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Celebrating 75 Years: ASHRAE Member Honored for His Dedication to ASHRAE

Celebrating 75 Years: ASHRAE Member Honored for His Dedication to ASHRAE

Provided by the ASHRAE Evansville Chapter

From Insights, March 2022 

This month, Major General Eric Schwenker, P.E., Fellow/Life Member ASHRAE, is celebrating 75 years as an ASHRAE member.

Elected to join The American Society of Refrigerating Engineers (ASRE)—a predecessor of ASHRAE—on March 1, 1947, Schwenker, 99, of Evansville, Ind., received his Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineer from Purdue University in 1947 and earned his professional engineer designation in 1954. Schwenker has served in several Society-level positions on the Board of Directors, Members Council and Nominating Committee. He was awarded the 50-year Member Award in 1997.

Schwenker is still active in the ASHRAE Evansville Chapter, which he helped found, and still occasionally rides his motorcycle to meetings. His signature appears on the original chapter charter.

Schwenker, 99, celebrates 75 years as an ASHRAE member.

The chapter finds Schwenker as a goldmine of perspective and a man of exacting information who is always quick to give credit to the others who have helped him achieve his many accomplishments.

Schwenker’s Start

Schwenker’s interest in engineering began when he joined the United States Army. Serving in the Army Corps of Engineer in WWII, he served six weeks in Germany as the war was ending and was stationed there for four months for occupation duty. His battalion was then ordered to Marseille, France, to prepare for a possible invasion of Japan.

Major General Eric Schwenker, P.E., Fellow/Life Member ASHRAE

During the post-WWII consumerism boom, Evansville became known as the “refrigerator capital of the world.”  In its prime, Evansville produced 10,000 units per day. In 1957, the International Harvester plant—where Schwenker began his career—was acquired by Whirlpool-Seeger, combining for more than two million square feet of factory floor space.

Schwenker recounts his time at Whirlpool vividly, sharing details of designing refrigerators on drafting boards stationed amid the company break room. In this environment, the engineer interacted with employees, using the refrigerators as a means for receiving feedback on improving the designs. Once a new design or improvement was made, the design engineering team worked side by side with the actual factory production supervisors to build prototype versions.

The assembly line was then tasked with constructing the prototypes of the refrigerators and would immediately make changes in design and then reassemble the prototype before the final design was released for mass production. This is a method invented by Henry Ford in 1913—just a few years before Schwenker was born. This group of refrigeration engineers provided the foundation and desire to create the Evansville ASHRAE Chapter.

Times Have Changed

The HVAC&R industry has changed since Schwenker began his career, but he has said, “not much has changed as far as the engineer’s objective.” The job of an engineer is still the same: “to provide environments and products that build on the knowledge of previous designs in the most cost-efficient manner.”

Schwenker's signature appears on the orignial ASHRAE Evansville Chapter charter.

It has always been an engineer’s responsibility to pursue continual learning to keep up with the changes in the “state-of-the-art” technology in their field of practice.

"When it comes to continual learning, attempt to attend sessions together with other professionals where opinions, questions and experience can be actively shared."

There is one notable area of change Schwenker is quick to acknowledge and comment on: Although individual web-based learning can be beneficial, he believes it is still best to learn actively in group environments, especially for younger engineers. He believes that, though advancements accelerate the pace of design to production cycle, being in front of a screen continuously is a detriment to the real calling of engineers. These distractions could cause one to overlook obvious answers or not develop their own solutions.

When asked what advice he would give to younger engineers, Schwenker said, “join a professional organization like ASHRAE, attend the meetings to actively learn and ask questions where you might have a group discussion. When it comes to continual learning, attempt to attend sessions together with other professionals where opinions, questions and experience can be actively shared.” 

Schwenker, an active member of the ASHRAE Evansville Chapter, joined in 1947.

The Evansville Chapter’s Historical Committee conducted an interview with Schwenker last year about the chapter’s founding. The interview covers his extensive career in the HVAC&R industry, his strong military experience and his perspective on changes in HVAC over the past 75 years.