Celebrating the Career of Gary Cooper
A Story 45 Years in the Making
OMAHA, NE – A bittersweet feeling charges the air of the Alvine Engineering corporate headquarters as Vice President and Principal Gary Cooper packs up 45 years’ worth of memories from his office. He’s accumulated quite the treasure trove over the years: professional achievements, business acumen, and longstanding relationships with world-renowned architects, to name a few. Also, an extensive pile of design documents. A devotee to the tried and true, Gary has always insisted on drafting and drawing by hand.
“We used to do it all by hand, you know,” Gary reminisced, “Before BIM and Revit existed, designers had to make all their technical drawings with paper and pencil.”
Gary has been instrumental to the firm’s success and growth over his tenure. In the spirit of celebration, Alvine Engineering reflects on the time, energy, and presence that Gary has provided over the last four decades. Gary’s influence extends outside of his designs to the relationships that he has cultivated and the engineers he has mentored. However, his added value goes far beyond the number of projects he has worked on, but is instilled in the culture of continuous learning and dedication to design developed throughout the years at Alvine Engineering. This is the story of Gary Cooper.
The First Draft
Gary was an exceptionally bright student with an unquenchable thirst for the drafting board. Despite only being allowed to take a drafting course for a single semester during junior high and high school, Gary found a way to take it every year.
“I ended up becoming good friends with the instructors,” Gary explained, “Drafting has always been my passion. I’ve been a tinkerer my entire life. I spent my spare time taking things apart and rebuilding them.”
With aspirations set on becoming an architect for single-family residences, Gary headed to Southeast Community College in Milford to pursue a degree in the field of architecture. Gary came from a humble background, unable to afford the price tag of a 4-year degree.
In the first semester of his studies, it was business as usual–drafting, drawing, and refining his design abilities. In his second semester, Gary was introduced to the inner workings of mechanical, plumbing, and electrical design work. It was love at first sight.
“When I was going to school, I thought I was just going to be an architectural drafter,” Gary stated, “I was pleasantly surprised at how well the engineering portions of my studies just…fit me. I shifted focus to study architectural engineering.”
With an associate’s degree in hand, Gary was off to join the workforce. For the first five years of his career, Gary worked with a variety of different firms to discover where he fit best.
“I worked with large firms and smaller firms,” Gary explained, “My experience with a ten-person firm had been the best experience I had so far. I loved the tight-knit team, the camaraderie, all of it!”
While he was working with a firm in Kansas City, he felt the pull to return to Omaha–the place he was born and raised. One day, as though his mind had willed it into existence, he got a call from a friend who was working at a small consulting firm in Omaha that had been around for about 18 years: Alvine Engineering. Gary packed his bags and moved to Omaha.
Gary officially joined Alvine and Associates on January 2nd, 1979. He recalls his early years at the firm and the time he spent with founder and president Ray Alvine. Under Ray’s leadership, Gary gained the experience that would allow him to become a Vice President and Principal despite only having a two-year degree–an unconventional decision by the firm. Gary noted that Ray was always willing to give those with the proper skillsets the opportunity to expand and grow their knowledge within their role.
“Ray was always pushing me to go outside the box,” Gary stated, “I was very grateful for the opportunities he gave me. He gave me enough rope in my role but was always there to make sure it never got too tight.”
Alvine Engineering celebrates a long and successful culture of mentorship and continuous learning. This early culture established by Gary, Ray, and the firm’s early leadership has fueled how Alvine Engineering gives young professionals avenues and opportunities for growth. Gary recalled his own mentorship experience with the firm and the profound effect it would have on his development.
“I had great mentors while I was here. They gave me an excellent mix of exposure and coaching,” Gary explained, “I remember being on job sites quite a bit and memorizing elevations, pipe sizes, and all sorts of dimensions. We knew our spaces intimately so that we could make the right changes during design.”
Gary’s mentorship was occurring during his formative years with the firm. As time passed, Gary was well-prepared to help the leadership team and the firm’s technical staff as the firm grew.
Gary took Ray’s early leadership and guidance to heart and took on the firm’s interesting, challenging, and creative projects that required him to think outside the box. From gelatin factories to specialty animal research laboratories, Gary never met a project he didn’t want to tackle head on.
