By Nichole Andersen, Director of Corporate Communications
I first met Daniel at my cousin’s wedding about four years ago. Somehow this fellow HDR employee from our Phoenix, Arizona, office—whom I had never met before—had made his way to Omaha, Nebraska. His wife, as it turned out, was from my hometown … and my cousin’s best friend. Small world, I thought. Then it got even smaller.
Fast forward a year to May 2014. Tom Sanders, our Deputy Director of Professional Services, had just returned from a trip to Phoenix where he had given a presentation in the office about growing HDR’s capabilities. During his presentation, Tom shared that our founder, H.H. Henningson, not only served as engineer to many small towns, he also helped them with all aspects of implementing their utility infrastructure.
Afterwards, a young CAD technician approached Tom and showed him an old surveying book full of notes, sketches and technical data. The journal belonged to H.H. and dated to 1919. It has been handed down to him by his mentor a few years prior.
So imagine my surprise when Tom shared that the HDR employee was Daniel Celaya—the same Daniel I had just met the year before at my cousin’s wedding!
Already thinking about our 100-year anniversary, I immediately called Daniel to confirm that this amazing piece of our history did, in fact, exist. Daniel confirmed it was true. And then he shared the story of how the journal came to be in his possession.
You see, Daniel’s mentor, Alan Kucharski, had given him the journal in 2009 before passing away from ALS at the age of 48.
“He had tingling in his neck at the time. It turned out to be ALS,” Daniel told me during a recent trip to Omaha.
“Before he left the company, he was showing me a bunch of stuff he had collected over the years. An old calculator, some books. Then he showed me the journal and told me he wanted me to have it.”
“I was like ‘Dude, I can’t have this!’ And then I realized he was giving it to me because he wasn’t coming back. I started to tear up and cry a bit. I’m a baby, I know this, but I couldn’t help it.”
Daniel cherishes the journal because of its previous owner. Not Henningson (although Daniel quickly admits ‘that Henningson dude was legit!”), but Alan, the man that took a young, aspiring CAD technician under his wing.
“He was almost like Mr. Miyagi to me,” Daniel said. ‘I was out there painting that fence, you know?”
Now, Daniel has moved to our San Diego office and holds the same title that Alan once held. He credits Alan for helping him get to where he is today.
“I remember through the recession I was reaching out to other offices to find work and keep up my utilization,” Daniel said. ‘I would mention that Alan was my former boss. They gave me consistent work because of his name alone. So even after his death he was helping me—he still is. It’s been surreal.”
When I approached Daniel last year, he was apprehensive to share the journal. He didn’t want us to take it from him. ‘On the contrary,” I assured him. ‘We want to tell your story.”
It seems serendipitous, almost, that Henningson’s journal would end up in Alan’s hands. According to those who knew them, both men were incredibly hard working, extremely ethical and above all, passionate about helping people.
This journal reminds me that our history is about so much more than artifacts and memorabilia. It’s about the amazing people who have played a role in shaping our company. And it’s about the teachings handed down from one generation to the next.
So maybe, in that way, it’s also about our future.