Richard M. Arnold
Class of 1956, BS
Richard Arnold has a distinguished Virginia Tech background – a star track athlete inducted into the university’s Sports Hall of Fame in 1996, service in the Corps of Cadets and several campus organizations – and a stellar career. He worked just shy of 30 years at Union Carbide Corporation, and then 12 years at Allied Signal. He was a production engineer, a plant manager overseeing 200-plus employees, a senior management consultant, and held jobs in corporate public affairs. He is a member of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering Committee of 100 and the Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISE) Academy of Distinguished Alumni, as well as the ISE advisory board.
John Casali, a former head of the Virginia Tech ISE department says: “Dick has been a superb champion for our department as well as an outstanding ambassador for the college.” Bill Stephenson, former dean of the College of Engineering, regularly golfs with Mr. Arnold. Stephenson admires his athletic accomplishments and his support of the university athletic teams and other campus related organizations. Yet, it’s Mr. Arnold’s work outside of engineering that stands out as treasure to anyone who enjoys hearing the tale of a man at the crosswinds change of history.
In 1989, when the Berlin Wall fell, many Americans watched the historic events live on television and that was the extent of their involvement. Not so Mr. Arnold. His United Methodist church in Morristown, New Jersey, was one of the first congregations in the United States asked to lend a hand – spiritually, monetarily, and physically – in rebuilding the Methodist church behind the torn Iron Curtain. People of all religious persuasions practiced their faith under threat of death, prison or discrimination for decades under Communist rule. Circa 1990, with the hammer and sickle gone and statues of Lenin toppled, religion could breathe and begin to grow again. Mr. Arnold took his first trip in November 1992, lending CPR to that effort. “God just touched my heart that I needed to get involved in this,” he says.
On his first trip to Moscow, Mr. Arnold saw Red Square, as well as a statue of Lenin pulled to the ground in front of the former KGB headquarters. In its place was a large wooden cross. Mr. Arnold’s first missionary work in Kerch, Ukraine, was heartening. “Most religions had been destroyed after more than 70 years of repression,” Mr. Arnold says. He traveled numerous times to Kerch helping oversee the selection of new lay pastors, training people in how to conduct “church” and raising funds for a building. He mentored one young woman for several years as the local pastor, then helped her go to the Moscow Seminary. The woman now is a district superintendant near St. Petersburg, Russia. Some 15 years later, the Russia/Ukraine region has a bishop, full-time seminary, and more than 100 local churches.
Mr. Arnold came to Virginia Tech in 1952, after growing up in Niagara Falls, New York, Lakewood, Ohio, and Pelham Manor, New York. Mr. Arnold’s father recruited engineers for his company and told young Richard, “If you want to study engineering in the South, there is Georgia Tech or Virginia Tech.” He traveled to the Blacksburg campus, toured it, and knew he had found a home. “I loved the campus and people. The track coach was excited about my going here, and the industrial engineering program was terrific and a lot less expensive then the places I was looking at up north,” he says.
During his college years, he served in the Corps of Cadets for two years before moving to the athletic dormitory for a year, and then marrying and living off campus his senior year. He ran track all four years, served as co-captain his senior year, and did well enough to later score induction into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Mr. Arnold was invited to try out for the 1956 Olympics, traveling to New York City for regional heats. He missed qualifying by one place.
Upon graduation, he landed a job with Union Carbide, where he stayed for roughly 30 years. He began as a production engineer at a West Virginia metallurgical plant. There, Mr. Arnold was tasked with the operations of the plant’s electric-arc furnaces. He later helped initiate the first industrial engineering function in that division. The company transferred him to Kokomo, Indiana, to work as a manager of industrial engineering at a specialty alloys plant. He concurrently earned a master’s degree in IE from Purdue in 1966.
From there, Mr. Arnold moved to Chicago, where he worked as the plant engineer and then plant manager of two fibers and fabrics facilities, with 200+ employees under his watch. The facility produced non-woven textiles for commercial building filters, interior car doors and floor buffers. After that portion of the business was sold by Union Carbide, Mr. Arnold moved to the company’s New York world headquarters, where he moved through the ranks from senior management consultant to director of community affairs and then assistant director of regional public affairs.
As director of community affairs, he implemented a nationwide program for all plants based on a cutting-edge community assessment process he developed. The public affairs task included lobbying on the behalf of Union Carbide. He worked mostly with state legislatures and Congress to make sure legislation they passed wasn’t detrimental to the company.
Mr. Arnold left Union Carbide shortly after the infamous 1984 Bhopal disaster, in which several thousand Indians died. The highly disputed and debated incident was “quite dramatic” for the company, Mr. Arnold says. As a result, Union Carbide fell on difficult times both financially and in the public eye. Mr. Arnold took an early retirement option in 1985.
But that didn’t slow him down. Mr. Arnold started his own consulting company, Management Consulting Services Inc., in 1986. Before long, he landed at aerospace/chemicals/automotive giant Allied Signal, where he worked as director of state government relations, at its world headquarters in Morristown, New Jersey.
In Morristown, Mr. Arnold became involved with the United Methodist Church’s outreach efforts. After retiring, he became a consultant for the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Global Ministries, a position he still holds. He initiated and now oversees “In Mission Together,” a partnership program between the United Methodist Church of the United States, Eastern Europe, and the Balkans. He also trained others to take this program to Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia. He has traveled to Eastern Europe and the Balkans region more than 20 times.
Working with the bishop and superintendant in each country, Mr. Arnold has seen this area grow from only a few to more than 160 local congregations, 35 of whom now have In Mission Together partnerships. “It was amazing to see how a few brave pastors persevered to keep the church going during Communism,” Mr. Arnold says. “They risked their lives to do that.” Those who escaped danger and outright threats were nonetheless punished, including the recent female district superintendant. “The only woman pastor told me that her husband could not go to college because he married her, and police told her that she shouldn’t open the windows of the small church because ‘bad’ stuff could flow out into the street.…”
Mr. Arnold has developed a team of more than 25 people to help, including advocates in the United States, and a mission coordinator in each country who can speak English. Ironically, English language courses now are a big draw for potential congregants. “All the young people want to learn English, so the church attracts them that way,” Mr. Arnold says.
Mr. Arnold has been active in the Blacksburg community since retiring here, serving four years as president of the Blacksburg Sports Club, and his neighborhood association. Shortly after the shootings of April 16, 2007, Mr. Arnold and the Virginia Tech German Club Alumni Foundation, of which he is a member, started Leading Lights. The group honors and encourages local volunteers in three categories: high school, college, and general public. The first Leading Lights awards were handed out this past April, and Mr. Arnold already is helping to plan the 2010 event.
He and his wife Sally have three children and nine grandchildren.
Class of: 1956
Year Inducted into Academy: 2010