employees, families and friends participate in Duluth’s dragon boat race each summer
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Bill Spychalla

Senior Water Resources Engineer

Helping repair levees and floodwalls in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina
Bill and his wife on a Caribbean cruise
At the Three Gorges Dam in China during construction in 1999

Growing up on a farm in north-central Wisconsin, Bill Spychalla was exposed at a young age to the problems water can cause. “We were flooded a few times—enough that we had to move the cows and pigs over to our neighbor’s property,” he recalls.

Bill’s more-than-40-year career in water resources management has been devoted to solving just such problems—those that directly affect people and meet a public need. One of his most memorable experiences was spending six months in New Orleans to help repair the city’s levees and floodwalls after Hurricane Katrina. “There was a definite urgency to get the levees prepared for the next hurricane season,” he said. “It was very fast-paced and rewarding work.”

Before joining Barr in 1999, Bill spent more than 25 years with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ St. Paul District. A year of training in Washington, D.C., gave him a national perspective on engineering projects. “I was introduced to how projects are viewed from all different disciplines—economic, political, environmental,” he said. “Priorities are not the same in local communities.”

Local communities are where Bill has chosen to focus his career—and his personal life. Combining his passion for helping people with his love of travel, he has helped build schools in countries such as Chile, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, Haiti, and Jamaica. “It’s not a tourist experience,” he said. “It’s about making a difference in people’s lives. You get to work with the local people, have meals with them, and stay in their homes. You really get to know them.”

In college, Bill spent a year as an engineering exchange student in Mexico, an experience that has inspired him to open his home to nearly 50 international students and professionals over the years. They’ve come from all over the world—Russia, Belarus, Colombia, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Sierra Leone, Norway, Finland, and the Netherlands, to name a few. Bill and his wife have enjoyed exchanging cultures and have stayed in touch with many of their guests long after their visits are over.

Bill has found numerous ways to experience other cultures firsthand, from visiting Machu Picchu in Peru to observing polar bears from tundra buggies—all-terrain vehicles outfitted for studying and photographing polar bears—in Manitoba. He also participated in the professional exchange program People to People in China, where he met with engineering peers to discuss projects, ideas, and challenges.

Bill never misses an opportunity to meld his love of travel with his passion for water resources. He enjoys taking cruises and visited the Three Gorges Dam while in China. “I’ve been known to plan family vacations around seeing major dams and other water projects,” he admits. On the drive back from Glacier Park, Montana, Bill took his family to see the Fort Peck Dam. “It was 100 degrees outside,” he recalled. “When I got out to look at the dam and spillway, everyone else stayed in the car.”