Fall 2005

The Electrical Engineer That Could

Malachi Owens, B.S.E.E. ’73

It is often said that people should single out one area to focus on in their career and devote themselves fully to it in order to excel. Malachi Owens, B.S.E.E. ’73, is a major exception to that rule. Having excelled in numerous occupations, ranging from engineer to musician to minister, Owens has a remarkable gift for multitasking. “I’ve been given that gift,” he acknowledges. And although retired, he continues full-steam ahead with his life’s many endeavors.

There is the electrical engineer. Owens’ specialty is in substation design and implementation, and he has developed mobile substation technology to replace, within hours, a failed transformer or substation when needed. After nearly 29 years, he retired in 2003 from Union Electric (now Ameren UE), and he currently serves as a senior project engineer with Advantage Engineering, a small consulting firm in Chesterfield, Missouri. (He acknowledges two former professors, Robert O. Gregory and Marvin J. Fisher, for their assistance in helping him realize his dream of becoming an electrical engineer.)

There is the musician. Owens has been singing in choruses around St. Louis since he was 15. He fondly remembers singing with the chorus that performed the first national anthem for Busch Stadium’s opening in 1966. “I was on a float in the parade for the opening, and then we sang out at second base for the first baseball game,” recalls Owens.

In 1976, he became a charter member of the Saint Louis Symphony Chorus, occasionally performing solo with the symphony. His work with the symphony has included trips to Carnegie Hall and performances of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Brahms’ Requiem, and Handel’s Messiah.

In 1977, he was asked to become a cantor at Temple Emmanuel during the Jewish calendar’s High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur). Though he is not Jewish, Owens has continued to study and perform as cantor to the present day.

There is the minister. In 1998, Owens was called into the ministry and became associate minister at Galilee Baptist Church, where he has been a member for 48 years. At Galilee, he serves as chair of the trustee board and director of the men’s choir. “It was my speaking voice, ability to work with people, and active involvement in the church that led me in this direction,” he says.

There is the artist. Twenty years ago, Owens watched someone make a stained-glass window, which kindled his own interest in learning the art form. After his retirement, he took classes in it and has since completed stained-glass windows for his home, restoration work on a window for a 1917 St. Louis home, and original designs for clients.

And then there is the railroad engineer. Owens’ love of steam engine trains is reflected in his work as a Saint Louis Zoo railroad engineer. In the early ’60s, upon the inception of the zoo train, he knew he wanted to become an engineer there. Within days after his retirement from Union Electric, he was sitting on the engine, training for the job. He most enjoys the reaction of the kids—“big kids and little kids”—to the zoo train. “Everyone thinks the job is really special,” Owens says. “It seems like a special club.”

Owens also belongs to Wabash, Frisco, and Pacific, a live steam railroad club stationed in Glencoe, Missouri, that owns a mile-long track. There, he often spends Sunday afternoons, from May to October, carrying passengers along the Meramec River. “We have 10 live steam locomotives that burn coal and oil just like the big ones used to. We carry about 15,000 to 16,000 passengers over a 26-week period,” he says.

Owens has the unique ability to bring his passions to life and to pursue them to the fullest. But on a breezy summer afternoon, when glancing up from an ice cream cone and enjoying a pleasant day at the Saint Louis Zoo, the simplicity of Owens’ warm smile is equally inspiring.

—Ryan Rhea, A.B. ’96, M.A. ’01