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Saturday, June 10, 2023

Sustaining UF professor Charles Kibert’s legacy

Kibert died Jan. 25 at the age of 73 after a car accident on West University Avenue.

Photo of Charles Kibert [Courtesy of Patricia Kibert]
Photo of Charles Kibert [Courtesy of Patricia Kibert]

Charles Kibert was always in command of his classroom. 

He had a military background that reflected in his teaching style. As someone who was always punctual and focused, he expected students to have their thoughts organized when they came to talk to him. 

“He was always the smartest person in the room,” Kevin Bennett, one of Kibert’s graduate students in 2010, said.

Kibert, a UF construction management professor who worked at the university for 31 years, died Jan. 25 after a car crash on West University Avenue. He was 73. 

Kibert was a Holland professor in the M.E. Rinker Sr. School of Construction Management and the director of the Powell Center for Construction and Environment. 

Holland professors are named and chosen within the School of Construction Management; most faculty who receive the title are long-standing members of the school and professors marked highly in their evaluations by the Rinker School Director. 

Kibert was born in Pennsylvania as the oldest of six children. At 4 years old, he began to live at Our Lady of Fatima Institute, an orphanage in Elmhurst, Pennsylvania. After graduating from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1969, he was commissioned as an infantry second lieutenant in the U.S. Army. He served in the Vietnam War first as an airborne ranger, then in the U.S. Army Reserves as a special forces officer before retiring as a colonel. 

Robert Cox, the current Rinker School director, said Kibert could change the energy of a room simply by walking into it. Once, when he and Kibert taught a professional development seminar together, the premise was a simulated Department of Defense project. The colleagues wanted to inspire the crowd before the seminar, so Kibert put his uniform to use once more. 

“Charles shows up at the first meeting with these people in his colonel uniform, and he talks to the group, gives them the charge,” Cox said. “You could’ve heard the national anthem in the background once he came in.” 

Cox recalled Kiberts’ closing line at the seminar: “I think he told everybody his helicopter was waiting.”

Kibert was not only a mentor but a big brother to him, Cox said from Kibert’s old office. Cox’s own office was next door at the time. 

“You know that it's someone you’ll never ever replace, but we have to do the best we can to pick up and carry his flag forward,” Cox said.

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Kibert aided in the design and construction of Rinker Hall, the first green building at UF, which promotes sustainability by efficiently using and reusing resources. Rinker became the university’s benchmark for nearly 80 other sustainable buildings now on campus, Cox said. 

The building incorporates environmentally sustainable features such as rainwater harvesting, insulated glass, recycled and reused materials and reclaimed water for irrigation. These features led Rinker Hall to be the first LEED Gold certified building in Florida, a title bestowed by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program for buildings that meet a high level of sustainability requirements.

“He was sustainable when sustainable wasn’t necessarily the cool thing,” Cox said. “He started as a pioneer, and now he’s the world-renowned expert.”

Since 2006, Kibert was a leader at the Green Building Initiative where he was dedicated to the nonprofit’s mission to reduce the impacts of climate change, said Vicki Worden, GBI president and CEO. Kibert worked as a leader and assessor for GBI, a role that allowed him to visit project sites in person and help the team create a more sustainable design and construction approach. In December 2020, Kibert was elected chair of the GBI Board of Directors. 

GBI will be meeting later this week to discuss a tribute to Dr. Kibert, which will take place at the end of February, Worden said.

Mark Russell sought Kibert out because of his position as the leader of UF’s sustainability program. 

During their first meeting, the two realized they had lived in adjacent towns outside of Frankfurt, Germany. 

“It was one of those meetings where things just clicked,” Russell said. 

He started working on his doctorate at UF with Kibert as his advisor, and Kibert eventually offered Russell a job at the university. From there, the two became good friends and travel partners.

Once, they visited Steinhatchee, Florida, and surprised German tourists by striking up a conversation in their native tongue. 

“You could see the look on the German tourists’ eyes,” Russell said with a laugh.“We’re in this remote little portion of Florida, and all of a sudden you run into a couple of locals that can speak German.”

The story reflected Kibert’s presence — friendly, compassionate, brilliant, he said.

“I think that’s one of the things that's hard about him being gone, is missing that warmth that he provides,” Russell said.

Contact Sofia Echeverry at secheverry@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @sofecheverry.

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Sofia Echeverry

Sofia is a news assistant on The Alligator's university desk. This is her second semester at paper, where she previously worked as a translator for El Caimán. 


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