Family Values - Delon Hampton honors mother’s memory with generous contribution to Civil Engineering

Delon Hampton
Since he founded Delon Hampton and Associates in 1973, his name has been synonymous with engineering excellence. Recently, Hampton attached his name and stellar reputation to Purdue’s civil engineering building with a $7.5 million gift that also honors the woman who raised him.

At a special Sept. 14 event that celebrated the naming of the Delon and Elizabeth Hampton Hall of Civil Engineering, Hampton explained that he was guided by the wisdom and foresight of a mother he never knew, and the love and devotion of the woman he came to know as his mother. Born in Jefferson, Texas, on Aug. 23, 1933, to Elzatie Lewis Douglas, who succumbed to complications from childbirth, Hampton has made the most of a life that did not begin under the best of circumstances.

“Prior to her passing, my mother — at age 25 — found the strength and courage to make my father promise to send me to live with my aunt and uncle, Elizabeth and Uless Hampton, on the south side of Chicago.” His adoptive parents divorced when he was a child, forcing Elizabeth to work long hours to provide for Hampton and his two cousins.

“I wanted to do something to memorialize my mother who raised me, as well as my birth mother,” Hampton explained. “I couldn’t think of a better place to do it than Purdue because of the key role Purdue played in my life.”

Hampton earned a master’s and a PhD degree in civil engineering at Purdue in 1958 and 1961, respectively. In 1994, he received an honorary doctorate from Purdue. His undergraduate degree in civil engineering is from the University of Illinois.

At Purdue, Hampton was strongly influenced by Eldon Yoder, a professor of transportation engineering from 1949 to 1983. “Professor Yoder encouraged me to pursue my PhD, which had not been part of my original plan,” Hampton says. “After earning my PhD, I really wanted to go to work in the private sector, but I couldn’t find a job, so I accepted the invitation of a former Purdue classmate — Dr. John Shupe — who was then associate dean of engineering at Kansas State University.”

Hampton served as a civil engineering assistant professor at Kansas State, spending a year’s leave as head of soil dynamics research for the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. Later, he served as a research engineer at the Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute before becoming a professor of civil engineering at Howard University in Washington, D.C. While at Howard, he met James A. Caywood, then head of the Washington, D.C., office for DeLeuw, Cather and Co.

“The Metro (train) system was just starting up, and Jim convinced me it was a good time for me to start my own firm,” Hampton says. “He was instrumental in helping me get started in the D.C. area, and the big break for Delon Hampton and Associates was the opportunity to design two service and inspection shops valued at approximately $20 million apiece for the Washington Metro as managing partner in a joint venture with the firm of Westenhoff and Novick. Looking back, I commend Washington Metro for giving the job to us. We had never done a project of that magnitude, so they really took a chance on us. From there, we marched around the country designing heavy rail transit facilities.”

Delon Hampton and Associates (www.delonhampton.com) focused then on transportation and water/wastewater initiatives but expanded in the 1980s to include program management and construction management. Hampton and his firm have received numerous awards. “We’ve become what Jim Caywood envisioned — a multidisciplinary firm with a wide range of expertise,” he says.

With his firm still thriving, Hampton has written a book that’s due out by year’s end — in which he shares his life story and looks back fondly on his mother who gave him birth, and the mother who raised him. He credits them with his drive to succeed, and he hopes those who walk the halls of the Delon and Elizabeth Hampton Hall of Civil Engineering will share the determined spirit both women showed as they brought out the best in him.

“I’ve had to overcome some obstacles, but I’ve found that if you believe in yourself and are willing to work hard, then you can accomplish anything,” Hampton says. “I’ve enjoyed a wonderful life.”