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E. Minor Pace

E. Minor Pace

Mining Engineering
Class of 1943, BS

E. Minor Pace grew up as the ninth child in a “Cheaper by the Dozen” family of nine boys and three girls. It was the 1920s, and his father, who had only one month of official schooling to his name, operated one of the first automobile agencies in a rural area 16 miles south of Charlottesville, Virginia.

“Dad also made wagons,” for the horses that were still used for transportation at the time, Mr. Pace recalls today.

Money was not plentiful for the Pace family then, but Minor managed to catch a school bus daily to Scotsville High School on the James River. He mixed athletics and academics well, becoming the first member of his family to graduate from high school. But he did not just graduate – he was the valedictorian for the class as well as a three-year varsity letterman in basketball.

His strong high school performance insured his acceptance into Virginia Tech’s College of Engineering, his number one choice for a higher education degree. Although electrical engineering attracted his immediate interest, he soon learned that the mining engineering program offered numerous opportunities for its students to gain lucrative employment in the summer. He had waited tables his last three years, but this part-time job was in no way equivalent to the $7 an hour he could make in the early 1940s working in a coal mine. He also worked 60 hours a month for the National Youth Administration.

“I rather enjoyed working underground with the union members of the Pittsburgh Coal Company,” Mr. Pace says. “The company was looking for future managers, and they looked at the internship as giving us vocational training. I also looked forward to it because it was good money. Tuition was only $40 a quarter back then,” and with six hours of work in the mine, he had it paid for.

The young cadet also found that hitchhiking in those days was easy. No one questioned picking him up when he wore his uniform. So getting rides to and from Blacksburg to his home or to Pennsylvania was not a problem. And during the summer when he worked in the mines, he lived as a boarder with a family who provided him with his meals.

Mr. Pace officially graduated with the Class of 1943, but with World War II calling every able-bodied young man into action, VPI, as it was then known, gave him his degree a quarter early so he could enter Fort Belvoir for his officer training. As he was about to embark on his military tour of duty, he married his sweetheart Helen in a ceremony at the Blacksburg Episcopal Church, and brought her with him.

Helen, a graduate of Harrisonburg State Teachers College, taught elementary school back in Scotsville where Minor had attended high school. “She had bought a car, and I had to teach her how to drive it,” he smiles, recalling how their relationship “started 67 wonderful” years ago.

Shortly after their marriage, he left for several years. He traveled to the Pacific with the 1896th engineering aviation battalion attached to the 5th Air Force, building and maintaining airstrips in New Guinea. He was discharged as a captain in 1946.

As he looked around for employment, Inland Steel Company needed a surveyor in its engineering department. “The job paid better than the mining companies were offering at the time,” Mr. Pace says. But his degree soon came back into play as Inland asked him to take over the building of a new coal preparation plant. Soon after his success with this position, the company named him superintendent of mining.

When Inland discovered one of its properties in West Virginia had mines with some serious ventilation problems due to the gases inside, the company gave the project to Mr. Pace to solve. He went to the University of West Virginia to study with experts on the matter, and instead decided to become an expert himself. He talked the company into letting him get a master’s degree, a commitment that would only take him 10 months. He secured his master’s in Mining Engineering (MinE) by 1948.

Ironically, Inland sold the mines before Mr. Pace could apply his new knowledge. So instead, he later used his expertise to teach ventilation courses part time at the University of Kentucky. “I enjoyed teaching. It seems to run in the family,” he says. In addition to his wife’s career, his youngest brother became the superintendent of the Falls Church School System in Virginia, while his brother, Emory, retired as an associate professor emeritus of mathematics from Virginia Tech.

As Inland grew, with properties in three states, it became the Inland Steel Coal Company. Mr. Pace worked his way up the ladder to executive vice president, earning a reputation for modernizing the company and improving its profit margins. By now, he was also a graduate of the Harvard Business School’s Advanced Management Program.

While with Inland, Mr. Pace served as vice chair of the Kentucky Coal Institute, chair of the Illinois Coal institute, chair of the Coal Division of the Society of Mining Engineers, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Society of Mining Engineers (SME).

He received two national awards, SME’s Percy Nicholls Award, and the American Institute of Mining Engineers’ Erskine Ramsay Award, for his contributions to the industry. He also received the Distinguished Engineering Award. Among his numerous impacts, he worked with Inland’s research department to break coal into uses for steam and metallurgical needs. Mr. Pace also helped bring about a process for furnishing coal that was low in sulfur content to power companies.

In 1980, Mr. Pace retired from Inland Steel after working 34 years. He remained active with Virginia Tech, saying he “gives credit for his success to VPI.”

As he was retiring, Paul Torgersen asked him to join the College of Engineering’s Committee of 100 as a charter member. In 1986, Mr. Pace received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Virginia Tech MinE department. He also is a member of the university’s Caldwell Society.

He’s been active in various communities in which he has lived. He has received a Silver Beaver Award from the Boy Scouts of America, served on fire and police commissions, city council, director of the hospital board, YMCA, bank, and vice chair of the board of Pikeville College. He also has served on several positions in the diocese of his church.

The Paces currently reside in Mount Vernon, Illinois. They have three children: Kerry Pace of Aurora, Illinois; Kim Pace of New Port Richey, Florida; and Kirk Pace of Belleville, Illinois.

Class of: 1943
Year Inducted into Academy: 2010