Class of 1981 Gary Derlan is CEM's Outstanding Alumni
Event Date: October 22, 2021
Over the course of a 35-year career that has spanned multiple states, industries, and both the public and private sectors, Gary Dernlan estimates he has crossed paths with engineering graduates from more than 50 universities — and there is no doubt in his mind that Purdue alumni rise to the top.
Growing up in Wisconsin, Gary always had an interest in construction. A friend of his parents who owned a construction company told him about the CEM program at Purdue, which was just a year old in 1977 when he arrived in West Lafayette. It was headed by a professor Gary still remembers fondly, Donn Hancher.
Gary’s first job after graduation stemmed from one of those internships. The position at Hall Contracting of Kentucky took him to Ohio, where he was responsible for several coal-fired power plants, and then to Georgia to oversee a wastewater treatment plant. After a short stint at DuPont in the mid-1980s, he switched gears to the public sector — serving first as director of engineering, public works and public utilities for the city of North Augusta, South Carolina, then as director of the Palm Beach County (Florida) water utilities department. Derlan says, “Without my education, very little of this would have happened. Purdue gave me extreme confidence in my abilities. I knew I was better prepared than my contemporaries, and that allowed me to move up faster and take on challenges that others wouldn’t.”
That included embarking on a number of “side projects” over the years — primarily commercial and residential real estate developments and investments. About 10 years ago, the Dernlans decided to make those side businesses their full-time careers.