity that became the hallmarks of the firm to this day.


Holly Cornell

Holly Cornell

Holly Cornell was a relatively quiet, thoughtful person with tremendous ability to pull the many facets of a project together; a person who inspired confidence. He never displayed anger, and if he was ever asked a question, no matter how pressed he was, a carefully considered answer was always forthcoming. Not only was he a master at organizing and doing projects, but a master of developing innovative solutions. In the days before standard specifications, it was Holly who wrote the first construction specifications in 1946. His new and unique format was used on all CH2M projects and plagiarized by the firm's competitors for many years.

Holly had great strength in developing major clients. It was he who led the effort to secure major work in Denver. He was the only founding partner to leave Corvallis to create a new office, in Seattle, where he brought in major work from Boeing and the City of Seattle. After 10 years there, he returned to Corvallis in 1970, became Director of Technology, and with his customary foresight, moved the firm into the computer age.

Holly was born in 1914 in Boise, Idaho. He attended High School in Portland, and subsequently attended and graduated from OSU with the class of 1938. Holly then went on to earn a Master's Degree from Yale University in Structural Engineering. During these early years, family connections brought him into contact with Burke Hayes and they soon became close friends.

He worked for the Standard Oil Co. in California before he was called to active Army duty in 1941. He served with distinction in the Army Corps of Engineers in Europe during World War II and received the Bronze Star medal. He was the executive officer of an engineer group under General George Patton that repaired Germany's famed Remagen Bridge, enabling Allied forces to cross the Rhine River.

Discharged from the Army in late 1945, Holly immediately teamed up with Fred Merryfield, a friend and his former instructor in OSU, to create the nucleus of what was to become CH2M HILL.

Holly CornellHolly was not a "joiner," but his talents and warm personality drew him into many professional activities such as the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Water Works Association and the Professional Engineers of Oregon. Throughout his career he was the recipient of numerous personal awards and was widely recognized as an astute and forward-thinking leader. The Professional Engineers of Oregon honored him by naming him Oregon Engineer of the Year. He was also active in a university fraternal organization, Phi Delta Theta, and several honor societies including Phi Kappa Phi and Tau Beta Pi.

When he retired in 1980, CH2M HILL had grown from a four-partner office in Corvallis to an international consulting firm employing 1,900 professionals in 20 offices in the U.S. plus several offices in overseas locations.

Holly died on July 1, 1997, leaving a legacy of technical professionalism combined with a large measure of warmth and human kindness. His influence still haunts the halls of CH2M HILL, and his mark is plentifully evident in the world-wide reputation the firm holds for integrity and quality.


Jim Howland

Everyone was encouraged to refer to Jim Howland as just plain Jim. This alone gives one an insight into the plain-spoken, unaffected individual who was to serve as CH2M's administrative leader for many years. He was born in 1916 in Oregon City, Oregon, into a family that was rich in the moral virtues that were instilled in his mind as he was growing up.

Jim HowlandBorn with a bent toward mathematics and science led Jim to enroll at Oregon State College in 1934. His field of interest was civil engineering with special emphasis on hydraulics. His leadership qualities were expressed early in his life, serving as the student body president while he was in college, and participating in numerous student government activities. It was during this period in his life that he met and was much influenced by one of his instructors, Fred Merryfield. Also, he became acquainted with two fellow students, Holly Cornell and Burke Hayes. It was inevitable that the close relationship these four developed during these early years would lead to a desire to maintain that fellowship in their later life. Jim completed his studies at Oregon State College, graduating with the class of 1938.

There came a time when Jim's professional interests turned away from hydraulics and towards soil mechanics, a field which seemed to have greater opportunities. With Fred Merryfield's support and other influences, Jim was prompted to continue his education by enrolling at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). It was while he was in graduate school that Jim met and, in 1941, married a Radcliffe student named Ruth Meisenhelder, forever to be called Meisy by all.

Following his graduation from M.I.T. with a Master's Degree in 1939, Jim accepted a job with Standard Oil Co. of California, designing and supervising the construction of refining facilities. In 1941 Jim began active duty in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in which he served first in Hawaii and then in Saipan. As a result, he gained valuable experience in the construction of airfields, roads and harbors as well as more general planning and designing of large-scale projects. His war-time services were recognized as meritorious and he was awarded the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star.

Jim Howland with Mike Fisher

Jim Howland is a man with optimism and an upbeat attitude about life. He values humor, being careful not to get too serious, and shuns ostentatiousness, including new cars and other executive perks. Besides being a civil engineer, Jim is also an artist and a writer. He is a team player, unselfish and extremely kind in his dealings with people. In the firm he set the standard for one-to-one relationships in offices operating like a family. He favored an open-door policy and talking to each other as equals. He pushed integrity in all the firm's dealings, and his motto was "Anything for an honest buck." His resolute attitude toward creating an aura of dependability and respect in the public face of CH2M led him to create a booklet which has endured the decades and is still in popular demand. Jim's Little Yellow Book served as standard issue to all new and old employees of the firm and has served as a recitation of the firm's guideposts with regard to its ethics.

