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Obituary: Robert K. Tener

Great-grandfather, decorated U.S. Army officer, celebrated engineer, professor

Robert K. Tener, Colonel, Retired, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, died peacefully after a lengthy illness on February 15, with his wife Ann by his side. He was 86 years old.

He was born Robert Kinley Tener on September 8, 1935, to Alan L. and Grace Fawcett Tener in Cleveland, Ohio. Known to all as “Bob,” he was the eldest of the “three Tener boys” (Bob, John, and Jim) growing up in Noblesville, Indiana, where he was an accomplished student, musician (a clarinetist and singer), and athlete (mostly baseball).

Bob married Sara Sue Lorton in 1958. Together they had three children and traveled on military assignments to more than 20 places around the world. He balanced the demands of leading battalions of builders with joyous family skiing trips in the Alps, swimming in the Mediterranean, and visiting castles and museums. He gifted his family with global experiences and an appreciation of altruism.

Immediately after receiving his degree from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957, he went on to earn a master’s degree and a doctorate in structural engineering from Iowa State University, in Ames, Iowa. He served his 27-year career in the U.S. Army as a commissioned officer.

He had a lifelong career of remarkable engineering achievements spanning five-plus decades in four distinctly separate arenas: military, service engineer, academe and management. He crossed disciplines with significant achievements of national scope in the public, private, academic, and non-profit sectors.

His career led him to a position at the Pentagon, as well as to faculty positions in civil engineering at West Point and Purdue University. He was the district engineer of Tennessee’s Cumberland River Valley, where he headed up the Divide Cut of the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and numerous other large Army Corps of Engineers projects. One of his strong suits as a regional leader in the corps was his consistent prioritization of environmental conservation principles.

Through his military career, he received the Bronze Star Medal for meritorious achievements in Vietnam in 1968, a Meritorious Service Medal for outstanding service as a U.S. Military Academy faculty member in 1972, and a Meritorious Service Medal for service as battalion commander in Germany in 1975. He rose through the ranks, earning early promotions to both major and lt. colonel. He retired in Dallas, Texas in 1984 as colonel.

Following retirement from the army, he served on the Purdue University civil engineering faculty for eight years, where he advocated for effective industry-university partnering through leadership roles in the national education committees of the Associated General Contractors and the American Society of Civil Engineers. In 1995 he was one of the first two academics to become a Design Build Institute of America (DBIA) member and a Designated DBIA Professional.

In 2005, he became the founding executive director of the Charles Pankow Foundation, an applied research institute in California, advancing best practices in the engineering, design and construction industry.

He retired from professional work in 2012. Among his numerous awards and recognitions are Iowa State’s Professional Achievement Citation in Engineering, voted professor of the year four times by his Purdue students, and election to university honorary societies: Tau Beta Pi, Phi Kappa Phi, Chi Epsilon, Beta Tau, Iron Key and Mortar Board. In 2012, he was awarded the DBIA Brunelleschi Lifetime Achievement Award. He founded, and for six years chaired, the board of directors for the Inland Empire, California regional chapter of the National Architects, Construction and Engineers (ACE) Mentor program. He served on the board of trustees of the California Botanic Garden (formerly Rancho Santa Ana Botanic Garden) in Claremont.

He and his wife Ann Joslin Tener lived in Claremont for 18 years, where both were active in service and leadership work on community boards and city committees. They retired to Bella Vista, Arkansas in 2018.

He is predeceased by his former wife Sara, his parents, and brother Jim.

He is survived by his wife Ann; brother John Tener (Nancy); children Kinley Tener (Carol), Robin Tener and Erin Tener Hollinden (Andy); stepchildren Robert Joslin (Danni), Nicole Joslin Green (Jason); grandchildren Keerin Tener (Sukh Chambers), Sean Tener (Kristen Robinson), Gillen Tener Martin, Anasazi Hollinden Shields (AJ), Lily Hollinden, Renee Richardson, Reece Richardson; and great-grandson Jack Edward Tener.

“He will be remembered as a devoted husband, loving father, grandfather, and great-grandfather,” his family shared. “He was known for his intellect, talents, generosity, caring, and warmth. He loved music, the mountains, botanical gardens, and developing people as well as structures. He lived an extraordinary life. He will be forever loved and never forgotten.”

A celebration of life will be held at 4 p.m. Sunday, April 24 at the Mildred Cooper Memorial Chapel in Bella Vista, Arkansas.

Tribute gifts may be made in memory of Robert K. Tener ’57 at www.westpointaog.org or by check to Gift Operations, West Point Association of Graduates, 698 Mills Road, West Point, New York 10996; or the National Parks Foundation at www.nationalparks.org/tribute.

Family members may be reached by writing to ann@rtener.com.

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