As part of our efforts to get to know the US-based alumni better, we took a trip including a few different stops including private meetings, group dinners and interviews. The Chalmers crew during this trip consisted of Håkan Simonsen, Fundraising Director, and myself, Birgitta Rorsman.
Washington, D.C. October 9th – Interview with Erland Magnusson (E60)
I started my trip in Washington, D.C., where I arrived in the late afternoon of October 8th and was greeted with warm and humid weather. The heat was a welcome albeit drastic change after having to scrape frost off the windshield as I left for the airport the same morning. The next day, thanks to the help of Arne and Eva Dunhem, I had a chance to meet with Erland Magnusson, one of the founders of U.S. Friends of Chalmers and an avid supporter of his former Alma Mater to say the least.
The four of us met at a J.Gilbert’s in McLean for their specialty, steaks and seafood, while taking part of some of many interesting stories from Erland’s long and exciting career.
There is no doubt that Erland has played a key role in developing the information highway we all depend on in our daily lives today. He started his career at SAAB electronics lab in Gothenburg immediately upon his graduation from Chalmers (E60) in summer 1960 and testifies that a degree from Chalmers indeed led to instant employment. After 6 years at SAAB, he moved with his family, wife and two children, to Seattle, where he had landed a job at Boeing, one of the most dominating employers in the area – at one time they had 101 000 employees! Those days, it was no problem to get a work permit in the US, it was issued almost immediately after he was hired.
Erland remained at Boeing for two years and was involved in such prestigious projects as testing the 737 and 747 commercial aircrafts before they were admitted into traffic. Pretty soon, however, he realized that things were going south for Boeing, the number of employees was down to 37 000 by the end of the sixties, a hard blow for the entire city of Seattle. But Erland didn’t have to worry about this, in 1969 he was hired by Comsat as one of the pioneers of the satellite industry in L.A. He stayed in L.A. for 8 years monitoring satellite tests before launch at a time when this technology was brand new. In fact, only 2 satellite launches had ever been performed before Erland started his work at Comsat and the industry has obviously seen tremendous growth since then. In various capacities, Erland has been involved in some 40 satellite launches and has been ultimately responsible for at least 30 of those – making him the most experienced Swedish person in the field – quite an accomplishment to say the least.
As an example of Erland’s many accomplishments, I have to mention the time when he and his team, largely made up of Chalmers alumni in fact, rescued a satellite that had fallen out of orbit. This operation involved NASA, Intelsat and Hughes (the satellite manufacturer) and involved contracts worth up to MUSD 150 so it was certainly a major undertaking. Intelsat, led by Erland, coordinated the ground operations from the control room, NASA provided astronauts and made sure they were trained properly and Hughes were put in charge of the control of the satellite during the campaign. Training and simulations went on for several months before it was finally time for action.
New York October 10-11
Needless to say, I was very happy with my visit to Washington D.C. and felt inspired when I left for New York that evening. The following two days were spent in New York and included meetings of many sorts with various people. Håkan Simonsen arrived and joined me Tuesday lunch and later that afternoon, Bo Hedfors came in from San Diego.
Tuesday night we had a New York chapter get-together gathering around 15 proud chalmerists of various backgrounds now residing in the New York area. The following day included a meeting with King Baudoin Foundation as well as coffee at “Svenska kyrkan” and another alumni dinner with Bo Hedfors (E68) and Lennart Mengwall (E67).
Columbus, Ohio – October 12, Interview with Carl Eriksson (V50)
On Thursday morning, Håkan and I said goodbye to Bo Hedfors and New York and flew off to Columbus, Ohio. We were met at the airport by Åke Hellström, chairman of CING North America, and taken on a tour of the city before we landed in at the home of Carl Eriksson where we were treated to a delicious lunch prepared by Carl’s wife Linda as well as storytelling and an art walk in the impressive Casa Eriksson. Just like Erland, Carl has been a key player in infrastructural development, only this time it’s another type of highway.
At age 92, Carl might be Chalmers’ oldest alumnus living in the U.S. However, his mother lived to be 105,5 and many of his relatives are well over 90 so in light of these figures, he is still a youngster.
Upon graduation from Chalmers in 1950 (V50) Carl worked in Stockholm for a few years before making his way to the U.S. in 1956. As a newly graduated young engineer he was involved in the groundbreaking project of building the then very modern and quite spectacular high-rises known as “Hötorgsskraporna” in central Stockholm. This project completely changed the character of the central part of the city and the buildings are still an unmistaken landmark in Stockholm.
Meanwhile, Carl had some friends, chalmerists of course, who had traveled to Harrisburg, PA and on to California to work and Carl was intent on doing the same. So, he returned to Gothenburg, this time however, only to sail off to New York via Southampton, where he boarded the famous steamship Queen Mary. He didn’t have time to dwell in New York, though, since he had a job waiting in Harrisburg, PA. They were a bit reluctant at first and his initial salary was well below his American work mates’ but in time, he earned the respect he so well deserved and was promoted to lead the more complicated projects. A major highway building project had been initiated by President Eisenhower and Carl’s talent for problem solving as well as meticulous and hard work had been observed by his superiors. In 1959, Carl was offered a position in Columbus, OH, where he got heavily involved in the highway projects. One of Carl’s primary areas of expertise is pre-stressed concrete and he played an important role in establishing standard methods for bridge and road constructions. After a while, Carl decided to start his own firm, “Eriksson Engineering” in the concrete business, he saw an opportunity to make better constructions and handle projects more effectively. Over the years, his firm led many projects and built miles upon miles of high-way as well as hundreds of bridges all over Ohio. He continued his successful work with his firm, until he retired at age 80 and instead of selling it, he dissolved the firm and made sure all his employees were taken care of and got new jobs.
From my conversations with Carl, I understand that he is a man with a strong sense of responsibility and a big heart. During his active years, he was often consulted for large building projects to take a look at the planning before the project was started. His expertise was widely known in and around Columbus and one of the city officials named him the most reliable builder in Ohio. Carl still stays on top of the building projects around Columbus and it is with great pride he talks of his former employees and their accomplishments. I have talked to Carl several times the past couple years and am struck by his humility, every time I ask him about his exciting life and career he says, “oh, but I’m nothing special, you should talk to Åke, he has had a great career and he has done so much for Chalmers”. It’s heartwarming that these two Chalmerists have found each other and such great friendship so far away from where it all started, in Gothenburg. We are thankful for their ambassadorship and all they do to spread knowledge about Chalmers.
Dinner and celebrating Bengt Gerborg
The fun didn’t end with this nice chat and lunch, however, there was a whole evening of fun to come. A table was set and a nice dinner prepared at M’s restaurant in down-town Columbus and we were joined by Åke’s wife, Ingrid and Carl’s wife, Linda. Our good friends, Bengt and Margerita Gerborg, were nice enough to drive down from Cleveland to join us, making us a party of eight happy Chalmers-supporters. There was one more official business to tend to, namely that of celebrating Bengt’s recent 75th birthday!
Bengt is not only a very dedicated supporter of his Alma Mater but also U.S. Friends of Chalmers Advisory Board member and we were honored that he could join us at this very special event. I believe it was a successful surprise and everyone really enjoyed the delicious food and great company. I couldn’t think of a better way to end our short visit in Columbus!
I was also lucky enough to be invited to come back to Cleveland with Bengt and Margerita, an adventure that included a visit to Amish country, a tour of Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and lots of other fun before I flew back to Gotheburg and Chalmers. Once again, I can honestly say that I am touched by the infinite support, not to mention hospitality, we are always shown by the U.S. alumni group!
A heartfelt thanks to all of you!
´til we meet again,