Once a sleepy rural area, the village of Mont Clare these days is alive with activity. But to get to and from the busy offices, stores and homes that make up the community, you need a well designed network of streets and highways.
And that is just one place where Richard Prentice has left his mark.
As a long-time engineer with the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, Prentice was responsible for such area road projects as the widening of Route 29 from Black Rock to the Phoenixville bridge, reconstruction of the roads from Black Rock Road to Jacob Street and from Jacob Street to the bridge. That was only a small fraction of the highway work that he performed in Montgomery County before retiring from PennDOT in 2004.
For these and other accomplishments, Prentice, who is 67, was recently presented with the American Society of Highway Engineers’ 2013 National Lifetime Achievement Award. As the name implies, the award singles out those individuals with long and distinguished careers in the highway industry.
Prentice, who is only the second individual to be so honored by the ASHE, said he was “honored and proud” to receive the award.
Prentice’s lifetime of achievement in the highway industry began almost a half-century ago when his grandfather took the young Prentice to the Curtis Publishing Company in Philadelphia, where the older man was employed. A machinist, his grandfather introduced him to metalworking tools and showed him the ins and outs of assembling products and equipment.
“See that bookcase over there?” said Prentice, pointing to a corner of his office at the PennDOT building on Geerdees Boulevard in King of Prussia. “I know how it’s put together, how it comes apart and why each part goes where it goes.”
Understanding the “why” of the assembly process particularly fascinated Prentice.
“I got to the point where I thought I would like to use my mind to figure out how things work,” he said.
From that thought came the aspiration to become an engineer. After graduating from Bartram Senior High School in Philadelphia, Prentice entered Drexel University and eventually earned both a Bachelor of Science degree in structural engineering and a Master of Science degree in civil engineering.
Shortly afterwards, his grandfather learned that PennDOT was hiring.
“He suggested I go over and check it out,” said Prentice. “I just thought I’d be there a year or so, just long enough to get my feet wet in the engineering world.”
One year eventually stretched into 36, and Prentice moved from bridge engineer to project manager and finally to assistant traffic engineer. Although he retired from PennDOT 10 years ago, Prentice has continued as a consultant. He also serves as senior design specialist for McMahon Associates in Fort Washington.
Prentice, a widower with two adult children, has lived in a Cape Cod house on Egypt Road in Mont Clare for the past 39 years.