WQP honors 20 water professionals whose work & efforts have helped shape the water quality industry
Although WQP’s history goes back just 20 years, the water quality industry has a rich history that reaches back a lot further. WQP is pleased to recognize the following 20 Industry Icons, whose work — whether in the past or ongoing — has helped make our industry what it is today. Each individual was nominated by a peer or colleague, and the honorees appear in no particular order. The WQP staff worked hard to include individuals from all sectors of the industry who have made significant contributions to the industry, and regrets any omissions.
Owner, Walt Casey’s Culligan
Walt Casey’s long career in the water quality industry began in 1951 when he moved his family to Las Vegas, then a small town of 25,000 people, in hopes that the dry climate would alleviate his rheumatoid arthritis. Three years later, Casey and his wife Peggy helped introduce water conditioning to the growing city by opening Servisoft Soft Water Service, offering rental water softener exchange tanks. Throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, the company evolved into Walt Casey Water Conditioning and later Walt Casey’s Culligan, growing to become the largest dealership in the state. As the company grew, Casey expanded its product offerings, using reverse osmosis (RO) technology to develop water purification systems and implement commercial applications. He registered several patents for his developments.
Casey was an active member of Water Conditioning Assn. Intl. (WCAI) and later the Water Quality Assn (WQA). He also was involved with the Pacific Water Quality Assn. (PWQA), serving as its first out-of-state president in 1964-1965. His family described him as a “big-picture guy” who “shared his knowledge, led by example and had the vision to recognize that by helping to build a stronger industry, customers, dealers and manufacturers would all benefit.”
Casey also participated in a variety of charitable, civic and business organizations, ranging from the Boys Club of Las Vegas (of which he was a founding board member) to the Colorado River Commission to the Las Vegas Chamber of Commerce. He was heavily involved in politics, serving on the Republican National Committee and acting as party chairman at the county and state levels.
A 1942 graduate of the University of California at Berkeley, Casey served as an ensign in the U.S. Navy Reserve during World War II, flying as a navigator on planes transporting troops and cargo to the Pacific Theater. Flying remained a hobby for Casey for many years.
Casey, father of Steve, Mike and Ann, and grandfather of Mike, Betty and Scott, passed away in 2006, just two days after celebrating his 60th wedding anniversary.
Richard E. Clack
President & CEO, Clack Corp.
Like many water industry veterans, Richard E. Clack became involved with the family business at a young age, working on the shipping bench and third shift for Clack Corp.’s then-new bottle molding division, making bottles for deionized water. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Madison in 1970 with a degree in economics, Clack followed in his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps by joining the company full time, focusing on its growing bottle blow molding business. During the 1970s, the company participated in joint ventures with several Belgian companies to manufacture tanks, and Clack was responsible for growing the blow-molded components portion of the business, including creating a complete line of brine tanks and introducing specialized custom blow-molding — a part of the business that currently includes three production facilities.
Clack became president and CEO of Clack Corp. upon the death of his father, W.E. Clack, in 1987. In the 1990s, he led the company not only in continuing to grow the blow-molding business, but also in improving the distribution of water treatment components to customers around the world. Clack ended his tenure as president and CEO in 2013.
Throughout his career, Clack was involved with WQA, participating on a variety of committees and boards. Over the years he also was a board member for various companies and foundations, and from 1970 to 1976 was in the U.S. Army Reserve.
Francis J. DeSilva
National Sales Manager, ResinTech Inc.
A water treatment industry veteran with more than 35 years of experience, Francis J. DeSilva has earned a reputation as an expert on ion exchange and related topics, and has authored and presented numerous articles on the subject.
After a stint as manager of the process department for Belco Pollution Control, a Div. of Foster Wheeler Ltd., DeSilva joined ResinTech Inc., where he has now been employed for more than 25 years, currently as national sales manager.
DeSilva is a past president of PWQA, and currently serves on its board of directors. He also is chairperson of WQA’s Government Relations Committee and a member of the American Water Works Assn.’s (AWWA) Ion Exchange Standards Committee.
DeSilva earned a Master of Science in environmental engineering from the New Jersey Institute of Technology and a Bachelor of Science in environmental science from the Florida Institute of Technology.
Founder, KISS Intl.
