William Benton “Ben” Race
(1926 - 2017)
Member, Board of Trustees, 1968-1977 and 1979-1992
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Remembrance by Curt Groninga
Vice-President Administrative Services/Assistant Superintendent
Member, Santa Rosa Junior College Foundation Board of Directors
When anyone steps onto any of the SRJC campuses, they are within Ben Race’s realm. As a long-revered Board of Trustee member, Ben Race protected the Santa Rosa Campus historic educational facilities, committed the college to high architectural and engineering standards and forever preserved its oak-studded vista. Ben developed the site selection criteria and helped create the Petaluma Campus with its own scenic vista and protected Capri Creek. He later inspired the transplanting of young oak trees from the Santa Rosa campus to the main Petaluma Campus quad as a unifying gesture. He advised the College to develop its own “stand-alone” Public Safety Training Center in Windsor as well as ensure the proper use of the old Forestville WWII radar site and transformed it into a thriving Shone Farm agricultural program and forestry education center.
During Ben’s 23-year tenure as a SRJC Trustee, he made certain the college remained a respected institution of public higher education governed by a non-partisan board committed to the community of which it served. After completing his service in the US Navy during World War II, Ben and his family lived in the veterans Quonset huts which were situated on the land between Plover and Emeritus Halls and what would later become the William B. Race Health Sciences Building.
As a young man, following his education at SRJC, he obtained a degree in engineering from UC Berkeley, after which he and longtime business partner Walter Brelje founded a successful company, Brelje & Race Consulting Civil Engineers and Laboratories. So through and beyond Ben’s years as a trusted Board member, the college continually turned to him for his leadership on important campus planning and facilities-related matters. Though an expert, he was a reluctant leader in these areas because he believed that the college planning was an inclusive process that warranted the expression of shared visions of faculty, staff, and administrators and, most importantly, the college’s constituent community. Despite his reluctance, the college continually turned to Ben for his insightful advice whether it was assisting in the selection of architectural, engineering or land use legal consultants or trouble-shooting prickly district issues. The success of the Measure A facilities resurgence bears Ben Race’s wisdom and insight. Much of the foundation for Measure H facilities development can also be traced back to Ben’s visionary influence.
A well-respected civil engineer blessed with a precision-based thought process, Ben Race was very much a humanist. It was important to him that the SRJC faculty and staff remuneration reflect their contributions in making Santa Rosa Junior College one of the very best public community colleges within California and the nation. At a time of great loss when two administrators were mortally injured in a tragic accident while on college business, it was Ben Race who, after an on-campus memorial, took aside the Dean of Business Services and the Associate Dean for Administrative Services and outlined a plan on how the college could further assist in developing a safety net for a very young family who lost a young father and husband. He did, we did and they were supported. When the college was confronted with an unfortunate controversy regarding the placing of the moving “Vietnam Memorial Wall” on the Santa Rosa Campus, Ben along with other WWII veteran Board members (Bob Call, Larry Bertolini, Al Maggini) met with Gold Star family members and assured them the moving memorial would be honored on college grounds. It became an honored memorial that helped heal and bring peace to Vietnam War Veterans, their families and a once divided community.
Much has been written about this country’s “Greatest Generation.” Ben Race, along with several board colleagues (Al Maggini, Bob Call, Larry Bertolini, Christine Pedroncelli, Jack Jacobs and Herold Mahoney) were among best of that generation and their service to this college is emblematic of their devotion. The college has been blessed with the opportunity to name several of its educational facilities after Board members whose contributions to this very fine educational institution reflected their dedication and efforts to make SRJC an even better place.
We who had the opportunity to serve the College with him always knew that Santa Rosa Junior College and the Sonoma County Junior College District was a better place when Ben Race was here. He continually inspired us to help make SRJC a supportive and positive learning environment. We feel and share our loss with his wife Barbara and Ben’s family.
Ben Race Remembered
by Jerry Miller, Senior Dean,
Career & Technical Education & Economic Development
Ben was honored as a Sonoma County Engineering Pioneer during Engineer's Week 1999 by the Empire Branch of the American Society of Civil Engineers and the North Coast Section of Consulting Engineers and Land Surveyors of California. Here is a synopsis of his introduction. I was honored to be the host for the evening's festivities and get to know Ben a little better.
Tonight we honor three Sonoma County pioneers. From the private sector, Ben Race, founding partner of Brelje and Race, Consulting Civil Engineers; from the public sector, Don Head, Director of Sonoma County Public Works Department for 29 years; and from the land surveying discipline, Herb Passarino.
In general, the term professional refers to a calling in which one professes to have acquired some special knowledge. A profession is not a money-getting venture. It has no element of commercialism in it. True, the professional seeks to live by what they earn, but the main purpose and desire is to be of service to those who seek his or her aid and to the community of which they are a part. Professional stature cannot be attained by self-proclamation, it must be earned and others must bestow the title on the person. A professional has superior and distinct experience and education in a field of knowledge. Our three honorees are truly professionals in their fields.
- Born in Bellflower, CA and raised in Pomona, CA.
- He served in the Navy the last two years of WWII.
- Attended SRJC from 1947 to 1949, during which he worked for Hugh Codding. He did surveying for Codding’s Town & County Development off Pacific Avenue.
- Transferred to UC Berkeley and received a BS degree in Civil Engineering in 1951.
- Before and after graduation, he worked for Richard Starns for 5 years doing wastewater public utilities projects in Sonoma County.
- In 1956, Ben went to work for Frank Sarles in Santa Rosa. At the time there was only one other private civil engineer in town, Walt Adams.
- In 1960 he and Walt Brelje became partners with Frank Sarles. Soon after they bought out Frank and Brelje & Race was born. Ben retired from Brelje & Race in 1982.
- Ben was one of the founding members of along with Don Head and Gene Miller of the Redwood Empire Branch of the San Francisco Section of American Society of Civil Engineers. The membership was about 20 engineers.
- Married to Barbara, and has two grown children.
- Health Sciences building was named for Ben Race
- Brelje & Race did extensive work for SRJC, the water system, storm drainage, parking and more.
Q&A with Ben Race
Q: What are you most proud of in your work for the citizens of Sonoma County?
A: Oakmont and Sea Ranch Projects, Santa Rosa Trunk Sewer Project, Revisions to the City of Santa Rosa’s water systems
Q: What did you dislike the most about your job?
A: Wading through the red tape of local agencies…Myron Steele meetings
Q: What gave you the most satisfaction in your career?
A: Seeing a project reach completion
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