Robert E. Bergstrom

1923 to 1996
Sixth Chief; Hydrogeology

Robert Bergstrom is remembered for his outstanding professional contributions in hydrogeology both at the Illinois State Geological Survey (ISGS) and in the private sector. Born and reared in Rock Island, Illinois, he graduated from Augustana College in 1947 with a major in English. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1943 until 1946 and saw active duty in the Pacific theater of World War II. Stimulated by a summer in the Colorado Rockies following graduation from Augustana, and recalling the excitement of a freshman course in geology under Fritiof Fryxell, Bergstrom went on to pursue a career in geology rather than journalism. He earned M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in geology in 1950 and 1953, respectively, from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Bergstrom started at the ISGS in 1953, performing research and service in groundwater and environmental geology. He led a group of hydrogeologists in the 1950s in regional groundwater studies throughout Illinois and played a leading role in the 1960s and 1990s in contributing to the safe disposal of wastes, land-use planning, and the ISGS environmental geology program. He rose steadily through the professional ranks despite heart attacks in 1971 and again in 1982. He became Principal Geologist in 1974 and Chief in 1981, retiring from the Survey in 1983.

Bergstrom's professional contributions extended across private industry as well. During leaves from the ISGS, he consulted with the Ralph M. Parsons Corporation in Kuwait in the early 1960s, helping to produce a well-designed water recovery and transportation system; with the Parsons Corporation in Saudi Arabia in 1965; and, in 1967, with the U.S. government to plan a drilling program to determine groundwater potential near the big airbase at Cam Ranh Bay. In the late 1960s, he consulted for Chem-Nuclear Services concerning the licensing of various areas in the United States for low-level radioactive waste disposal. Bergstrom directed hydrogeologic investigations in South Carolina that led in 1971 to the licensing of the Barnwell site, which eventually became the largest facility for disposal of low-level radioactive waste in the country. He also consulted for Harza Engineering in Guatemala in 1971 and for other companies at various U.S. locations in the 1980s.

Bergstrom is still remembered by many of his colleagues and friends not only for his professional contributions but also for his outstanding personal traits. He was a warm and caring, low-key, concerned but unflappable individual with a good sense of humor. He was a man of integrity. With his background in English and journalism, he always fought for the proper use of the English language. He was very involved with the Survey's seventy-fifth birthday party in 1980 and would have loved to have been involved with its centennial as well.

Honored by: 
Margaret Bergstrom and family (Elizabeth Selander, Joan Kemna, and John Bergstrom)
Citation Contributed by: 
Myrna M. Killey