RESPEC Mourns the Passing of Esteemed Founder Dr. Paul Gnirk

With profound sadness, RESPEC announces the passing of its esteemed founder, Dr. Paul Gnirk, at the age of 86. His visionary leadership and relentless pursuit of innovation laid the foundation for RESPEC’s growth and success since its inception in 1969.

Dr. Gnirk, alongside four fellow professors from the South Dakota School of Mines (SD Mines) and a local attorney, established RESPEC to allow local SD Mines graduates and engineers the opportunity to work and thrive in the engineering and scientific sectors within South Dakota.

Dr. Gnirk’s foresight and ambition were encapsulated in his own words: “I had this vision of doing research and development, and I came to the point where I said, ‘I think there’s an opportunity to create a company [in Rapid City] that can do the things that I’d like to get done.’ So, that’s what we did, and the rest is history.”

Fifty-five years of history, to be exact. Under Dr. Gnirk’s guidance, RESPEC became a pioneer in the rising nuclear waste repository industry, focusing on the design and development of underground energy storage and the disposal of radioactive waste from nuclear reactors. His dedication to addressing complex environmental challenges had a resounding impact on the industry and made him one of the most sought-after mining engineers in the world.

Throughout his career, Dr. Gnirk contributed his knowledge to repository and design activities at Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Battelle Memorial Institute, as well as several global projects. His leadership was internationally recognized when he was appointed Senior Chairman of the technical group for the Organization of Economic and Cooperative Development/Nuclear Energy Agency’s International Stripa Project in 1987. Dr. Gnirk’s involvement with the U.S. Department of Energy included serving on task forces that shaped the United States’ approach to nuclear waste disposal.

From 1969 to 1988, Dr. Gnirk served as RESPEC’s president, and his leadership set RESPEC on a path of remarkable growth, eventually leading to the expansion of its services across multiple industries. What began as Dr. Gnirk’s vision to keep local engineers in South Dakota turned into a thriving employee-owned company that now provides expertise in renewable energy, underground energy storage, infrastructure design, integrated water resource management, and data science. Such diversification has allowed RESPEC professionals across North America to pursue fulfilling careers in various fields while contributing to global progress.

As stated by RESPEC’s CEO Todd Kenner, “The entrepreneurial spirit and courage to take on major engineering challenges embodied by Dr. Gnirk continues to thrive throughout RESPEC today.”

Dr. Gnirk’s academic contributions are equally noteworthy. After earning his Mining Engineering degree from SD Mines in 1959 and his PhD from the University of Minnesota, he returned to SD Mines as a Mechanical Engineering professor, where he developed a graduate program that has shaped countless professionals.

Even after retiring from RESPEC in 1991, Dr. Gnirk’s commitment to public service never waned. For the past 13 years, he has served on the South Dakota Board of Water and Natural Resources, helping improve access to clean water across the state. His efforts were instrumental in establishing a rural water system that provides vital resources to ranches within western South Dakota. In 2022, Dr. Gnirk was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame for his state contributions as an engineer, professor, and community servant.

RESPEC will continue to honor Dr. Gnirk’s legacy by pursuing excellence and innovation in all its endeavors. The company extends its deepest condolences to Dr. Gnirk’s family, friends, and all those inspired by his remarkable life and career.

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