Joel Edison’s career in the water industry spanned 45 years, during which he worked for a range of companies in a variety of roles. The New Jersey native began working at the age of 19 for his father’s company. In 1957, he moved to Arizona, where he started as a manufacturer’s representative, working with product lines that included Bruner water softeners. His next several decades were spent on the West Coast, first working for Calgon Carbon Corp. as sales manager, and later starting his own company, Water Rite Co. He later held positions with Culligan and Water Refining Co.
In the 1970s he headed back across the Mississippi River to Ohio, serving as vice president of national sales for Water Rite’s Miracle and ServiSoft brands. Several years later, he bought the ServiSoft dealership in El Centro, Calif.
In 1985, Edison founded KISS Intl. He retired as founder and CEO in 1994, when he sold the business.
WQA honored Edison with its Ray Cross Award in the early 2000s. Edison passed away in 2003.
Consulting Engineer, GE Power & Water
Mel Esmacher’s expertise in the areas of corrosion and materials science and water and process treatment have led him to be regarded as an expert by corrosion scientists worldwide. Now in his 29th year with GE, Esmacher, a consulting engineer, identifies new strategic projects and provides consultation in materials design and selection. He is a key member of the Advanced Technology Team, which identifies startup companies around the world that have the potential to provide unique technology to GE Water’s portfolio of products.
Esmacher has been the chair or co-chair of more than 10 NACE Intl. conferences and was co-chair of the Metal Training Institute conference. He holds a U.S. patent, has given more than 30 presentations and has written for 20 publications. In 2009, Esmacher was honored with the GE Edison Award, and also was the recipient of the Paul Cohen Memorial Award.
According to colleagues, throughout his career Esmacher has solved significant challenging technical problems that have had major impacts on the business, leading to the closure or stabilization of significant customer accounts. He is known for being both a leader and a team player, and colleagues note that he continually creates a climate of innovation and exploration within the business and drives these concepts throughout the organization.
Esmacher earned a Bachelor of Science in metallurgical engineering from the University of Michigan, and has continued educating himself since, participating in training programs such as Green Belt/DFSS Training, Emerging Trends for Technologists, Technology Leaders Development Course and Building Essential Leadership Skills. He is a member of both NACE Intl. and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and is a registered professional engineer in the state of Texas.
President & CEO, Canature WaterGroup
Instrumental in founding WaterGroup in 1968, Don Fettes sold the business to USFilter in 1997. With USFilter, he continued to lead the WaterGroup business and assumed responsibility for the Culligan business in Canada. In 2004, Fettes became responsible for Culligan’s North American Company-Owned Dealer Div. in addition to his other responsibilities. From 2005 to 2008, he held the position of executive vice president of wholesale North America (WaterGroup).
In 2009, Fettes co-founded Canature North America Inc., becoming the company’s president and CEO. In 2014, he was instrumental in the acquisition of WaterGroup, which included the Hydrotech and Petwa divisions. The business recently rebranded as Canature WaterGroup.
Fettes serves on the board of governors for the Canadian Water Quality Assn. and is a past president of the organization.
Merrill R. Fie
Owner, Deep Rock Water Co.
A true leader in the water industry, Merrill R. Fie’s career spans decades — all the way back to 1949, when he got his start as a Culligan dealer in Watertown, S.D. At the time, he was one of the youngest Culligan dealers in the nation.
A member of the U.S. Navy Reserve, Fie was forced to be away from his business in the 1950s when he was called up for active duty during the Korean War. After his service, however, he dove right back into the water industry, acquiring another dealership in South Dakota.
In 1956, Fie moved to the Denver area, where he acquired Mile-Hi Culligan in Englewood, Colo. In 1967, he branched out, acquiring Deep Rock Water Co., a longstanding Denver bottled water company.
Dedicated throughout his career to serving the industry, Fie was president of WCAI in 1967 and 1968. He continued his involvement with the association after WQA was formed in 1974, and was presented with the association’s Key Award in 1978. Fie also was involved with the International Bottled Water Assn., holding leadership positions.
Throughout his many efforts with the water industry, Fie’s true passion has always been serving his community. He is a longtime volunteer with the Salvation Army, which recognized him in 1989 with the Others Award and in 2005 with the Order of Distinguished Auxiliary Service. 2014 marked Fie’s 59th year volunteering as a Salvation Army bell ringer, making him one of the organization’s longest-serving volunteers — an accolade that led to Fie and his family being featured on the “Today” show and “NBC Nightly News.” Fie’s family and friends — including many from within the water industry — have volunteered with him over the years.
