The next time you drive across a bridge or turn on the tap for a glass of water consider for a moment that people that made those systems possible.
Civil engineers are the architects of our roads, bridges, dams, and all the other physical elements that make up our modern life.
This year's East Kentucky Leadership Private Individual Award built a civil engineering firm from the ground up in Southern Kentucky and that company continues to break new ground across the region.
Robert Vaughn is a successful businessman with strong ties to the Bluegrass.
Vaughn graduated from Hazard High School in 1958 and the University of Kentucky in 1963 with a Bachelor of Science in civil engineering.
In 1967, he and a college friend, Nick Melton, went into business together and chose Middlesboro, Kentucky as the ideal location for their firm.
“This was during the time of course of the great society. The Appalachian Regional Commission had been created and there was a lot of money flowing into Eastern Kentucky so the opportunities were here,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn & Melton Consulting Engineers steadily grew and the company tackled many projects ranging from water and sewer feasibility studies to major road works.
One of the largest undertakings the company worked on was the Cumberland Gap Tunnel, which was completed in 1996.
The 4,600ft long twin-bore tunnel carries U.S. Highway 25E underneath Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
The project was conceived in the 1970s as a replacement for the highway's old path ... A narrow, twisted and accident-prone stretch that was known as "Massacre Mountain."
“We'd like to think that there are a lot of folks that are living and breathing because of the fact that the tunnel was built,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn says the Cumberland Gap Tunnel project is one of the company's proudest achievements ... but another stands above the rest.
“I would say the proudest accomplishment as far as I'm concerned and I expect as far as Nick Melton is concerned is that we made a transition from our ownership to the employees,” Vaughn said.
Vaughn and Melton have 11 locations in five states and employ more than 200 people.
Vaughn is retired now, but he stays involved in the community that gave him so much success.
He currently serves in a number of capacities, including as a member of the Bell County Industrial Foundation and the Southeast Community College Board of Trustees.
The 2013 East Kentucky Leadership Award for Private Individual goes to Robert Vaughn.