Bess L. Vance
Bess L. Vance earned a bachelor's degree in chemical engineering in 1955, the first woman to do so at the University of Idaho. On December 8, 1954, a junior at the time, Vance was the second woman in the nation to become a member of Sigma Tau, the national engineering honorary.
Vance’ father, James M. Vance, also studied engineering at the university in the 1920's. She belongs to a long-time Vance family tradition of three-generations of U of I chemical engineers including her uncle Bob Vance (’30), cousin San Vance (’40) and brother John (Jack) Vance who graduated in chemical engineering in 1964 and several cousins (Bob and Jim Vance) and then Bob Vance’s sons. Vance remembers Dwight Hoffman, chair of the department of chemical engineering, as her most influential professor.
After college, Vance went to work in the research department of the Anaconda Mining Company at their milling and smelting operations located in Anaconda, Mont., and later at the relocated research facility in Tucson, Ariz. While in Tucson, she joined a new data processing group as a systems analyst. Vance spent two years with this group developing an economic evaluation program which led to construction of a new copper/zinc mine and milling operation near Tooele, Utah. Returning to metallurgical extraction, she worked on processes for recovery of a variety of metals ranging from aluminum and beryllium to uranium and zinc. Subsequently, Vance moved to Darwin, Calif., a mining town on the western outskirts of Death Valley, and became the plant metallurgist at the Anaconda’s Darwin Silver Mine and Mill.
The Davy McKee Corporation, a multinational engineering corporation known for its chemical engineering operations now located in Houston, Texas, then hired Vance. She worked on a variety of projects, including the training of staff and the start-up of a grass roots gold mine in Nevada. She also oversaw plant expansions at several soda ash recovery facilities in Wyoming.Vance is currently enjoying retirement in El Sobrante, Calif., near San Francisco. She has taken up whaleboat rowing and single scull rowing for exercise. She does volunteer work for the Friends of the El Sobrante Library, the Oakland Museum of California and the San Leandro Monarch Butterfly Program.
The College of Engineering is honored to acknowledge the first inaugural gift to the college's Chemical Engineering Endowed Chair Campaign given by Bess Vance. Vance says, "My education at Idaho made a major difference in my life and I feel good about giving to a public university. I'm pleased that I can contribute money that will go to set up an endowment for the college to use for a worthy cause forever."
Vance enjoys regular visits with Jack, her brother, as he travels through the Bay Area on his many return flights from China to his home in North Palm Springs, Fla.