WJE Remembers the Life of Seymour Bortz

June 19, 2012
Seymour "Sy" Bortz, a recognized expert in the field of masonry materials, dedicated a large part of his career of more than fifty years to the testing and evaluation of stone materials. He was instrumental in developing test methods that are in wide use throughout the masonry industry today. Mr. Bortz passed away in Enfield, New Hampshire, on June 1, 2012, at the age of eighty-nine.

Born on August 2, 1922, Sy Bortz grew up on the south side of Chicago, where he decided at an early age to pursue engineering. He entered the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) department of Civil Engineering in the fall of 1940, but interrupted his education to enlist in the United States Army following the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor. Mr. Bortz served in the Army for three years during World War II, including one year as a technician in a medical battalion in the Pacific Theater, where he attended to wounded soldiers—both American and Japanese—in the Battle of Okinawa. Following the war, he returned to IIT, where he completed his bachelor's degree in 1949.

Earning his master's degree in Civil Engineering from IIT in 1953, Mr. Bortz worked as a structural designer for an architectural firm and as an assistant superintendent for a major contractor. For more than thirty years, Mr. Bortz was manager of the materials and processing technology section at the IIT Research Institute (IITRI). His work addressed ceramic and graphite composites for aerospace applications, with specific involvement in studies related to heat tiles during the development of the space shuttle. He also tested brittle materials at room and high temperatures and developed and tested refractory and construction materials.

In 1986, Bortz joined the Architecture group of Wiss, Janney, Elstner Associates, Inc., in Northbrook, Illinois, where he directed evaluations of existing buildings, investigated construction claims, and developed repair schemes for building envelopes. He worked on a wide variety of projects including specific investigations of the aging properties of stone, wall panel anchorage failures, bowing of long stone panels, spalling of brick facing, and leaking masonry walls. Mr. Bortz also studied thermal shock behavior, prestressing of ceramics, natural stone behavior under stress, statistical distribution theories of mechanical property behavior, and safety factors for masonry materials. Although he officially retired in 2001, he continued his association with WJE for another ten years as an Affiliated Consultant.

Throughout his career, Mr. Bortz performed significant original research that helped advance stone veneer cladding as a major architectural building element of post-modern architecture in the United States. Notably, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, he was the principal author and lead researcher of testing that resulted in the original Dimension Stone Design Manual published by the Marble Institute of America. The stone industry benefited greatly from the knowledge obtained from his extensive, thorough, and insightful work on dimension stone.

During his career, Mr. Bortz published over seventy articles in the areas of masonry materials, testing, brittle materials, and waste utilization. He lectured before the Masonry Society and held open seminars on the use of stone. He was Vice Chairman of ASTM Committee C18 on Dimension Stone from 1967 to 1970, and Chairman from 1970 to 1976. In 2004, Mr. Bortz received the Daniel W. Kessler Award of Meritorious Service for "his continuous and outstanding service to ASTM". Investigation and testing of dimension stone was his passion, and ASTM played a major role in his pursuit of that interest.

Sy Bortz will be remembered by his friends and family as a warm and generous person—witty and always eager to engage in thoughtful conversation. He particularly enjoyed discussing anything related to his profession, as well as topics related to science, politics, and history. His colleagues will remember him as a person dedicated to his profession, enthusiastic about sharing his extensive knowledge, and always ready to pursue a novel test or solve a difficult problem.

To offer condolences, a memorial guestbook has been established in his honor.


Return to News Index