David Cornell Ralston

Obituary- David Cornell Ralston was born May 6, 1930 in Beloit, WI, growing up in Roscoe, IL. He died January 15, 2020 in his home in Fairfax, VA. He and his brother Harold Ralston (Racine, WI) graduated from the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL in 1952 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering, specializing in soil and water conservation and mechanical engineering respectively. David received a Masters Degree from U. of Illinois in Civil Engineering. David entered the military service soon after with overseas service in South Korea. His professional career was spent working for the Soil Conservation Service (now Natural Resources Conservation Service) for 38 years, ending as the chief design engineer for the organization. His service to the federal agency included designing and providing oversight of flood control projects and providing dam safety evaluations for the Great Plains, Mid-Atlantic and Western regions of the country. He was also involved in developing training programs for engineers within the agency. Outside of his professional career, David was an avid gardener at both his home and at his church, Fairfax Presbyterian Church. At the church, he coordinated and worked on the Glebe landscaping project. David excelled at sports throughout his life, particularly baseball, and basketball. His later sport pursuits included senior volleyball and softball (pitching and outfield), playing until 2015 when he felt he could no longer play up to his standard. He leaves behind his wife of 63 years, Margaret S. Ralston, four children Roger (Lisa), Peter, Barbara (Paul) and Andrew (Shannon), one granddaughter Grace, three brothers (Larry, Harold and Duane and their spouses), one sister (Mary Jane Alexander) and many nieces and nephews. Donations in his name may be made to the Parkinson’s Foundation (Parkinson.org) or to Fairfax Presbyterian Church. Services will be held at 11:00 am on January 24, 2020 at Fairfax Presbyterian Church, 10723 Main Street, Fairfax, VA 22030. Refreshments will be provided following in the Church’s Narthex.

Just thinking about our brother David C Ralston who passed away on the evening of January 15, 2020 at his home in Fairfax, VA. Dave and I graduated in June of 1952 from the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL. We both received a Bachelor of Science degree in Agricultural Engineering. He specialized in soil and water conservation and I in mechanical. Shortly after graduation he entered the U S Army with overseas service in South Korea. He was employed by the Department of Agriculture in the Soil Conservation Service for his professional life, involved in engineering activities. He had several locations with the SCS, among them, Urbana, IL (where he met and married Margaret Speer), Milwaukee, Twin Cities, Lincoln, Portland, Morgantown and Washington DC- his location at time of retirement.
Harold A Ralston


Senior Conservationist David C. Ralston was born at Beloit, Wisconsin. Beloit is on Wisconsin’s border with Illinois. He was raised near Roscoe, Illinois, a village just south of Beloit, on his family’s farm (Harlem Twp. Winnebago County). He attended Lovejoy grade school and Harlem High School. David relates that his father, Kenneth, was very active in conservation work early on both on the farm as well as serving on the Soil and Water District Board; the family farm’s conservation plan was signed January 12, 1939.

He attended the University of Illinois where he graduated in 1952 with a B.Sc. degree in Agricultural Engineering. He worked for SCS as a Student Trainee the last two summers before graduation. During the summer of 1952 he was hired by SCS as Agricultural Engineer and assigned to the Freeport (IL) area office. In July 1952 David was inducted into the US Army and served until 1954. He rose to the rank of Staff Sergeant in the 5th Regimental Combat Team and served as Platoon Sergeant for one year in Korea. He was honorably discharged in 1954.

After his discharge in 1954 he was hired by SCS as Assistant Area Engineer at Urbana, IL. He was promoted in-place to Area Engineer. While at Urbana, David worked toward a M.S. degree in Civil Engineering (hydraulics and soil engineering); he received that degree in 1958. He left Urbana in August 1958 when he was promoted to Design Engineer at the Milwaukee Engineering and Watershed Protection (E&WP) Unit. David worked there (with a promotion of grade) until July 1964 when he accepted the position of Assistant State Engineer in Saint Paul, MN. He served in that job until February of 1966 when he again accepted a promotion to SCS State Engineer for West Virginia in Morgantown. He was in that job until July 1971 when he was promoted to Regional Design Engineer at the Technical Service Center in Portland, OR. David served the western states three years until he was promoted to National Soil Engineer at SCS’s National Headquarters. He served in that job from December 1974 until 1977 when he was designated National Design Engineer and Head of the Design Branch of SCS’s Engineering Division. He provided leadership as National Design Engineer until he retired in August 1990. Following retirement, David worked part-time as Senior Geotechnical Engineer for Michael Baker Corporation (an engineering professional services firm).

David’s education and experience are evidence of his strong interest in conservation and in the theory and practice of his area of responsibility. In addition to his baccalaureate and graduate education, he completed graduate-level coursework at Marquette University in computer programming, at Harvard University in soil mechanics, at Portland State University in structure dynamics, and at Colorado State University in stream mechanics. He has authored/co-authored 21 professional, technical papers. These were presented at regional, national, or international meetings. Among the special activities in which he was involved during his career are the Embankment Construction Task Group (chairman) of the US Department of Interior Review Group for the Study of Teton Dam Failure (alternate member), the Subcommittee on Site Investigation and Design of the Ad Hoc Interagency Committee on Dam Safety (member), and the Task Group for Development of Federal Guidelines for Selection and Accommodation of the Inflow Design Floods for Dams (member). His work in SCS also involved training soil scientists in soil mechanics and training engineers and geologists in the soil engineering. He also initiated training for engineers in stream mechanics for channel design.

David and his wife, Margaret, have been married 57 years. They met in 1954 when his father-in-law, W.S. Speer, was assigned to Illinois following dissolution of SCS’s Milwaukee Regional Office. Margaret’s conservation background is as strong as David’s. They have one daughter and three sons and one grandchild. David is active in his church; he served two terms as Elder of Session. His hobbies include furniture crafting, gardening, genealogy (of his wife’s Speer Family), and softball. He and Margaret enjoy Elderhostel (Roads Scholar) opportunities, too. David relates, “I have always felt that my vocation was also my avocation! What more can you ask for in life?”