Educator, expert in transportation management and pavements
By Professors Emeritus W. J. Hall and J. D. Haltiwanger
Professor Ellis Danner was born in Astoria, Illinois, on March 4, 1907. He was noted for his early studies of the effects of soil types and characteristics in the design and construction of pavements, for leadership in the management of professional and technical transportation projects and personnel, and his excellent teaching abilities.
Danner graduated from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) in 1930 with a bachelor's degree in Railroad Civil Engineering (Salutatorian and Bronze Tablet 1929), and thereafter received an M.S. degree in Civil Engineering (Highways) from UIUC in 1949.
After graduation in 1930 he joined the Illinois Division of Highways (predecessor to the Illinois Department of Transportation) in the Peoria District and soon became the Soils and Research Engineer. He continued his work with the Division of Highways until 1940 when, being a Reserve Officer, he was called to active duty in the U.S. Army. In this latter capacity he held various posts, including UIUC ROTC instructor in 1940-43, concluding his service as a staff officer (U.S. Armed Forces Western Pacific) in the Philippines in 1945-46. After WWII he continued his close association with the Army, and held various and extended military positions, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1967. With this background, the Federal Highway Administration appointed him a member of the National Defense Executive Reserve Board on which he served for 14 years.
Upon discharge from active duty in 1946, he joined the faculty of the Civil Engineering Department at the University of Illinois and continued in this position until his retirement in 1974, at which time he was appointed to Emeritus status.
From 1963 until his retirement, Danner was a public member and secretary of the Illinois General Assembly's important Illinois Transportation Study Commission. This commission was responsible for the first major and comprehensive study of the Illinois highway infrastructure, which determined the state highway needs and led to priority settings of highway projects. In response to a shortage of trained personnel for the Illinois Department of Transportation (IDOT), Danner developed the Highway Technician Training Program in 1957 at the UIUC. This project trained a large number of people who helped make possible the design and construction of the Interstate Highway System. This program was transferred to Illinois community college construction technical programs in the mid 1960s.
In 1951 Danner was instrumental in the establishment of the Illinois Cooperative Highway and Transportation Research Program. This program was responsible for the conduct of transportation-related research by UIUC and the Illinois Department of Transportation. He was the director of this program, which involved not only the CE Department but several other UIUC academic departments, from its initiation until his retirement.
Danner's research was primarily in the areas of highway administration and management of professional and technical personnel, project management and pavement materials. The latter included composite materials, stabilization of soils, and pavement properties. He was considered to be an excellent teacher and developed several new transportation courses. Many of his students became prominent transportation engineers both in practice and at universities. He was a member of many technical societies (National Society of Professional Engineers, American Road Builders Association, Transportation Research Board, American Society of Civil Engineers and the U.S. Army Reserve Officers Association) and was a member and chair of dozens of major technical committees within these organizations. Within the University, he also planned and conducted many workshops for the training of professionals, served as adviser on transportation-related issues on the campus, and published more than 20 significant publications.
Danner was quite active in community life. In 1959 he was elected a member of the first City Council of Champaign and served as councilman until 1965. He was chairman of the city's long-range street and road study commission which planned the future development of Champaign's streets. After retirement he continued to be active in politics, the UIUC Alumni Association, andas President of the Sun City, Ariz., Homeowners Association.
Danner died on July 21, 2001, in Sun Valley, Ariz. He is survived by his wife, Irene E. (Schaefer) Danner of Sun City, Ariz., and one son, Gregory J. Danner of Urbana.