James Reece Steele
In the early years of PSC’s El Paso office, James Reece Steele would enter the elevator of the historic Mills building designed by Henry C. Trost. The elevator attendant would call him “Mr. Steele” as everyone did, closing the steel doors and taking him to his floor overlooking live alligators in a protected pond in San Jacinto Park. This is just one of the memories shared by his daughter Denise Daniel of El Paso.
James “Jim” Steele was fascinated by traveling and the engineering profession. His daughter Denise said that he combined his love of seeing how things worked with the great marvels in other states.
“Our vacations could be spent camping in a little trailer traveling from Yellowstone to the Grand Tetons and a stop at Hoover Dam” to marvel at how it was built. When the Panama Canal first opened, he went to see how it was made. Often, he would take the family to a Texas Society of Professional Engineers (TSPE) convention.
Jim was born in Merkel, Texas, on January 5, 1925. After graduating high school, he took his first job sweeping floors at Texas Tech University in Lubbock. He served as a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army’s 78th Division during World War II. After serving with the U.S. Field Artillery, in 1946, Jim enrolled in college and received a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering in 1950.
He was a junior engineer for the Texas Highway Department and then joined the staff of PSC in 1950. He became party chief and oversaw the survey crew with PSC. From 1950 to 1954 he was field, office and resident engineer, moving up to chief project engineer and associate, responsible for the coordination of all work for both the office and in the field. Jim transferred from Lubbock to El Paso with Gordon Parkhill in 1958 to provide better service to far West Texas and to offer other career opportunities. After PSC was incorporated in the fall of 1963, he was among the original officers and shareholders. In 1971, he was elected as a Vice President.
Jim was said to be very friendly, talkative and considerate. He was meticulous and had high standards, but his compassion and humility were always evident in his work and achievements. In 1978, Jim was named American Society of Civil Engineers’ Texas “Engineer of the Year,” the highest honor given to an individual TSPE member. He was a consulting civil Engineer with Parkhill, Smith & Cooper for 35 years in Lubbock and El Paso.
“He didn’t cut corners – you give 100 percent,” Denise said. “All of us kids have that same work ethic.”
He encouraged his family to tour plants with him, and the children enjoyed catching horned toads and hearing him explain about big paddles in the water plants that were making the water drinkable. His favorite projects included water treatment plants in Midland, and several of the older buildings and golf course at Fort Bliss in El Paso.