Professor Cliff Tanzler

Sharon and Cliff Tanzler and their daughters (l-r) Jessica, 10, Stacy, 12, and Julia, 14, celebrate a family reunion in Wildwood Crest, N.J., August 2011.


Cliff Tanzler was teaching engineering long before he came to Lehigh. To the natural-born mentor and problem-solver, life was a series of teachable moments and everyone around him was a prospective student.

His wife Sharon fondly remembers her own introduction to engineering, lessons learned as they built their own log cabin home and later on, a retail business. "Concrete comes in a truck, cement comes in a bag. Dirt is soil in an unwanted place. And most importantly... measure twice, cut once."


Early on it was clear that the clever young man from Maple Shade, N.J. was hardwired for a career in engineering. The son of a pattern-maker, Cliff had precocious gifts for mathematics and for puzzling things out. Never one to settle for less than his best effort, the future construction manager's first tree house featured a masonry fireplace and windows.

Cliff tackled projects fearlessly, trusting his wits to guide him. Nothing barred his progress for long. If a problem arose, he'd figure out a way to "Rube it" or "MacGyver it," as he liked to say. Sharon recalls a missing turkey baster that wound up in Cliff's garage toolbox, never to see the kitchen again. He had used it to change the oil in their uncooperative first minivan.

When the resourceful father of Julia, Stacy and Jessica tired of recharging their motorized BarbieĀ® cars, he outfitted them with solar panels. A solar panel on the family camper soon followed. In 2007 Cliff oversaw the installation of a 10,000-watt solar panel system on the roof of his church. He recycled, reused and regenerated whenever he could, ever mindful of how his decisions impacted his family, community, and the earth.

Cliff believed that everything had a higher purpose. In his career, it was teaching. His ultimate goal was to "retire" to teaching at Lehigh and sail the Carribean on his catamaran during spring and summer breaks.


Cliff was one of the 10 percent of students from his 1979 graduating class who went on to higher education. He enrolled in nearby Drexel University, from which he would earn a BSCE with high honors while working as a musician and a teaching assistant. The experience instilled in Cliff both the value of hard work and the satisfaction that comes from helping students succeed at their studies.


The former TA would go on to his own success in the corporate world of engineering, one filled with Fortune 500 companies, impressive projects and important titles. Twenty years later, he'd reprioritize it all for more family time, his own business, and the chance to teach construction management and economics at Lehigh.

Professor Tanzler's classes were inspired studies in practical, real-life projects. He worked hard to prepare his students for the real world of work and used his connections to secure internships and noteworthy guest speakers. His help was anyone's for the asking, and for the many students who asked, he found the time.

Ever the master scheduler, Cliff could work, teach, commute across four state lines, and still be home in time for dinner. He also coached his three daughters' soccer and softball teams and rarely missed attending his oldest daughter's high school basketball games. Organized and efficient, he lived life as if he knew there wasn't a moment to spare.