Published: Jan. 26, 2024 By

From right: Kaspar Willam, Kurt Gerstle, Stein Sture and JoAnn Silverstein rest on top of Mount Audubon in Colorado, Sept.1984.

“A great scientist. A beloved colleague. A dear friend.”

These are just a few of the heartfelt sentiments that were shared in emails from across the globe in remembrance of structural engineering Professor Emeritus Kaspar Willam. Willam passed away on Jan. 7 in his home country of Austria. The funeral took place in Willam’s hometown, Bezau, on Jan. 13. He was 83 years old.

Willam began his tenure with CU Boulder's Department of Civil, Environmental and Architectural Engineering (CEAE) in 1981, where over the years he collaborated with Professor Yunping Xi, Professor Emeritus Victor Saouma, Associate Professor George Hearn, Professor Ron Pak and many others. He stayed with the department for 29 years until 2010, followed by a move to the University of Houston. He was a member of the prestigious National Academy of Engineering; a fellow of the American Society of Civil Engineers; a fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers and received the Nathan M. Newmark Medal.

“Kaspar was a wonderful colleague — brilliant, humorous, a great outdoor enthusiast and modest about all of his achievements,” said Professor Emerita JoAnn Silverstein.

Pak said that Willam was the “clear leader” of the department’s structural engineering research group. “He was well respected in the department, not only because of his national and international stature in computational mechanics and plasticity, but also because of his gentle and discreet temperament, his scholarly dedication, and sense of fairness and support for what is best not just for the group but also for the whole department,” Pak said.

Xi said he first met Willam at a conference in Europe where Willam informed him about a vacancy at CU Boulder and encouraged Xi to submit an application. Xi followed his advice, and he has been with the university for 27 years. Throughout their years together, the two collaborated on many projects.

“I enjoyed every single one of them,” Xi said.

Kaspar WillamXi also recalled the first research proposal they submitted to the U.S. Air Force. The two worked throughout the night on the proposal and submitted it when it was due the following morning. Willam, fueled only by a cup of coffee, taught that morning too.  

“I was totally surprised by his dedication and energy, which has been an inspiration to me over the years,” Xi said.   

Xi said that after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, Willam emphasized the importance of addressing fire damage to concrete. The two collaborated in numerous related research projects until Willam transferred to the University of Houston.  

“I got so used to our discussions in his office that sometimes I would be planning a discussion with him when I suddenly realized that he had already left (for Houston),” Xi said. 

Professor Emeritus Stein Sture, who also served as CU Boulder vice chancellor for research, said he met Willam at the University of Waterloo at the first ASCE Engineering Mechanics Conference in 1976, where Willam co-delivered the keynote lecture on new developments of finite element modeling. The two discovered they had many common interests and stayed in touch. Together they worked closely on a wide range of topics, including strain-softening of brittle materials, fracture mechanics and finite element modeling. 

Along with Professor Emeritus Hon-Yim Ko, Professor Emeritus Kurt Gerstle, who passed away in 2013, and other colleagues, they hosted a number of highly talented international and national visitors. 

Kaspar Willam  in skis on a mountain“It was a lively, happy and very busy period,” Sture said. “It was like Santa’s workshop.” 

Willam and Sture went on to co-author many papers and reports, and they advised and co-advised a “great many very talented students, who have all gone on to have excellent careers.” Together with Gerstle, Silverstein and some of their academic visitors, they skied during the winter and hiked in the mountains during the spring, summer and fall.  

Xi said he last saw Kaspar on campus not long before the onset of COVID-19. 

“Even in his older age, he was still very interested in research topics and the department status.

May he rest in peace.” 

Kaspar Willam is survived by his wife, Veronica, and daughters and son-in-laws, Alison and Matt; and Cindy and Stefan.