In Memoriam: William (Bill) Baumgartner


by Ron Kathren, CHP

William Vincent Baumgartner, known to all who knew him as Bill, passed away at age 88 at his home in Richland, Washington, on 7 June 2018. He was born on a farm near Linton, North Dakota, before moving to Yakima, Washington, during World War II. He earned a BS in chemistry from Seattle University and did graduate study in mathematics at the University of Washington before joining the General Electric Company, then the prime contractor for the Hanford project, in 1951. Bill was to spend his entire career at Hanford, working for a succession of site contractors including Battelle, Westinghouse, and U.S. Testing before retiring in 1996.

Bill began his career in health physics as a tech grad in the labs at the 200-W plutonium-processing plants. Initially he was involved primarily with data analysis and quality assurance of chemical analyses, but migrated through a series of assignments in his early years at Hanford. These included operational health physics duties and a series of special projects, largely classified in nature and covering a broad spectrum of activities. In addition, he wrote the Safety Analysis Report for the 200 Area Tank Farms and the Hoist and Rigging Manual for Hanford Atomic Products Operations. His career path led to external dosimetry and to his role as technical leader for the operational external personnel dosimetry program for the entire Hanford site. In this role, his concern for accuracy of personnel dose assignments led to him experimental studies designed to identify, quantify, and mitigate sources of error in film-badge dosimetry. These studies were of fundamental importance to the development of the advanced automated personnel film, and later TLD, processing systems and associated computer programs that commenced in 1962 featuring an accident dosimeter, among other technological advances. The new dosimetry system was turned over to U.S. Testing, contractor for dosimetry and laboratory services, with Bill following as manager of External Dosimetry, implementing and debugging the new systems. Subsequently, Bill was promoted to vice-president of U.S. Testing with full responsibilities for Richland operations that included both internal and external dosimetry and environmental chemistry operations. Bill inherited a company that was having difficulty meeting its contractual requirements and had low morale as well. Under his leadership, the problems soon were largely resolved.

On a personal level, Bill was affable, intelligent, and noted for his honesty and integrity. He was a man without an ego who loved a good joke, word puzzles, bridge, cribbage, and Louis L'Amour western novels. In retirement, he had a regular Wednesday noon cribbage game at the local Spud Nut Shop with three old colleagues and friends of 50 years standing, taking these games very, very seriously. Their joking and laughter, complaints about cards dealt them, and bragging became an institution at the Spud Nut Shop. Bill was no one-dimensional man and strongly believed in giving back to his community. Thus he was a life member of the Richland Chamber of Commerce and its president from 1974 to 1976; a member of the Advisory Committee for the City of Richland; a chairman of the Industrial Committee for the United Way; and a member of the Advisory Committee for the Columbia Basin College data-processing department. As a member of Christ the King Catholic Church, Bill sang in the choir for 50 years, cantored at Sunday Masses, was active in the Visitation Ministry, and coinstituted and was president of the Parish Council. He also was president of the school parent/teacher organization. He was grand knight of the Knights of Columbus Council 3307, was a member of the Yakima Diocesan Council of Catholic Men for 15 years, and worked with the bishop on the Diocesan Finance Committee. He lived an exemplary life, was a great American, and was a wonderful friend and colleague. He is survived by his wife, Lillian, of 68 years, brother Herman, sister Bernice Zerr (George), son William (Saunie), and daughters Karen Wright (Kelly), Patty, and Geri Nichols (Joe).