In 1974, Richard Nixon announced his resignation as president. People magazine debuted on newsstands. The Miami Dolphins won the Super Bowl. And Lan Reeser started working at the Baltimore District.
Reeser graduated with a bachelor’s of science degree in Civil Engineering from the University of Delaware in May 1974 and joined the district as a Junior Engineering in Training, better known as JET, in July of that same year. After his one-year rotation in the JET program, Reeser decided to stay in the Civil/Design Branch in the Engineering Division, where he has remained throughout his career.
In the beginning of his career, Reeser worked in the forefront of designing flood control features.
“At the time, we were still building dams, and I got to be part of the design for both the Cowanesque and Tioga projects,” he said. “I also worked on the Lock Haven Flood Control Project, which was a civil engineer’s dream. We designed multiple components including levees, floodwalls and gates. We even designed the relocation of roads, a railroad and an airport.”
In 1989, Reeser once again was on the forefront as he worked on the proposal for the district to become a Hazardous, Toxic and Radiological Waste (HTRW) design center. Reeser and the team succeeded, and he went on to become a design team lead in the HTRW design center.
“It was my job to prepare inventory project reports, evaluating if a project was eligible for the Formerly Used Defense Site Program (FUDS),” Reeser said. “Spring Valley came along in 1993, and it wasn’t even on our FUDS list.”
The initial finding of World War-I era munitions and chemical warfare materiel in the Spring Valley neighborhood, located in northwest Washington, D.C., turned into Reeser’s main project for the past 22 years and the highlight of his career, he said. As the longest lasting Spring Valley project team member, Reeser is well known as the “go-to-guy” for questions on the project.
“Working on Spring Valley has been very rewarding,” Reeser said. “I have been very lucky to spend my time delving into the more technical aspects of the project and making sure the work is being conducted in a thorough, complete investigation. I am a numbers guy. I still get excited when we collect samples, and I get to look at the results.”
Reeser also said he enjoyed managing many of the contract actions for the Spring Valley project.
“We couldn’t do our job without the contractors,” he said. “I have always viewed it as a partnership between the Corps and contractors. I have never used the heavy hammer approach when working with contractors. Instead, I have formed good working relationships.”
Many things have changed across the district since Reeser started working in the Engineering Division almost 41 years ago. But the one thing that remains the same is the respect of his colleagues.
“I have known Lan since the mid-70s,” said Barry Cortright, a civil engineer with the district’s Civil Engineering Section. “I have always enjoyed our golf outings, whether they were multi-day trips to Williamsburg, Virginia, or our many rounds throughout the season at the local courses. Although sometimes not obvious, he has a great sense of humor.”
“Lan has been the backbone of Spring Valley,” said Sesh Lal, Reeser’s current supervisor.
“Lan basically started the FUDS program, and his legacy will be preserved in the FUDS database.” said Ed Hughes, the district’s FUDS program manager and a former project manager on the Spring Valley project. “Lan was always there when we needed him, even on vacation. He is an unsung hero.”
During Reeser’s retirement celebration, Hughes shared that he learned everything he knows from the “Jedi master,” Lan. “We called him Yoda because of his wisdom,” Hughes told the audience.
Dan Noble, the current Spring Valley project manager, also shared his fond memories of Lan.
"You simply can't overstate how much Lan meant to the Spring Valley project and how much is owed to him for all the progress made over the years,” Noble said. “His role wasn't to be the public face of the project, but his behind the scenes efforts were hugely important. He was like the man behind the curtain in the Wizard of Oz, pulling the levers and making things happen. We can't replace someone like Lan. We are just going to have to find a way to get things done without him."
Even outside of the Corps, Reeser is looked upon with high regard.
“Project managers and District commanders have come and gone,” said Steve Hirsh, a remedial project manager for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region III. “But for over 20 years, Lan has provided consistent technical leadership to the complex Spring Valley project. Lan's knowledge of the site and his positive attitude will be missed.”
Not only did Reeser receive verbal accolades from co-workers and partners he also received a Bronze de Fleury Medal, which is a high honor for a Corps of Engineers employee. Reeser said he had hoped to retire when the Spring Valley project came to a close. However, with the project closure still about five years away, Reeser decided it was time to say good-bye.
“It is a good time for me to leave,” he said. “We finished the Spring Valley Remedial Investigation (RI) Report, which records all of the investigation work we have done since the beginning. What comes next will just be executing the recommendations from the RI. It is time for me to move on and leave the work for those that stay behind.”
Reeser chose April 30 as his last day at the district. This day also happens to be his 63rd birthday. As the day quickly approaches, Reeser said he will miss his friends and co-workers the most.
“The Spring Valley team is pretty close, and we work well together,” he said. “People have come and gone on the project, but we always seem to find the people with the right fit.”
May 2 marks Reeser’s first official day of retirement, and he hopes to be pulling into St. George Island, Florida, where he will enjoy a vacation of fishing, golf and spending time with this wife and other family members. As for the rest of his retirement plans, Reeser said he has plenty to do.
“I am a do-it-yourselfer around the house, and I have a lot of projects,” he said. “I also plan to golf, as long as I don’t get too frustrated.”