Engineered for success
Youngest Helmberger to join four brothers
as civil engineering graduates

by Sherry Wodraska Neaves

The roll call is impressive:

Stephen Helmberger, bachelor of science in civil engineering, 1983.
Joseph Helmberger, bachelor of science in civil engineering, 1984.
Robert Helmberger, bachelor of science in civil engineering, 1987.
Randall Helmberger, bachelor of science in civil engineering, 1997.

Add one more for Katherine Helmberger, bachelor of science in civil engineering, when she graduates in December.

Civil engineering Professor Clinton Parker says this is the only group of five siblings to earn degrees from the department. For that matter, not many families can make that claim in a
ny UTA department.

But Steve, Joe, Bob, Randy and Katie don’t even make up half of the Helmberger clan. Duane and Alice Helmberger’s 13 children also include a speech therapist, two nurses, an accountant, a medical technologist, a diesel mechanic and an engineering technician. Duane proudly notes that 12 of the 13 graduated from college (“a pretty good record,” he says) and that UTA is the alma mater of choice, at least for the family’s civil engineers.

“I decided to become a civil engineer because I was intrigued with the impact civil engineers have on every aspect of our lives. My dad and brothers really had no influence on my decision. We were all raised to believe that we could do anything we set our minds to.”
–senior Katie Helmberger

But why civil engineering?

“Dad worked for the Corps of Engineers,” Steve explained, with Duane adding, “I made them do it.” The corps took Duane, Alice and their growing family all over the country, and the children originally hailed from many states, but, according to Steve, “We’re all native Texans now. We claim it.”

The family claimed UTA because it offered the nearest civil engineering program and it was affordable. “Dad wouldn’t pay for it,” Steve said. “So we had to do it ourselves.”

For the first two years, Steve commuted from Collin County. Joe joined him the second year, but soon the class load became too great for the driving back and forth. “We were going to classes at 8 in the morning and 7 at night. It just became impossible to commute,” Joe said. “We had to move.”

Moving shortened the daily trip and cut down on road hazards as well. One morning Duane was driving in to his office in downtown Dallas. He drove past a car that had run off the road into a ditch. He didn’t realize that it was Steve on his way to school.

The move to Arlington was especially good for Joe because he soon married fellow UTA student Debra Dombrowski. She graduated in 1989 with a bachelor of arts in English.

Outside class, Steve and Joe mostly socialized on campus, particularly in the old Dry Gulch pub in the E.H. Hereford University Center. They also found friends in the student chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE).

Dr. Parker, chairman of the Civil Engineering Department at the time, remembers the Helmbergers as guys willing to turn almost any occasion into a celebration. They liked having a laugh on their professor, too.

“I’ll never forget going over to the house,” Dr. Parker said. “I had just bought a new Toyota truck and I invited them to come out and have a look. I knew they always had a truck around. They dropped everything, came outside and then all started laughing. Finally Joe managed to get out, ‘You call that a truck?’ ”

Randy and Katie followed their older brothers into the ASCE, and at various times they all served as officers. “In the past four years, I’ve worked on three concrete canoes and four steel bridges for competition,” Katie said, “including the bridge that went to nationals in Anchorage, Alaska.” She has also served as the student chapter’s president and vice president.

Family business
In 1988, Steve established the family engineering business, Helmberger Associates of Wylie, Texas. His father joined the business later that year, and eventually Joe and Randy followed.

“I just got tired of working for other people,” Joe said. Randy, who came in almost a decade later, laughingly says, “Steve started the company. I’m just a moocher.” Bob runs another firm, R&B Associates, in McKinney. Whether Katie will join either family business or head out on her own remains to be seen.

“We love it that she’s becoming an engineer,” Joe said. “But we don’t know if she’ll come to work for us or not.”

She’s the baby of the family, but Katie doesn’t let her big brothers push her around.

“I decided to become a civil engineer because I was intrigued with the impact civil engineers have on every aspect of our lives,” she said. “My dad and brothers really had no influence on my decision. We were all raised to believe that we could do anything we set our minds to.”

A general engineering firm, Helmberger Associates focuses on commercial development projects dealing with subdivisions, roads, drainage and other engineering needs. Dallas Business Journal named one of their projects, the Gentle Creek subdivision in Prosper, Best Land Deal of 1999.

Of course, to maintain order, there must be rules in any business venture. “Yep, we have a very stringent rule around here,” Randy said. “Ties are strictly forbidden.”

No flashy office, no suits and ties. Jeans, boots and gimme caps are office casual attire. There’s a pasture with deer out back.

A-hunting they will go
“We really just work enough that we can go hunting,” said Steve, who plans a trip to Alaska this fall to hunt caribou.

Pictures of family hunting trips decorate the Helmberger Associates office. The brothers have tramped over mountains and slogged through swamp land in search of game. Geese, deer, ducks, even alligators have landed on the dinner table. “We don’t shoot anything we don’t eat,” Steve said.

Sometimes the call of the wild does lead to interesting meals. “One Thanksgiving, my brother brought home a wild turkey for the dinner,” Katie remembered. “We cleaned and ate the bird, and everyone commented on how delicious the gravy was, and how very dark it was. We couldn’t figure out why it was so dark, but it was still the best gravy we’d ever eaten. When we picked up the carcass of the turkey, our question about color was answered—the gullet was never cleaned out. The crickets the turkey feasted on had been cooked with the bird.

“We enjoyed cricket gravy that Thanksgiving—and haven’t eaten a wild turkey since.”

Sharing such adventures has kept the Helmbergers a close-knit, yet ever-expanding family. “There’s always something going on,” Katie said. “We seem to be together every weekend. By the time I was 13, seven of my siblings were married. I became an aunt when I was 5 and have become one 37 times since, with one more on the way.”

Joe and Debra are expecting the next little Helmberger. Their eighth child is scheduled to arrive in September, a due date that poses problems for papa Joe. “That’s the opening weekend of dove season,” he said. “So I told her she can have this one by herself.”

As if any family member were ever truly alone. They even play jokes together.

“When Steve got married, all of my other brothers were groomsmen,” Katie said. “As they left the church after the ceremony, they all paused at the top of the aisle and put on schnoz glasses before exiting. The guests all giggled, especially when my dad stepped out of the pew and placed a pair on his face.”

They can break out the old glasses again when Randy gets married in June. “You’ve never been to a wedding ’til you’ve been to one of theirs,” Dr. Parker said. “When they start partying, they don’t stop. I went to Steve and Bob’s weddings. When the service was over, before you knew it they were all doing the cotton-eyed Joe. I never could stay to the end.”

UTA has not seen the end of the Helmbergers. In just more than three years, Joe’s oldest son, Duane (named after his grandfather), plans to enroll. Wonder if he’ll study civil engineering?



Springing forward
Graduate students lead the way in spring enrollment increase
Graduate students like Ruby Ruperto and her Contemporary Science classmates significantly boosted University enrollment for spring 2001, the fifth consecutive semester of enrollment increases.

Writing for the Digital Age
New  tools and technologies are taking one Honors English class online and into the future
When students in Martin Danahay’s Honors English class get ready to work, they don’t pull textbooks out of their backpacks. Instead, they each slide a thin, black Toshiba laptop onto their desk, flip up the cover and log in to UTA’s first completely wireless class.

Worldwide welcome
International recruitment efforts are expected to pay long-term dividends
New faces, from places all over the world, keep coming through the UTA front door. And, with continuing international recruitment efforts, the University is keeping the welcome mat on the doorstep.


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