In the early days, Jim was responsible for soils and foundations, developing the firm's geotechnical capabilities based on his master's degree at M.I.T. But Jim can find enjoyment in putting something--anything--together, even a consulting engineering firm. He set out to do engineering, but when it became obvious someone was needed to manage the day-to-day operations of the fledgling partnership, he filled the need and carried on for nearly 30 years. As managing partner and later president, he held together the business like a bunch of balloons and saw that they all went up together. He managed by consensus and was a champion of the firm's basic personnel policies, which helped the firm attract and hold compatible, motivated, and innovative people to work in a well-knit group.

Jim passed away on August 28, 2008.


Burke Hayes

Burke Hayes Burke Hayes

Burke Hayes has been described as a practical person with stature, poise, and a voice that gains confidence from people on first appearance. The first time a professional was brought in to help prepare a brochure, he picked Hayes from all the partners to be the representative consulting engineer in a series of pictures with a client. Burke is a great conversationalist with the ability to listen and ask the right questions. Backing up these qualities, he had a meticulous ability to analyze problems and develop innovative technical solutions. He gathered information like a sponge. In discussions, he calmly prevailed with knowledge and logic, but was willing to compromise in subjective situations.

Burke, with his inventive nature, developed the Flomatcher variable speed electric motor control system, which gained the firm much favorable attention. Another example of his inventiveness was when he converted a child's wading pool into a model of the Pacific Northwest to study ground currents from the initial direct current electrical transmission lines built from the Columbia River to California.

He was born in Pendleton, Oregon, and graduated from O.S.U. with the class of '38. He got his Master's Degree at M.I.T. in Electrical Engineering.

Visit Burke's Memorial Web Site


Clair Hill

Clair Hill

Clair A. Hill was born in Redding, California in 1909, graduating from high school there. He graduated from Stanford University in 1934. Subsequently he spent 2 years at Oregon State College as a forestry student. He then spent several years working around California before returning to Redding. His mother's family had strong roots in Redding, having moved there from Spokane, Washington by horse and wagon in 1895.

In 1938 Clair opened an office in Redding, while still working as deputy surveyor for Shasta County to make ends meet during the Depression years.

In 1941 he was called to active duty in the Army and spent 2 1/2 years in Alaska, and the last 13 months of WWII on Adak Island in the Aleutians in a bomb disposal unit.

Clair A. Hill the Pilot

Following his stint in the Army, Clair returned to Redding to open an office in a small house across the street from the county courthouse. From this inauspicious beginning, Clair built the dynamic, thriving organization that in later years caught the eyes of the principals at CH2M.

Clair had a fairly clear vision of the future of technology in things to come, like photogrammetry and the importance of irrigation and water use. And he had a strong entrepreneurial spirit--he thought nothing of buying horses, mules and tents to support survey crews in the field that had to stay on the survey site for some length of time. And he never hesitated to create a new business to exploit some new idea or concept. For one, he set up a computer business on the side, which did not prove to be a financial success, but permitted him to explore a challenging field.

When it came to management, Clair had a diametrically opposite viewpoint of how a business should be run than the management team at CH2M. Where CH2M was managed by consensus of the partners, Clair firmly believed in the autocratic, authoritarian approach he had used to build his own firm. He never allowed this difference in management style to interfere with the continuing business relations with CH2M following the merger, and he put the full force of his strong and dynamic personality behind the effort to make the merger a success in every respect. Clair Hill passed away in 1998 but he is remembered to this day for his professionalism and humanitarianism which were hallmark traits of his character.

Editor's note: In response to "CH2M is Over the Hill: Engineering Giant Unveils New Name, Logo" (July 2015 issue), we received a letter from Penny (Irani) Garrett and cosigned by Louise Dibble, Linda Lack, Shirley McCarthy, and Doris Powers. "We have many wonderful memories [of Clair Hill]. I am fearful that there is a possibility that what this great man did for the small town of Redding and the State of California (and whose engineering influence ultimately was felt throughout the world), may be lost by no longer being recognized by having his name be part of the Corporation…I hope that his name will never be forgotten as you continue to grow and prosper, for indeed his mighty contributions helped to make CH2M what it is today."

We agree, and value the merger of our firms and all staff as well as our readers. Clair, his contributions, and the contributions of Clair A. Hill & Associates are well documented herein on the Alumni History website. See the attached (PDF) for the full text of the letter.