Growth and Expansion
Eventually, Ray would pass the torch of leadership over to his sons, Doug and Steve Alvine. At the time of his departure in 1993, Ray maintained a 25-person firm. One of the first things that came to Gary’s mind when reminiscing on the shift in leadership from Ray to his sons was the amount of growth that occurred within the firm. Gary remembers the firm’s eventual expansion into new market sectors and the landing of marquee projects with world-renowned architects.
“Our work on the Union Pacific headquarters here in Omaha introduced us to Hines Interests, the international real estate developer,” Gary explained, “We also were introduced to architects and contractors in California through our work with the University of California, Irvine, which allowed us to form new relationships with more developers on the national stage.”
Alvine Engineering continued to land national projects thanks to the firm’s previous project partners who recommended the firm’s services to developers across the U.S. Gary describes these early partnerships as the firm’s biggest advocates. Throughout the growth and expansion, Gary had a truly exceptional opportunity to coordinate and collaborate on design and projects with world-class architecture firms such as Pelli Clarke & Partners, Pickard Chilton, Gwathmey Siegel, and regional leaders such as Alley Poyner Machietto, DLR Group, BVH Architecture, and…
“Steven Holl. The way that he starts his design process and the inspirations he uses, I just find so interesting,” Gary explained, “I really like to stay updated on what he’s working on because some of the projects that they work on are just so cool.”
Steven Holl was the design architect behind the University of Iowa’s Art Building West, which boasts a unique approach to mechanical, electrical, and plumbing infrastructure by integrating those components as a part of the structure.
Gary goes on to explain that the expansion of the firm has allowed everyone working at Alvine Engineering to have better access to resources and more opportunities. Despite the challenge firms face when attempting to grow, Gary noted the exemplary job that Doug and the firm have done at balancing resources with the needs of an ever-expanding list of active projects.
“Relationships in this industry are built by doing good work.” Gary explained, “And the way Alvine Engineering has managed the growth, direction, and vision of the company has allowed us to do that good work for a lot of people.”
While Gary has enjoyed watching the leadership team expand the company’s footprint over the years, he’s also watched the rise of excellence and industry relevance of the firm’s current principal group. In Gary’s opinion, the group’s cohesiveness has only continued to develop and improve over time.
Lessons Learned…Parting Words from Gary Cooper
Gary has sat in a cubicle for the majority of his career. Despite enjoying his own office during his final years with the firm, he wouldn’t trade his days in the cubicle for the world. That’s where he learned his lessons about the architectural engineering trade and life as a whole.
“One of the biggest lessons I’ve learned in my career here is to listen.” Gary explained, “Listening in to a conversation on the phone with a client, you’re able to share moments with a colleague a desk away where we can work together to refine and hone our relationships with each other and with our clients and architects. That’s the way I grew up–listening to people interact and form relationships.”
In a day and age where technology is a prevalent part of the design process, Gary says to put on a hard hat and head out to the job site. Gary has seen his fair share of the newest trends in the engineering industry through his experience on various advisory boards and from his experience teaching through the Metropolitan Community College Omaha Campus.
“Good design is good design. Whether it comes from a computer or a drafting board. However, technology has the potential to decouple the designer from what is achievable for a site. Our designers and quality control process here allows the designers to be heavily involved in the physical sites, which helps our designers be better and helps us collaborate more effectively with our project stakeholders.”
Gary plans to leave his nameplate with the Alvine Engineering office and some other interesting artifacts he’s acquired throughout the years.
“The stuff that can be archived, I want to leave it behind. I want it to be here,” Gary explained, “I want people to remember where Alvine Engineering came from.”
Gary Cooper emphasized the importance of relationships throughout his tenure at Alvine Engineering and has instilled a spirit of celebration, camaraderie, and fellowship throughout our offices. From hosting friendly golf tournaments to leading the charge on educational seminars, Gary’s ability to create inclusion and collaboration has helped our firm deliver engineering innovation through science, art, and business.
Parting words? Gary Cooper has lived by certain mantras. An example of one is, “There are two sides to every story, and the truth is in the middle.” In the engineering industry and life, collaboration and relationships are how people can come together to get at that truth.
For the whole of the Alvine Engineering team, Gary shares these words of wisdom:
“Don’t stop learning.”