NEWS | May 28, 2021

NSWC Dahlgren Division Engineer Honored for Leading Church Construction, Decades of Community Service

By NSWCDD Corporate Communications

Fairview Baptist Church leaders knew they needed someone special to lead and manage construction of a building that eventually became home to a new congregation.

Once church leadership decided to build a new facility on land donated by a local developer, a steering committee convened and surprisingly – but prayerfully – selected a Navy civilian engineer with no prior experience in construction management.

Victor ‘Russell’ Wiss – a senior sensor systems propagation engineer at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) – proved to be the perfect choice as a program manager responsible for the construction of a 39,000 square foot building.

Wiss accepted the challenge, voluntarily leading all aspects of the church’s design and construction – working about 20 hours a week for more than four years – until the church was launched, opening its doors to congregants and visitors in 2008.

Initially called Fairview at River Club, the ‘church plant’ sponsored by Fairview Baptist is known today as River Club Church, and averages 500 people attending Sunday morning worship services described as contemporary in style.

NSWCDD leadership honored Wiss at its annual honor awards ceremony with a Distinguished Community Service Award for his church and secular community service over the course of the last 20 years. He was recognized for myriad ministry and leadership contributions positively impacting his church and the community. To name a few, the nomination cited his work with youth group mission projects, his role as a middle school science fair judge, his efforts in distributing food to families with children in local elementary schools and service as technical lead for sound reinforcement in support of the Fredericksburg Area Revival Services.

The award’s nomination also detailed how Wiss successfully directed and managed the River Club Church project while working fulltime at NSWCDD where he led the Propagation Measurements Analysis Group’s sensor and environmental analysis efforts that include research, development, testing and evaluation.

What’s more, the award nomination emphasized that his experience at NSWCDD as an engineer coupled with skills he picked up in the country music business were crucial to his success in building the River Club Church.

“Mr. Wiss effectively led his church to successful construction of a multipurpose building using the engineering skillsets he developed as part of his official duties at Dahlgren, and also by using skillsets he acquired from previous employment (1970-80s) at the Grand Ole Opry and The Nashville Network television studio where he studied practical audio and video engineering,” the award nomination stated. “His interests in architecture and counseling were influenced by his great uncle who taught architecture at the Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University in the 1960s through the 1990s.”

The NSWCDD engineer credited his construction achievement to the project management team he led at the River Club Church. “It wasn’t a one person job,” said Wiss, who oversaw a $5 million budget along with the project’s legal and informational requirements. “It took a team of people but I did have the opportunity to use the skill sets I possessed in almost all of the required areas.”

Wiss also credited his colleagues and opportunities at NSWCDD where he learned a systems engineering approach to managing projects in addition to the training, skills and experience related to mechanical engineering and manufacturing that he picked up while working on Navy technical programs. 

“I’ve had the opportunity to be exposed to an excellent mechanical engineer, Charles Traylor, as we’ve worked through various projects in my career at Dahlgren,” said Wiss who holds a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Tennessee Tech. “My exposure to other engineering disciplines and gaining that knowledge while working with a team was incredibly important. My work with mechanical engineers gave me the experience and essential understanding about various kinds of materials. I saw how components are built at the machine shop. Exposure to other electrical engineers gave me the knowledge, skills and experience in power distribution and radio frequency engineering. The experience in solving problems by employing or developing subsystems of components – using components in concert with each other to solve problems by developing systems – were all crucial to building the church.”

Wiss – emphasizing that he puts God first in his life, followed by family, then career and “everything else in life” – credits divine providence with his capability to achieve success in ministry and community service efforts, including the construction project. 

“God blessed and prepared me to do that job,” said Wiss, recounting how he learned about architecture while growing up and considered pursuing a degree in architecture. “I was blessed to make use of all the studies in architecture that I had done – not formal studies but informal studies based on what my uncle had taught me, and my own interests.”

Wiss believes that the choices and priorities that anyone – including himself – makes in his or her career and personal life affects one’s ability to achieve success in a variety of endeavors.

“Every day brings its own challenge but it also brings its own experience and I think it’s very important to consume those experiences and grow from the experiences you have,” he said. “It’s important to place yourself in situations where those experiences can occur and through participation – you will grow.”

He reflected upon the many opportunities one has in life and how important it is to take advantage of those opportunities – to participate and engage, even when it’s not required. 

“I did not necessarily have to visit the machine shop or pay attention to what the mechanical engineers were doing since those assignments were given to them,” said Wiss. “However, I had an interest in knowing what they were doing and tried to learn from it. Those varied interests allowed me to be broad enough to serve in a role like this (construction management) and that’s what I think is very important – to be broad in the life you lead and that will allow you to effectively minister to those you come in contact with.”

The Distinguished Community Service award’s nomination and citation makes it clear that Wiss follows his own advice. For example, the citation states that he worked with a local association of churches to make worship opportunities available to the public.  

“In order to be an effective Christian after you’ve made that commitment – service is a great way to minister to others and so that’s why I do that,” said Wiss.  

Furthermore, the citation lauded his participation in activities that fulfill community needs, including his efforts to educate and mentor students involved in science, technology, engineering and mathematics programs. “He values good citizenship, and works to mentor others both at work and in the community,” it concluded.