By: Olga Kuchment
Hank Wiederhold knew first-hand that a generous act can yield life-long rewards.
Many years ago, Wiederhold was looking for a way to transfer from Blinn College to Texas A&M University, and he met a young banker who decided to co-sign on his student loan. This stranger’s act of generosity allowed the student to fulfill his dream of becoming an agricultural engineer. Wiederhold’s career with the USDA—Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) resulted in countless benefits for Texans, and his love of family and all things Aggie left a legacy of a life well lived.
Wiederhold’s wife, Angela, has now endowed a scholarship in Hank’s name. Blinn transfer students in the Department of Biological and Agricultural Engineering with an emphasis of water conservation and wetland habitat creation can apply. Students from Dallas, Travis, Montgomery, Nacogdoches and Lee counties are to be considered first. (Hank grew up on a cotton farm in Dime Box.)
“My husband always shared everything, including his time, expertise, and financial rewards,” Angela says.
Shortly after graduating with a bachelor’s in biological and agricultural engineering in 1976, Wiederhold began working for NRCS. He retired in December 2013. Unfortunately, Hank died suddenly in May [http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/dailysentinel/obituary.aspx?pid=170982829] and is missed by many.
“Family, integrity, excellence, a love of all things Texas A&M, and an unparalleled ability to work with people — such is the legacy of Hank Wiederhold,” writes John Mueller, state conservation engineer at NRCS.
Texans have benefited from Hank’s work in numerous ways. He led hundreds of wetland restoration projects. After Hurricane Rita, he was recognized by both the city of Port Arthur and NRCS for his exceptional work as lead NRCS engineer on watershed protection. The same year, the Texas Section of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers presented Hank with its highest achievement award, naming him “2006 Engineer of the Year.” In 2009, Hank became the first State Wetland Engineer for Texas NRCS, according to his obituary.
Hank “received approximately a dozen agency awards during his career for a wide range of areas recognizing excellence in training, leadership, and outstanding performance of his duties,” writes Mueller.
“Hank’s passion for helping people was obvious in his work implementing the NRCS disaster recovery program, the Emergency Watershed Protection Program,” writes Trey Bethke, district conservationist at NRCS and one of Hank’s co-workers. “In East Texas virtually every NRCS-designed headwall for protecting public roadways installed under the EWP program has Hank’s imprint on it…. Most impressive was Hank’s commitment to the citizens and communities of southeast Texas after Hurricane Rita in 2005.”
In the NRCS state office, Hank was the go-to person to deal with problematic projects, Bethke adds.
“There just was nobody better at tackling difficult situations,” Bethke writes. Hank would approach “a landowner or a contractor that was literally red-in-the-face mad at the NRCS, and within just a short time Hank had devised a solution to the problem and they were swapping stories and laughing with one another.”
“It’s truly humbling how many people have reached out to us. Hank had done something thoughtful for so many,” says Angela.Hank’s passion for helping people extended to his family—which includes two sons and two adopted sons—and to his many friends and total strangers. Hank drove many hours to play baseball, softball, or football with his nieces and nephews or with his friends’ kids. He loved to surprise them and just show up, Angela says.
Hank was the “life of the party” and had a great sense of humor, Angela says. He loved tailgating and cheering on the Texas A&M Aggies, and he cooked up his famous barbeque at Aggie football games. Hank and Angela often hosted as many as 100 people at their barbeques. Everyone was welcome, Angela says.
Texas A&M gave Hank “the opportunity to have a wonderful education and provide well for our family and for a lot of people,” Angela says. “We just want to give back in a meaningful way that will honor Hank’s values of learning, loving, and sharing.”