After 40 years of federal service working as an engineer with the Memphis District, Mr. Don Davenport is trying out another way of life: retirement. Congratulations to Mr. Davenport on concluding an extraordinary career – one with too many milestones to name, and several friendships made that are sure to last a lifetime.
Initially, Davenport wanted a career in psychology, but when universities started telling him to consider engineering because of his PSAT math scores, he said it was a quote that ultimately led to his career with USACE.
“My first thoughts about engineering and specifically the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, date back to the motto hanging over the entrance to the Soldier’s gym at Fort Belvoir that stated, “Through These Doors Pass the Best Damn Engineers in the World.”
Before college however, Davenport might have even been subconsciously influenced to work for the Corps. Why? His father’s work experience.
“Dad was a drill instructor and provided mechanical maintenance support to Army Battalions,” Davenport said. “He also served two tours in Vietnam during my 3rd and 6th grade years.”
Davenport graduated in 1978 from West Clay High School in Clay County, Mississippi.
“It had historically been a very small, all Black school,” he said. “Our graduating class was like 30 people. The school integrated my junior year -- it was an underserved school prior to integration, but my Army brat upbringing carried me through to college. I OFTEN wonder if I hadn’t grown up in this area, what my future would have looked like.”
After high school, Davenport went to Ole Miss, saying his dad and older brother were the most influential in his choosing to go to school there.
“My brother was a year older, and he graduated in Alexandria, Virginia, from Hayfield High, near Fort Belvoir,” he said. “My dad pushed my brother to go to an integrated state school, and specifically Ole Miss, because he trained a battalion that was deployed to Ole Miss to help integrate the university.”
Once there, he said physics was the hardest class he took.
“I flunked it twice but eventually passed with a B,” Davenport said. “Mechanics and Systems in the Mechanical Engineering department and Statics were my favorite classes. Statics just seemed so easy after physics.”
After graduating in 1982, Davenport went straight to work for the Memphis District Corps of Engineers.
“In 1982, MVM (Memphis District) had a rotational training program for incoming engineer interns,” Davenport said. “My first stop on the program was in the Design Branch and Allen Bodron was the chief.”
Davenport said that Dewey Jones, who was the Hydraulics and Hydrology Branch (H&H) chief in the Engineering and Construction Division, reached out to him, so he joined H&H and spent the next 40 years there.
“Around 1986, the H&H Branch reorganized and both sections were combined under Penny (the Water Control Section chief),” he said. “That gave me the opportunity to do water control, hydraulics, and hydrology, something I always found enjoyable and valuable.”
He’s been working in this field since 1982, so there’s no question as to whether Davenport’s witnessed how changes in the world have impacted engineering and the way things were done.
“The ways we communicate,” he started. “We went two years without seeing each other. Newspapers are obsolete. I think these changes are good – you have the capability to do more things. It’s broadened how we communicate. We don’t have to travel to accomplish tasks that used to require it, allowing us to save money and time.”
Just as much in the world has changed, many things have also stayed just the same – like the need for the Corps.
“Disasters still necessitate our existence,” Davenport said. “Modeling is still necessary. Riprap is still the best way to address erosion – concrete still works, too. Our primary tools are still our primary tools.”
Davenport was awarded a Meritorious Civilian Service Medal on the day of his retirement ceremony, and in his citation, his career and experience were described as spanning from hand calculations and physical modeling to super computers and numerical modeling.
The citation read, “Mr. Davenport’s ability to adapt to new engineering techniques and technology allowed him to transition the North DeSoto County Planning Study from one-dimensional steady flow modeling to two-dimensional unsteady modeling which provided a better understanding of how floodwaters move through an urban drainage basin.”
During his time serving on the National Levee Cadre, Davenport traveled across the county and learned about the levee design challenges other divisions and districts were facing. Davenport ultimately brought lessons learned back to enhance the Memphis District’s analyses and flood protection capabilities.
“Don has proven to be one of the finest hydraulic engineers to have ever worked in the Memphis District and is considered to be the district’s best flowline modeling expert,” the citation read. “His expertise in project authorities have allowed the district to intelligently evaluate the performance of projects across the district.”
Davenport was also recognized as serving as the authority for Mississippi River Levee risk assessments and flood risk management efforts, “bringing a greater level of understanding and protection to stakeholders and the public.”
“Don’s time as a district EEO counselor gave him invaluable experience assisting others with work challenges and helping them succeed,” the citation read. “Mr. Davenport is a proven mentor of the highest caliber, teaching many of the district’s leaders today. His ability to explain complex topics in an understandable fashion is a hallmark of his career.”
Davenport truly is one of a kind. His presence on any team elevated performance to the maximum, as he is both a humble leader and devoted team player, willing to help anyone with anything at any time.
His medal citation ended quite appropriately, reading, “Mr. Davenport’s intelligence, integrity, and willingness to teach have been invaluable to his Branch, Division, District, and Country. The mark Don has left on his colleagues will be an enduring legacy of his commitment to engineering, technical excellence, and kindness.”
Thank you, Mr. Don Davenport. We will forever appreciate all you’ve done for this district and this nation. You will be sorely missed.