Fie is a Mason and a Shriner, and also has been a member of Kiwanis, the Better Business Bureau and many other organizations.
Today, Fie continues his volunteering efforts and enjoys playing bridge — which he calls his “preventive Alzheimer’s therapy.”
CEO, Blue-White Industries
Robin Gledhill, CEO of Blue-White Industries, has been with the company since July 1970. He began as a sales manager, and worked his way up to the top ranks of the company, where he is known for being a good facilitator, able to bring out the best in others.
Gledhill has been instrumental in developing and producing many of Blue-White’s product lines, including the Flex-Pro and FlexFlo peristaltic metering pumps; Chem-Pro and Chem-Feed diaphragm metering pumps; Chem-Feed complete skid systems; Sonic-Pro ultrasonic hybrid flowmeters; BW Digi-Meter paddlewheel-type flow sensors/digital meters; and variable-area flowmeters in more than 240 configurations.
He attended Santa Monica High School in Santa Monica, Calif., and Golden West College in Huntington Beach, Calif. He and his wife Janet have three children — all of whom work at Blue-White — and many grandchildren.
Owner, Culligan Water Conditioning of Victoria
A familiar face at WQA and Texas Water Quality Assn. (TWQA) events, Jo Grace has been a champion of the water industry and its associations for more than four decades.
A second-generation water dealership owner, Grace, along with her husband Dick, purchased Culligan Water Conditioning of Victoria (Texas) in 1975. They ran the business for almost 20 years, selling it to third-generation owners Daina and Rick Grace in 1994.
Grace’s true legacy, however, is her work with TWQA. A supporter of the organization since its founding in 1973, she and Dick traveled around the state to recruit members and promote awareness. Over the years she has served the association in almost every capacity, including multiple terms as executive director. Grace has worked extensively with WQA as well, serving on a variety of committees. According to her colleagues and peers, she was always willing to step in when the associations needed her help or guidance, and she is known for serving in a loving yet firm, professional and intelligent manner. Although she is officially retired, Grace continues to work at the registration desks at both the WQA and TWQA conventions.
In honor of her many years of service, the TWQA board of directors established the Jo Grace TWQA Scholarship Endowment Fund in October 2012. Grace was presented the WQA Key Award in 1993 and Lifetime Membership Award in 1997. TWQA honored her with the Gib Boerner Award in 2010 and the Heart of the TWQA Award in 2013.
Founder, Water-Right Inc.
Since founding Water-Right Inc. in 1963, Glenn Gruett has weathered the good times and the bad to lead his company to success. From his early days working with water industry pioneers like Andy Fleckenstein and Emmett Culligan to today, Gruett built his business with a strong foundation in training. His philosophy is that well drillers, plumbers, wholesalers and dealers must be fully educated in water — only then will they be successful. This philosophy extends to his family and the company; he taught his three sons the business, and is active in the training schools Water-Right hosts four times per year. As CEO, he is still involved in the daily operations of the business.
Gruett also is the founder and owner of Mineral-Right, the only company in the world that makes zeolite. He holds a Master Plumber’s License in Wisconsin, and has been heavily involved in the water treatment industry over the years. In 2008, WQA recognized his commitment and leadership by presenting him with the Ray Cross Award.
He also is a past member of the Food and Drug Administration’s advisory board on the introduction of new pharmaceuticals, and has given seminars around the world.
Jim & Diane Haskett
Founders, Chlorinators Inc.
It is well known that chlorine gas is a hazardous substance to work with, but Jim and Diane Haskett’s work and inventions have helped make it safer. It all began in 1960, when Jim designed and patented the first direct-cylinder-mounted all-vacuum gas chlorinator. The system used fewer parts and included only a single vacuum line, which would stop gas flow immediately in case of accidental line failure. The result was improved safety and efficiency.
Jim sold his original company in 1970, but his quest to improve chlorination did not end there. In 1975, Jim and Diane designed a new chlorinator and founded Chlorinators Inc.
Today, Diane is president of the company, and under her leadership the Regal product line has been expanded to include gas ammoniators, gas detectors, residual analyzers, flow-pacing valves, single- and dual-cylinder scales, and vacuum monitors.
Founder & President, Industrial Test Systems Inc.
