Position: Project engineer for the Clinton Lake Dam project from 1972 to 1976.
Company: Spent his career with List & Clark, retiring in 2008.
Education background: Bachelor and master’s degrees from Missouri.
A special section honoring your neighbors, unsung heroes and people who do the little things that just make life better in Lawrence.
Read about the honorees in the 2011 Only in Lawrence: "History" category.
Retired engineer John Jepson stands at the spillway on the northeast end of Clinton Lake and peers out at the river flowing through the dam.
Not a bad day’s work, or rather four years worth of work.
“You get a feeling of permanence,” said Jepson, who was the project engineer during the building of Clinton Lake and Dam from 1972 to 1976. “It’s been here for 35 years and will be here a lot longer.”
Jepson is modest about the accomplishment; he did, of course, have a team of workers who did the heavy lifting, as well as assistance from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
But more than three decades later, Jepson remains a living piece of history for the project that’s affected hundreds of thousands of people over the years — from the people and city who use the lake daily as a water source to the fisherman and water sports enthusiasts.
“I think most of them are dead,” said Jepson of the dozens of workers he knew and befriended nearly 40 years ago. Of the living, Jepson knows the lake “probably as well as anyone.”
After earning both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in engineering from the University of Missouri — sensitive to the Kansas University community, he suggests maybe his alma mater be referred to as a “school out-of-state” — Jepson served in Vietnam in the Navy Construction Battalion before joining List & Clark, the construction company awarded a portion of the $55 million contract for the project.
It was a pretty big undertaking for the then 27-year-old Jepson.
“It was exciting,” he said of the biggest project of his career to that point.
For sometimes seven days a week, Jepson and the crew worked 10-hour day and night shifts.
In four years, there were bound to be some pitfalls, sometimes blamed on Mother Nature.
While workers spent their summer days toiling in the Kansas heat with little shade, it was the rain that would hold up construction.
“You’d get all psyched up, and then the rain would come,” making the grounds a muddy mess, Jepson said.
But the biggest snag in the massive project was the national oil shortage in 1973.
“All of a sudden, we ran out of fuel,” he said.
The crew worked through the issues and waited out the fuel crisis. They finished in 1976, though it’d be another few years before the lake was filled with water and ready for use.
Since then, Jepson — who lives in Olathe and has been back to visit Clinton Lake a handful of times — has had a successful career, rising to leadership positions in List & Clark, retiring when the business closed in 2008. But in many of the other big projects he’s worked on over the years, Jepson said he’s dropped in and out at various points of the work.
Jepson said being there for the entirety of the Clinton Lake project gave him a sense of accomplishment.
“I got to see a project through from beginning to end,” he said.