The Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s 2017 Man of the Year is a man CNTA knows well and man well worth getting to know.
Walt Joseph, currently 89 years old and with the energy of two men half his age, has spent his life serving his country in the military and working at the Savannah River Site. He is passionate about our nation and the field he believes has been a contributor to our nation’s success.
“Very few people recognize that SRS made a major contribution to this nation and to the world in terms of avoiding World War III and winning the Cold War,” he said while thinking about the importance of SRS. “Savannah River is one of the reasons the Soviets could not keep up with our technology and basically went bankrupt trying.”
Joseph and his wife, Paula, moved to Aiken from Penn State in 1954 so Joseph could pursue his career in the nuclear field. At this point, he had already served in the military and finished his master’s degree in mechanical engineering.
Joseph first began work at Savannah River Laboratory, where he stayed for 12 years. “We did some pioneering work on the effects of radiation on structural materials and had a lot of fun with it,” Joseph commented with a smile.
When Joseph realized he could not discuss his job with anyone except those he worked with and those at other nuclear sites, he requested a transfer from the laboratory to the plant.
He explained, “I decided that while I loved the science and technology, I liked people more.”
Joseph received the transfer to the plant and from there he had a very busy career. He worked in many positions, from running transportation to doing research in equipment engineering.
Through all his job appointments, one thing remained true about Joseph – he loved his field of work. His main piece of advice is for one to “have a job that you think is fun.”
However, even when he was done working at the site, he felt his job was not yet finished.
“I think it’s important to the community to understand the site in terms of what it has done in the past and what it’s capable of doing in the future,” Joseph said. “The site has made an enormous contribution to the community, the country, and the world. I think it’s important that local people understand this and revel in it - take pride in it – support it in all of its various aspects.”
In the early 2000’s, Joseph and some others realized that SRS was missing something that most other nuclear sites have – a heritage museum. In 2003, plans began to form to create a heritage foundation for the site he had spent a career serving.
Joseph said, “I think the site has potential for continuing this kind of progress into the foreseeable future, and to do it, it really needs support from the community, so I hope that the museum is able to help build that kind of support.”
He has put in countless hours of work into the Savannah River Site Heritage Foundation, and his work has not gone unrecognized. In 2017, Joseph was chosen to be Aiken Chamber of Commerce’s Man of the Year.
When thinking about being the recipient of the award, Joseph said, “I had not thought of myself as being a candidate for that kind of recognition, and in spite of my surprise, I had the presence of mind to ask XXXX to join me on the stage.”
While Joseph likes to remind people that he was not the only person working on the project, he is still honored to have been acknowledged for the museum and foundation.
“It was great. I was flattered and delighted – not only for myself but for the people who work with me to make all of this possible. It was a validation that people thought that what we were doing was worth doing,” Joseph said.
Even accomplished and ambitious men like Joseph can question their enthusiasm.
“Being an enthusiast, you always wonder a little bit if your enthusiasm is misplaced,” Joseph added with a laugh. “It was nice to find that other people shared the enthusiasm.”