Ivars Jaunakais, founder and president of Industrial Test Systems Inc., has worked in the testing market for more than 35 years. Over the decades, he has used his background in test strips for the medical diagnostic field to develop technologies for the environmental and water testing markets.
Jaunakais founded Industrial Test Systems in 1989 on the basis of four main principles: quality, simplicity, value and service. He helped introduce two new, patented test strip methodologies, the ReagentStrip and SenSafe strip. The latter line included the SenSafe free chlorine strip, which became the first official test for free chlorine drinking water monitoring approved by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Eventually Jaunakais expanded the company lines to include a variety of testing technologies.
Glenn M. Layton
Founder, Layton Soft Water Inc./Layton Mfg. Corp.
Glenn M. Layton founded his company, Layton Soft Water Inc., in 1946 with two simple goals: to support and provide security for his wife, Mary, and to provide opportunities for his children. By the time of his death 40 years later, he had become a distinguished and respected member of the water treatment industry.
Layton helped develop and introduce stainless steel water softeners for residential and industrial applications, forming Layton Mfg. Corp., a wholly owned subsidiary of Layton Soft Water, to fabricate them. The company continued to grow throughout the 1960s and 1970s as Layton worked with fellow Industry Icon Walt Casey to introduce no-water-waste point-of-use RO systems. In 1980, he expanded Layton Soft Water further by acquiring Servisoft of Santa Ana and Servisoft of Riverside in California.
Layton was involved with industry associations throughout his career, serving as a director or committee member every year from 1965 to 1986. He joined the Pacific Water Conditioning Assn. (now PWQA) in 1960. During several terms on the board of directors and one as president, he helped lead the fight against brine restrictions and other regulations that could negatively impact the industry. In 1975, Layton became the third person to be inducted in the PWQA Hall of Fame.
From the 1960s on, Layton also was involved with WCAI, and later with WQA. He served several terms on the board of directors with each organization.
Layton passed away in 1986 at the age of 67, survived by five children, 22 grandchildren and 50 great-grandchildren. In 1988, he was posthumously inducted in the WQA Hall of Fame.
Sales Manager, Watts
Currently serving as sales manager for the northeast U.S. and Canada for Watts Water, Bob Matthews’ career in the water treatment industry spans almost 30 years and many companies. He began his career as a pipe fitter at Westinghouse Electric Corp., later working in sales and service for Dunn Brothers Water Treatment in western Pennsylvania. In 1990, he started his own company, Water Services Inc., based in Clarion, Pa., with two partners. Four years later, he joined Alamo Water Refiners to focus on growing its wholesale business in the Midwest and northeast markets. In 1996, he became the company’s southeast regional sales manager, necessitating a move to Odessa, Fla. In 2001, Matthews moved on to Nelsen Corp. to become its first national sales manager. He was instrumental in opening the company’s wholesale branch in Arizona. Four years later he joined Watts as national sales manager, helping coordinate sales and service for several of the company’s brands. He has worked for Watts ever since, helping to open wholesale branch locations in Florida, Ohio and New Jersey.
Matthews has served the industry over the years a member of the board of directors of the Ohio Water Quality Assn., Eastern Water Quality Assn. and Florida Water Quality Assn. During his tenures, he maintained his CWS-VI certification.
Matthews plans to retire this year.
President, Hydro Systems Inc./Managing Partner, Turbidex/Hydro Source LLC
Donald McGhee, CWS-VI, is principal for Hydro Systems Inc., an industrial/commercial water treatment equipment and service company that works with clients worldwide, specializing in brackish water desalination, industrial water recycling and reuse, and industrial water processing. He also is managing partner for Turbidex/Hydro Source LLC, a zeolite filtration media supplier that distributes around the world.
McGhee is heavily involved with industry associations, and currently serves on the WQA board of directors and board of governors and the TWQA board of directors. He also is involved with the Texas Water Development Board as a member of the Rio Grande Regional Water Planning Group Board (Region M), and liaison to the South Central Regional Water Planning Group Board (Region L).
McGhee’s work and dedication to the water industry have earned him many accolades from TWQA, including the Meritorious Service Award (2003 and 2006), Man of the Year Award (2004), Gilbert W. Boerner Award (2009), Award of Merit (2012) and “Sonny” Cammack Award (2013). In 2014, he was presented the Ray Cross Award by WQA.
Owner/Operator, McLeod’s EcoWater Ltd.
