Former CH2M Water Business Group member and our first Denver, Colorado, office manager, Ken Bielman, passed away in the early morning of Friday, August 4, 2017. He had been ill for several months. Ken and his wife, Julie, lived in a retirement home at North Albany, OR. They were married for 45 years.
Born in Bucoda, Thurston County, Washington, in 1924, Ken obtained a bachelor’s degree in Civil Engineering from Oregon State University (OSU) in 1950. He also attended Lewis & Clark College for one year in 1946 to major in music. During World War II, Ken served in the Merchant Marines and the U.S. Coast Guard.
Ken joined CH2M on a part-time basis in 1948, just two years after the company was founded, working as an engineering technician on a survey crew. He became a full-time employee in August 1950 as a resident engineer. Ken was employee No. 12! He earned his Professional Engineer registration in 1955, working predominately in the water/wastewater discipline.
Ken had a deep fondness for music beginning with violin, guitar and saxophone in his early years, and finally settling on piano as a part-time jazz pianist. Starting in 1941, he played with big bands and small jazz ensembles and as pianist in Dixieland Jazz Bands.
“I never worked on a project with Ken, which I now realize how much I regret,” says Bob Chapman, former member of the water group. “But I was part of the tiny Fred Harem-led water group, along with Ken. He was always ‘gone someplace’ while I was there. My early fond memories of Ken were at regional AWWA conferences. We hosted small hospitality suites, and Ken would play the piano and entertain our guests. They all loved it!”
In 1969, Ken became manager of Engineering Services at CH2M. In July 1971, he opened the Denver office as CH2M’s first office manager there. Swede Nordquist and Jim Schwing followed Ken to Denver that same year. This was our company’s first office away from the west coast. CH2M was quite successful in securing work for the expansion of the Colorado Springs wastewater treatment plant, the Metropolitan Denver Sewage Disposal District No. 1 (Metro Denver) treatment plant expansion and water resources work for the City of Aurora.
Under Ken’s direction and support, the Denver office grew rapidly with additional work from Aurora and Metro Denver and new work from the Denver Water Board, Ft. Collins, Boulder, Thornton and other communities along Colorado’s Front Range. He and Julie had an innate ability to charm both clients and employees.
Jim Schwing, the third transfer to Denver in 1971, reflects on Ken’s leadership skills, “Ken always seemed to be smiling and had an ability to build a dedicated team that was enthusiastic about expanding the company’s Colorado client base.”
Ken’s piano-playing capability and Julie’s warm personality were key to many fun times at his house and other social gatherings. According to Ken, he never learned to read music but had an exceptional ability to “play by ear.”
“There were many parties where we would just hang out around his piano and request songs, and he would just play,” adds Jim.
Ken and Julie had a passion for writing their life stories. Excerpts from Ken’s “Life Story” were the foundation of the Denver office early history, and can be found on the CH2M Alumni History website.
In April 1978, Ken moved to Atlanta and served as office manager until January 1981, when he became manager of design for the Alexandria Wastewater Project in Egypt. In November 1983, Ken became the project manager for a water/wastewater project near Amman, Jordan. Returning to the Corvallis office in 1984, Ken led the Water & Wastewater Division there while continuing to devote time to international projects in Cyprus, Dubai, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Ken fully retired in 2000.
You can send condolences to Ken’s wife, Julie Bielman at 420 Geri St. NE, Apt 239, Albany OR 97321.
Please join our CH2M family in remembering Ken’s life and his impactful contributions to our company.