Beloved Civil Engineer Professor Retires From VMI
LEXINGTON, Va. June 28, 2023 — Capt. John E. “Ned” Riester Jr. ’78, professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) at Virginia Military Institute, is retiring after 29 years. With his larger-than-life personality, jovial attitude, and talent for recounting funny and memorable stories, Riester has been an enduring favorite among cadets, faculty and staff.
Riester, who majored in civil engineering (CE) at VMI, held rank, was on the Navy pistol team, and was a distinguished graduate. He commissioned into the Navy and served 10 years active duty on submarines and submarine tenders (ships that provide repair services to submarines) and at a submarine training center. After retiring from the Navy, he earned his master’s degree in mechanical engineering and doctorate degree in civil engineering from Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia.
Riester returned to VMI in 1993 to teach engineering classes such as fluid mechanics, hydraulics, fundamentals of engineering, surveying, infrastructures and labs, and was department head for 11 years. During the academic year of 2001-02 he taught at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colorado, as part of their distinguished visiting professor program. Each summer from 1998 to 2005, he ran a week-long engineering camp for middle school students. He served in advisory roles for many cadet organizations at VMI including the Honor Court, community service projects, and VMI Theatre, where he was also seen performing on stage. He was the class advisor for the Classes of ’97 and ’01, and was director of the Summer Transition Program (STP) for incoming matriculants for 17 years. He recognized the value of getting involved in the lives of the cadets outside the classroom, and encouraged his colleagues to do the same.
“I found that these extra duties were fun, and you get to know a lot of people you wouldn’t otherwise,” he said. He also accumulated a wealth of stories. So much so, that he has written a book to be published in the future titled, “All Right Sir” referring to the response cadets gave during stick-checks when he had officer-in-charge barracks duty. “During barracks duty, I’d hit each door with a stick and if everybody was all right in the room, the cadets would call out, ‘All right, sir.’ The book includes a lot of stories from when I had barracks duty, as well as some of the crazy things that happened in class,” shared Riester.
“Barracks duty involved going around barracks after Taps and tapping on each of the doors, counting heads and ensuring everyone who is supposed to be in the room is accounted for, that no one is missing, and no one extra is in the room. One incident involved a room on second stoop, and two baseball players from the Class of ’96 I’ll refer to as ‘P’ and ‘M’, who were civil engineering majors. I had them in my fluids class and they were studying for a test I was giving the next morning. I look in their door, and there are three guys in there: ‘P’, ‘M’ and another CE major I’ll call ‘S’. So I go in their room and say, ‘oh S, I think you’re visiting.’ He said, ‘oh yes sir, I’m in here getting ready for the test.’ Then knowing that if I go by his room and find him missing, that he is in big trouble, asks me, ‘Which direction did you come from?’ I told him that was his problem to figure out. So I took off running toward his room to try to beat him there, but I still had to hit all the doors in between. The corporal who was assisting me was running behind me, checking off all the door numbers as I did stick-check. It was dark, and as we ran around the corner, I hit a first sergeant’s desk that was out on the stoop and flew head-over-heels. I’m lying on the ground and from behind me ‘S’ leaps over me and says with a big smirk on his face, ‘have a nice evening sir,’” laughed Riester.
Another way Riester has endeared himself to the Corps was by starting a tradition of sending out emails on parade days. “Classes used to be held on Saturdays, but on one particular Saturday, classes had been canceled. Another faculty member and I offered to schedule a help session for cadets who may have needed extra tutoring. But the cadets balked at the idea because they wanted their rare Saturday off, so the help session didn’t occur. Instead, parade practice was scheduled at the last minute, ruining their holiday. When I found out, I sent an email to all my students which simply said, ‘GOTTA LOVE A PARADE’ in big, bold letters, and got a lot of discontented replies. I sent a similar one the next parade day, and received even more annoyed replies,” he mused. Through the years he has added weather reports, and countdowns to special events like Ring Figure and Family Weekend. He’d offer little digs about the cadets having to shine their shoes and roll up their hay, but always included a sincere reminder that the experiences they are going through now are forming the precious memories that they will one day call “the good ole days.” But he’d always close the emails with his tagline, “YOU GOTTA LOVE A PARADE.”
Lt. Matthew Frazier ’23 who majored in civil engineering credits Riester for his decision to attend VMI. “When I came to an admissions open house as a high school student, he was the most fun and entertaining professor I ever imagined, and I wanted to come to VMI just in hopes of having a class with him. He was unlike anyone else, and his unique style always made me excited for class, which is not an easy feat,” said Frazier.
Dr. Melissa Krawiec ’01, Institute physician, has known Riester since she was a cadet. “He is as hilarious as he is warmhearted. He cares deeply about the cadets and their success. Riester is as authentic as a human can be, and he leads with all his heart. He has blessed countless generations of cadets with that positivity without compromising the VMI experience,” she said.
Krawiec’s roommate at VMI, Kelly Sullivan ’01, who majored in mechanical engineering recalls a funny account about Riester. “One story that circled the halls of Nichols Engineering Building was that he would take a stack of fluids engineering textbooks, throw them down the stairwell and take questions for the final exam from the pages that were open when the books landed. That was more than a little intimidating to cadets getting ready to take his classes,” she said. Sullivan also shared Riester’s tender side stating that he loved VMI, was a phenomenal teacher and mentor, and wanted all his students to be successful.
Johnny Partin ’14, current mayor of Hopewell, Virginia, who wrote the forward to Riester’s book shared, “My brother rats and I often joked that he was the best salesman and recruiter for the CEE program. I learned a tremendous amount from him. He was by far one of my favorite professors and over the years he continued to serve as a wonderful mentor, and we have become even better friends.”
Asked what he will miss most about VMI, Riester replied, “The cadets. They fed me energy. As soon as I walk into class, it was like a switch turning on. The year COVID-19 hit, the cadets didn’t come back from spring break, and about two weeks into it, I found myself exhausted and thought I was sick. My assistant reminded me I wasn’t getting any energy from the kids, and she was right. That’s why I plan to continue to teach in my retirement, to get my energy. I’ll miss the faculty as well. I’ll miss STP - the energy the kids give off, and me running my mouth and harassing them.”
Riester will teach in his retirement as an adjunct professor in civil engineering at Lehigh University in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. His wife Denise is a retired high school teacher who taught for 37 years. They have two bluetick coonhounds, Blue and Rae. His retirement begins August 1, but will be back on post in the fall when he returns for all the VMI home football games to continue his work with the chain gang.
Communications & Marketing
VIRGINIA MILITARY INSTITUTE