The Many Hats of Carl Westerdahl

Carl Westerdahl, circa 1960'sOn April 3, Rensselaer lost a true patriot of the Institute, Carl Westerdahl.  Carl’s passing hits close to home to many in the RPI community due to his enduring relationships with students, alumni, staff, and especially those of us in the Institute Archives and Special Collections department.

Carl WesterdahlCarl’s career as an administrator at Rensselaer spanned over two decades, but we knew him best as a researcher and donor. He was always working on some project (or many) to highlight the accomplishments of Rensselaer’s best and brightest.

Carl WesterdahlAfter retiring from the Institute in 1993, Carl started a consulting business called Unconventional Wisdom.  One of his first projects was as co-author of Rensselaer: Where Imagination Achieves the Impossible with Thomas Phelan and Michael Ross.  Carl was the primary photo selector for the book, which contains nearly 250 illustrations documenting people, places, and activities associated with Rensselaer history.

Carl WesterdahlCarl became a chronic researcher a few years later through his involvement with the RPI Hall of Fame selection committee.  He researched each nominee, putting together illustrated biographies to help the committee select the best candidates.  Carl then donated copies of the bios to the Archives so future researchers wouldn’t have to repeat all of the work he had done.

Carl WesterdahlAs a member of the Friends of Folsom, Carl teamed with our former colleague Amy Rupert (a.k.a. amythearchivist) to present a series of luncheon presentations on RPI history.  Filled with anecdotes and images, their tag team productions were both enlightening and entertaining.

One of the many ways Carl thanked us for our research support was his annual holiday gift of delicious dried apricots.  It’s impossible to indulge in these treats without remembering him!

Carl WesterdahlPerhaps Carl’s most ambitious project was documenting the life of founder Stephen Van Rensselaer III.  He continued his research over many years until illness interrupted his plans.  As a final gift to the Archives, Carl donated his research materials for the use of future SVR researchers.

We will miss Carl and his good cheer, but we will also celebrate the many contributions he made to RPI, the Archives, and to us.

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5 Responses to The Many Hats of Carl Westerdahl

  1. Ellen Katzman says:

    Thank you for this piece. Carl was the true Pillar of Rensselaer.

  2. Amy Rupert says:

    I will always remember Carl with great affection. He was a joy to work with and his enthusiasm for RPI history was infectious. I wish I could summarize the impact he had on me and on Rensselaer as eloquently as he stated the accomplishments of so many. He will be dearly missed, but his imprints are many and his legacy will live on.

  3. Adrienne Birchler says:

    Thank you for the lovely tribute to Carl, Tammy. He contributed so much to the Institute.

  4. Jay J. Webb '61 says:

    Carl made a huge impact on me as he encouraged my involvement in alumni activities and eventually on the RAA Board and as President. It was his energy and enthusiasm that was infectious. And who else would be the “Mean Dean”, supporter of the Greek system, leader of the growth of the RAA and often the leader of singing the Alma Mater. He is clearly a legend and good friend who will be missed by so many.

    Jay J. Webb ’61

  5. Richard Bergman '83 says:

    In 1979 Carl was the one at RPI Freshman Orientation to tell us all that “here, half of you will be below average.” That one statement put me on the right path from the start. Carl truly cared and didn’t mind shocking us high school seniors with simple reality.

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