Remembering Dr. John W. Hernandez

Dr. John W. Hernandez, a retired professor of civil engineering at New Mexico State University, died in Las Cruces, June 28, at the age of 88.

A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, September 22, 3-6 pm, at the building named in his honor, Hernandez Hall, on the NMSU main campus.

Hernandez received many awards during his long career. In 2003 the civil engineering building was named Hernandez Hall by the University Board of Regents. In 2005 the American Society of Civil Engineers named him a Distinguished Civil Engineer, an honor held by only 250 civil engineers at any one time. He served on many national and international committees and was an active consulting engineer both in the U.S. and overseas. In 1971 he received a Certificate of Commendation from President Nixon for his work on environmental issues. Some of the committees that he was a member of included the Permanent Association of International Oceans and Harbors, the International Committee on System Analysis, the National Pipeline Safety Commission, National Association for Minorities in Engineering, and many others.

In 1951 Hernandez received his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of New Mexico and an ensign’s commission in the Navy. He earned a master’s degree in sanitary engineering in 1959 from Purdue University and his Ph.D. in environmental engineering from Harvard in 1965. A Korean War veteran, Hernandez rose to the rank of captain in the Navy Civil Engineering Corp. In 1951, he played football for the Navy Amphibious Forces Pacific, headquartered in Coronado, California. His home on West Court Avenue in Las Cruces holds many tennis and basketball trophies, as well as a statue of Pistol Pete given to him in 2008 by the NMSU Academy of Civil Engineers.

Hernandez held a number of important offices during his career. He was  dean of engineering at NMSU from 1975 to 1980. In 1981, President Ronald Reagan tapped him to serve as deputy administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In 1983 he became the acting head of EPA, a post he held until William Ruckelshaus was recalled to head the agency. Hernandez lived for six months or longer in Chile (1969-70), Turkey (1972-73), Malaysia (1987-88), New Zealand (1993) and Thailand (1993-94) where he taught or was a consulting engineer.
Hernandez comes from a well-known northern New Mexico family. After New Mexico became a state in 1912, his grandfather, B.C. Hernandez, a Republican, became New Mexico’s first and only congressman after the elections in 1913. B.C. Hernandez had friends across the state, something required to be elected. B.C. Hernandez was made the head of the Internal Revenue Service in New Mexico in 1921. He served as a senior IRS officer for more than 30 years and was a tax consultant to Mexico, Peru and Paraguay. John Hernandez’ uncle, his father’s brother, Ben Hernandez was the U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and a long-term judge in the State Court of Appeals.

Hernandez’ first wife was Dr. Frances Hernandez, a long time faculty member at the University of Texas at El Paso. She died of cancer in 1999. His second wife, Dr. Isobel Klein, is a clinical psychologist and a Diplomate in the American Board of Professional Psychology.

Hernandez is survived by his wife Isobel and her children; Dr. Kathryn Sanders and her husband Dickerson; Karen Anderson and her husband John and their children, Kathryn, Andrew and Margaret Anderson. Hernandez’ sister, Jean Hernandez Dodier, preceded him in death.  Her eight children survive their Uncle John. Hernandez is survived by Armijo cousins in Las Cruces, Hernandez cousins in Albuquerque, and cousins Parker and Sam Wells. He is also survived by his godson, John Eric Munson. The family gives special thanks to his devoted caretakers Gonzalo Soto, Annsenette Gibbs and Rosalie Klingelmeier.


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