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UM Remembers Kenneth Stead, Civil Engineering Professor Emeritus

Kenneth Alva Stead Jr.
Kenneth Alva Stead Jr.

University of Mississippi faculty, staff and alumni are fondly remembering retired civil engineering professor Kenneth Alva Stead Jr., 85, who passed away Nov. 20 after a lengthy illness.

A memorial service is scheduled for 2 p.m. Dec. 28 at St Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford. The Rev. Ann Whitaker is officiating. Inurnment will follow in the church columbarium. The family will receive friends in the Parrish Hall from 1 p.m. until service time.

Stead was a member of the UM civil engineering faculty for 25 years. During his tenure, he influenced countless colleagues and students alike, said Samuel DeLeeuw, UM chair and professor emeritus of civil engineering.

“Ken was a good teacher, but his main forte was that he was the teacher that students went to on personal questions,” DeLeeuw said. “He and I were the bass section of St. Peter’s’ choir for many years.”

DeLeeuw first met Stead in 1965 when the former became chair of the Department of Civil Engineering.

“He had taught here for three years and was acting head for one semester,” DeLeeuw said. “I urged him to take a leave and earn a PhD., which he did in three years. This greatly enhanced the faculty and helped make us look good to the accreditation board.”

Stead had an uncanny ability to make the most of negative circumstances, DeLeeuw recalled.

“One summer while painting his house, he fell and broke his right arm,” DeLeeuw said. “In the fall, he came a couple weeks early and learned to write on the blackboard with his left hand.

“Another time, he had an operation on his throat and couldn’t talk. So he brought a radio and played soft music as he was lecturing without talking.”

Others within and from the civil engineering department offered fond recollections of Stead.

“I met Dr. Stead in my job interview in 1996,” said Christopher Mullen, associate professor of civil engineering. “Dr. DeLeeuw’s and his retirements opened up positions for Brian Barkdoll and me. I only met him a few times after that during mostly random encounters. He seemed very cordial, low-key and had a good sense of humor.”

Michelle Crull, a 1985 civil engineering alumna, recalled how much Stead cared for his students.

“I remember how Dr. Stead invited several of us grad students to his home for Thanksgiving dinner,” said Crull, a senior engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Support Center in Huntsville, Alabama. “He also gave me one of the best pieces of advice I ever got, which was, ‘Not all questions asked by everyone on your committee are about you.’

“That came in real handy later on when I was earning my doctorate.”

Stead’s quiet, playful influence extended well past the borders of the Ole Miss campus into the Oxford community.

“He was a faithful member of St. Peter’s, where he sang in the choir,” said Whitaker, associate rector at the church. “He would always tell me he had no problems and was doing ‘tolerably well.’ Even after his stroke, he kept being hopeful. I will certainly miss his sweet and optimistic spirit.”

Stead was an excellent calligrapher who wrote and kept memorials in a book at the church until illness stopped him Whitaker said. He and his companion also worked with 9 Lives, rescuing and keeping pregnant cats until they delivered their kittens, she said.

“Dr. Stead was a favorite with my husband because they both had long hair,” Whitaker said. “My daughter also loved him because they both collected frog memorabilia.”

Whitaker recalled a particularly poignant moment with Stead that occurred during one of her visits to the Mississippi State Veterans Home, where he convalesced.

“He had a roommate named Kevin, who returned safely from active duty in Iraq but later suffered severe brain damage in a motorcycle accident,” she said. “Kevin loved to sing. While he would sing, Dr. Stead beat out a rhythm on the side of his bed. Truly, music is a universal language.”

Born to the late Eva Estelle Gillespie and Kenneth Alva Stead Sr. in Martins Ferry, Ohio, the deceased served as a lieutenant junior grade in the U.S. Navy during the Korean War. He completed his undergraduate degree at the Speed College of Engineering at the University of Louisville, a master’s degree in civil engineering from the University of Missouri and doctorate from the University of South Carolina.

While a graduate student, Stead worked on the Saturn V Project, part of NASA’s effort to land men on the moon, at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville.

Along with his parents, he was preceded in death by his wife of 35 years, Alma G. Henley Stead.

He is survived by his cherished companion of 25 years, Judy Martinez of Oxford; four daughters, Meredith M. Stead of New York, Gillian S. Butler of Ethel, Robin A. Stead of New Orleans and Catherine E. Horn of Ridgeland; a son, Christopher C. Stead of Richmond, Virginia; a sister, Janet S. Orchard of Garland, Texas; two brothers, Arthur S. Stead of Louisville, Kentucky, and John D. Stead of Milton, Florida; 10 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

The family offers a special thank you to the staff and caregivers at the Mississippi State Veterans Home in Oxford and Baptist Memorial Hospital-North Mississippi for their loving care and daily kindnesses during the last few months of Stead’s life.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 113 South Ninth Street, Oxford, MS 38655. In honor of Stead’s service to the country, the flag of the U.S. Navy will be flown at Waller Funeral Home during the memorial.

For more information or to sign an online guestbook, visit http://www.wallerfuneralhome.com or call 662-234-7971.

Courtesy of Edwin Smith and the Ole Miss News Desk

Adam Brown
Adam Brown
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