Thornton Tomasetti’s longest working employee, Anna Liberman (third from left), joined Cohen-Barreto-Marchertas (CBM), the firm’s predecessor in Chicago, in March 1966. The building information modeler retired at the end of March after more than 50 years. With Anna are former president Bob DeScenza (right), Vice President Don Hamlin, retired engineer Betty Gornik and Bob’s wife Margy DeScenza. Photo by Adam Panek.
One would have to fill a room with skilled drafters to reach Chicago Building Information Modeler Anna Liberman’s level of expertise. Anna has the distinction of having worked at the firm longer than anyone else. After more than a half-century, and hundreds of thousands of column connections, foundation/grid plans, caisson layouts and revision clouds drawn, she retired at the end of March.
“For more than 50 years, our projects have benefitted from Anna’s diligence and expertise,” Principal and Chicago Office Director David Weihing said. “She has had a passion for work and always produced drawings of the highest quality. She would not accept anything but the best from herself and others around her. During the 20 years that we have worked together, Anna has, with kindness, corrected and improved my markups countless of times. It has been a true pleasure to work with Anna, and I wish her the best in her retirement.”
Anna was fresh off the boat, literally, when she joined Cohen-Barreto-Marchertas (CBM), Thornton Tomasetti’s predecessor in Chicago, in March 1966, one month after arriving in New York from France on the Queen Mary ocean liner. The 19-year-old, who had studied civil engineering in her native Poland, came to CBM through an employment agency. Although she had learned some English in high school, she didn’t have much opportunity to speak it before coming to the U.S. Luckily, she found a compatriot in Betty Gornik, an engineer who emigrated from Poland a few years before.
“When Anna arrived, she did not know English very well, so I translated for her,” Betty said. “She was very gifted and progressed quickly in CAD and in everything else; she was a perfectionist. In addition to being colleagues, we also became good friends.”
At a CBM work event, from left, Eli Cohen, Miro Sulc, Renato Barreto, Anna, Roman Sipiora, Betty Gornik and Don Hamlin.
Over the course of her long career, Anna has seen her profession evolve from wooden to plastic pencils to ink pens and finally take the big leap to computers. “Seeing all of the technological developments over the years has been very interesting,” she said. One thing that remained constant, however, was her thoroughness and attention to detail.
“I have worked with Anna almost continuously since I started at CBM in February 1988,” Vice President Don Hamlin said. “That’s hundreds of deadlines, always completed on time, and thousands of great-looking sheets of drawings.” When Don started, most of the work was still done with pen on Mylar. “Anna, with her precise lettering, was an artist in that medium,” he said. “When AutoCAD gradually took over, her drawings again stood out visually, and as Revit became the standard, she was up for the challenge and quickly learned it.”
Scanning the Chicago skyline, it’s hard to spot a building that Anna has not worked on. She has left her mark on countless of the city’s residential and commercial high rises, cultural and university buildings as well as many of the cooling towers that CBM was designing across the U.S. in the 1970s.
“I have enjoyed working on each project and putting my full effort into every one,” Anna said. “I’m proud that I have contributed to the development of so many buildings in Chicago and in the region.”
So how does it feel to be retiring? “I will miss the people, the camaraderie, and, of course, working on the projects,” she said. “I want to thank everyone I have worked with over the years, and for the opportunity to work on so many projects.”
Currently, Anna’s retirement to-do list is pretty straightforward. The first order of business is to relax. She then plans to spend time with friends in Arizona, New York, New Jersey as well as is in Toronto, Canada and Europe. “I would also like to travel to other parts of the world and visit places that I have not been to yet,” she said.
As she prepares to update her final titleblock and creates the last PDF check set of her long and astonishing career, her colleagues share their experiences working with Anna and wish her well in her retirement.
Jonathan Block, assistant director of information technology: I had the pleasure of working with, or at least near, Anna from the start of my career. The recently merged Thornton Tomasetti-CBM was in the early stages of computer-based drafting, and she and two fellow drafters spent much of their time in a room dedicated to the nascent personal computer network. I believe at the time they were still doing about half of their drafting with pen on Mylar, with computer details printed on stickyback transparent paper and pasted into appropriate blank spots on the Mylars. As a new engineer, I was at a desk (well, a large drafting table serving as a desk) just outside the CAD room, and had many opportunities to work with Anna before I moved full time into IT. She was very good at translating my poor-quality markups into clear, professional drawings, and she was always willing to teach me how to improve my markup technique. Even after I stopped working in engineering, it remained clear how much she cared about the quality of her work, and the style and clarity of the drawings that went out to our clients. Anna has been a solid, steady presence at Thornton Tomasetti for my entire career at the firm, and it was bittersweet to learn that she’s retiring. I hope she enjoys an active and exciting retirement, and that she knows how much her colleagues have appreciated her presence and will miss her when she leaves.