Mel McLeod has been in the water treatment business for more than 35 years. Since opening McLeod’s EcoWater Ltd. in 1979, McLeod has grown his dealership to become one of the top EcoWater dealerships in Canada, and one of the top 10 dealerships in North America.
McLeod is licensed by the Canadian Ministry of the Environment. He has travelled to many EcoWater conventions, where he has received company awards for sales and service. According to his colleagues, he is well respected and trusted in his community for his water treatment expertise.
Commercial Manager, Clearwater Systems
When Richard Rizzo started at Century Water Inc. in 1983 as a water softener installer, he did not even know what a water softener was. His boss, Bob Kelly, hired him due to the electromechanical education he had received during his six years serving in the U.S. Navy. Rizzo quickly learned the ins and outs of water softening, eventually working with technologies from a variety of manufacturers and brands. During the ‘70s, he also earned his Duval County (Fla.) Master Water Treatment Installer License and became certified through WQA as a dealer. In the next decade, he also earned WQA certification for filtration and water disinfection, and became a Florida Class D Water Plant Operator.
In 1988, Rizzo went back to work for his mentor Kelly, who had transitioned to Kinetico. Rizzo continued to work for the business after it was sold to Clearwater Systems in 1995, becoming a contractor for the company in 1996.
Rizzo continued to improve his industry knowledge and certifications, becoming a Duval County Water Treatment Contractor W-5 in 1996, and earning his WQA CSR and CWS certifications in the early 2000s.
Today, Rizzo continues to work for Clearwater Systems, primarily focusing on the commercial sales sector of the business.
Founder, Chairman & CEO, Osmonics Inc.
Dean Spatz has been active in membrane technology since 1964, when he began working under contract with the Office of Saline Water for the U.S. Department of the Interior to develop low-pressure RO membranes and equipment. In 1968, he became manager of engineering for Aqua Technology Inc., an ion exchange and filter equipment manufacturer.
In 1969, Spatz formed his own company, Osmonics Inc., which was instrumental in developing commercial use of membrane technologies. Spatz has been awarded five U.S. patents in the fields of RO and ultrafiltration.
Spatz and his company have earned many industry accolades over the years. In 1975, he received the Putnam Food Award for “Sugar Reclamation System Using Reverse Osmosis.” Spatz and Osmonics received the Chemical Equipment Energy Award for a unique two-pass RO system in 1982, and the Chemical Processing Vaaler Award for the development of a unique industrial diafiltration system in 1984. In 1991, Spatz was voted Minnesota’s Entrepreneur of the Year in the high technology/medical field. Osmonics has been selected as one of Forbes magazine’s “200 Best Small Companies in America.”
In 2003, Osmonics was acquired by General Electric Co. By that time, it was a publicly owned company listed on the New York Stock Exchange with $210 million in sales and 1,400 employees.
Spatz is a registered professional chemical engineer and has been involved with a variety of industry organizations, including the American Membrane Technology Assn., AWWA, International Desalination Assn. and many more. He served on the WQA board of directors, and is on the board of directors for Sigma-Aldrich Corp.
A native of Albuquerque, N.M., Spatz attended Dartmouth College, earning a B.E. and liberal arts degree in 1966 and a Master of Engineering degree in 1968.
Principal Technologist, Water & Process Technologies, GE Water & Power
With more than 30 years working for GE under his belt, Steve Vasconcellos has earned the reputation as an expert in liquid and solid separations, colloid science, polymer characterization and electrokinetics.
His work has earned him recognition from his company and the industry. In 1994, he earned the PE DER Green Award. GE awarded him in 2005 with the “Best of the GE Betz” award and in 2006 with the Edison Award. In 2006, he also earned the Spirit of
Vasconcellos holds 33 U.S. patents, has given 16 presentations and has been published in 17 publications, including two chapters in “Environmental Assessment of Polymers.” In 2007 he was co-chair of the Coagulants and Flocculants Symposium in Louisville, Ky., and in 2008 was co-chair of the Water Reuse Symposium in Orlando, Fla.
Vasconcellos is a member of the American Chemical Society, and is a division member of Colloid and Surface Science and Environmental Chemistry. He has received Green Belt/DFSS training and completed the IRI Technology Manager Course at Harvard University.
Vasconcellos earned a B.S. in chemistry from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and M.S. and Ph.D. degrees in physical chemistry from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.