Longenbaugh gift supports water resources education, deep well of knowledge at CSU

Theresa Centola and Robert Longenbaugh

Scholarship recipient Theresa Centola and benefactor Robert Longenbaugh at a scholarship brunch in 2019.

Robert Longenbaugh has bequeathed a wealth of knowledge – and more than $1 million in lifetime giving – to Colorado State University to bolster the Water Resources Archive at the CSU Libraries and to support a scholarship in Civil and Environmental Engineering. His legacy will give researchers access to information amassed throughout his long career in Colorado water resources and ensure opportunity for undergraduate students with financial need to study in the field.

A CSU alumnus and former faculty member, Longenbaugh devoted his life to water resources education, and his generous gift guarantees his passion will endure for generations to come.

Extensive roots at CSU

Longenbaugh, who grew up on an irrigated farm near Cortez, relied on 4-H scholarships to fund his engineering education in the late 1950s. He established the Longenbaugh Scholarship in 2004 to give others the opportunity he had been given to study groundwater at CSU.

CSU was a natural fit for Longenbaugh’s education, given his agricultural background, interests and heritage. Both of his parents graduated from Colorado A&M, as it was known before 1957. They wed on their graduation day.

Longenbaugh earned his bachelor’s degree in 1957 and his master’s in 1962, serving in the U.S. Air Force between degrees. He joined the civil engineering faculty in 1961, researching and teaching until 1980, when he left to become Colorado’s assistant state engineer. Following retirement from that position in 1991, he remained an active consultant and educator.

“It’s a real challenge to make sure we have enough water for the people of Colorado,” Longenbaugh said in a department newsletter in 2008. “We need to ensure that the citizenry, legislature and water administrators understand groundwater so they can make good decisions for our future.”

His desire to educate the next generation of water managers spurred the scholarship that has helped 27 students succeed in their studies and will benefit many more in the future. Theresa Centola, who plans to focus on water resources in grad school after she graduates this semester with an environmental engineering degree, said receiving the Longenbaugh Scholarship in 2018 was a great honor that encouraged her education.

“As an underclassman at the time, I felt encouraged to continue my path as an engineering student and an added sense of responsibility to dedicate myself to my education,” Centola said. “Getting to meet and converse with Robert Longenbaugh solidified my passion for engineering and inspired me to aim to get to a point in my career where I can give back as he has.”

Passionate expertise

As part of his gift, Longenbaugh donated 150 linear feet of documents and $359,667 to the Libraries to support the Water Resources Archive, which is a joint effort of the CSU Libraries and Colorado Water Center, housed in the Libraries’ Archives and Special Collections. The archive collects diverse materials from individuals and organizations that have been instrumental in developing water resources in Colorado and the West.

Robert Longenbaugh black-and-white portrait
Robert Longenbaugh in 1974, during his tenure as a CSU civil engineering faculty member.

It is an important asset for faculty, students and professionals in water management, engineering, law and legislation. The archive has been used by students writing theses, property owners investigating where irrigation ditches might have run through their property, and a documentary filmmaker for a film about the history of water in Colorado.

The materials Longenbaugh donated document his 60-year career in groundwater education and legislation, through correspondence, data, reports, maps, articles, slides, photographs, presentations and digital files. The financial donation will be used to organize and digitize the collection and improve groundwater education, potentially through oral histories or new materials.

A previous donation from Longenbaugh allowed the Water Resources Archive to conduct and preserve oral histories by Longenbaugh and six other Colorado groundwater experts.

“Anyone who knew Bob will remember him for his passionate expertise. He has left his files for the benefit of all,” said Patty Rettig, an archivist for the Water Resources Archive who worked with Longenbaugh before his death in October 2020 to transfer his documents and record his oral history.