Don Hamlin, vice president: Throughout all of the many projects that we have worked on, Anna was always very thoughtful about her work and knew when to speak up about something that didn’t make sense. She literally caught hundreds of errors on my drawing mark-ups over the years. She was always easy to work with, would volunteer to put in extra hours when needed for a deadline and had a great attitude regardless of the amount of pressure we were under. She has been a major team member on each of my projects and has made my life much, much easier every day. I will greatly miss working with her, but am very happy that she is able to take it easy and enjoy her retirement.
Betty Gornik (Elizabeth Gornikiewicz), project engineer (retired): We were working at 5 N. Wabash at what was, back then, a small company when we received Anna 51 years ago. She did not know English very well, and I was her interpreter. We were drawing on paper, because there were no computers; and we counted on slide rules, because there were no calculators. Later on, Anna mastered computer drafting very quickly. She was, and still is, a very good drafter who has worked successfully for many different engineers in the office. We are connected by language as well as by the shared experience of having our daughters just two months apart, and in the same hospital. Anna, I wish you a good retirement. Rest, get enough sleep, but stay active. Take care of the grandchildren; they do not let you get old. All the best.
Rachel Jackson, associate: I began working with Anna on Queen City Square Tower in 2007 when I first started at Thornton Tomasetti. In the last 10 years she’s been our drafter/modeler for many large projects as well as numerous small jobs interspersed in between. She’s taught me all of the Revit tricks I know, since I learned to draft in the days of CAD. Of the modelers I’ve worked with, she’s the most collaborative and is always alerting me when something I’ve drawn isn’t working out dimensionally or is in conflict with another structural member. She has an incredible eye for the layout of the drawing set and is the best for bouncing ideas off of when we want to add unusual information to the drawings or an atypical detail or section. I’m sad that our collaboration will be ending soon, but am glad she will be able to enjoy some much-deserved time off.
William Bast, principal: Anna drew a rebar layout for me back in 1998 on the Peninsula Hotel project in Chicago. It was one of several sheets. I had done reinforcing drawings before at SOM, and instead of using arrows for two-way rebar layouts as standard practice, I drew this up by hand as I designed them, and Anna drafted them. She was always very meticulous, and I found only one or two errors in the whole set of drawings!
Jose Medero, associate principal: It truly has been a pleasure working with Anna over many, many years and on many different projects, from small to large and complex. It was always good to get her questions and comments (except on deadline day) about consistency between details and plans and about the layout and look of the drawings. It showed her thoroughness and care for the quality of the drawings. Quality, consistency, and accuracy have been a staple of her work, and her team-player attitude has been instrumental. The way she has adapted to new technologies and evolving work practices throughout her long career is an example and inspiration to us all. It was always nice to share on a personal level and catch up with her about the family, kids and grandkids. I will not miss the ever-present heater blowing hot air at our faces, but I will remember her fondly and with appreciation, especially every time I refer back to the project drawings that she did. Thank you and best wishes to you, Anna.
Christopher Bartoszek, senior manager of information technology: Being one of the few Polish people in the office, I used to keep some of the old country traditions with Anna. One that comes to mind is “Smigus Dyngus.” I didn’t use a bucket, but she still got wet. Roman Sipiora (CBM-Thornton Tomasetti draftsperson) and Betty were also drenched in the festivity. Wszystkiego Najlepszego w przyszlosci
Thomas Poulos, senior principal: Anna, we will miss the artistry and diligence you displayed in preparing some of the best sets of drawings ever produced out of this office. You have always taken deep pride in your work, which we applauded. We hate to see you leave. Enjoy your retirement. I wish you the best!
Suzanne Provanzana, senior associate: Anna has been the best drafter/teacher I’ve worked with at Thornton Tomasetti. All of my best drawing sets have been done with her help. I’ve always enjoyed working with her and will miss her. Anna may not remember this, but on my first day of work at the firm as an intern in 5 N. Wabash, Anna accompanied me on the Brown Line to the Fullerton El stop so I could find my way home. That was early June 1998. I was new to Chicago, and had no clue how to navigate the city. It was a kind gesture that I never forgot.
Frank Hashimoto, associate: It has been a pleasure to work with Anna over the past few years. Her work has been thorough and she is a great collaborator with the engineers that she works with. Her ability to remain proficient switching from hand drafting to computer drafting to computer modeling speaks to her character. Her attention to detail and years of experience will be greatly missed by the BIM studio and the office.
Marco Aranda, master modeler: With Anna Liberman retiring, these are a few things that will be missed. Her calming presence during deadlines. Her sharpness when it comes to documentation. Winning the Super Bowl pool once every three years. Her small loans I paid back; she refused interest. Her willingness to share and listen. Her joy and excitement the day after attending “Hamilton,” which got me amped up. Thanks, Anna, for all these years. Enjoy retirement.
Jerome Tobolski, project engineer: As a young engineer doing one of my first markups, I had no idea what I was doing. I’m grateful to Anna for kindly setting me straight when I tried to label something with the letter I instead of J to avoid confusion. I will never make that mistake again. Enjoy retirement!
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