Obituary: Arnold Wilson, 1933–2023

Dr. Arnold Wilson.

Dr. Arnold Wilson, 1933–2023

Wilson Family

We are sad to report the passing of Dr. Arnold Wilson—husband, father, professor, engineer, and Monolithic Dome pioneer. He married his high school sweetheart, Joyce, and together they raised ten children. He taught engineering at Brigham Young University (BYU) for 40 years. He was instrumental in the engineering of hundreds of Monolithic Domes.

Wilson became fascinated by thin-shell structures in college when his friend and mentor, Professor Harry Hodson, gave him articles on the subject. Wilson would write his master’s thesis on thin-shell design, and he assisted Hodson in engineering a giant earth-formed concrete thin shell in Provo, Utah.

Earth excavated from another large building project at BYU was transported to the job site and carefully formed into a 240′ long, 160′ wide, by 40′ high dome-shaped mound. Construction crews tied a rebar framework and poured concrete over the hill. After it cured, they excavated the material from underneath the new shell—a triaxial elliptical concrete thin-shell dome.

The new structure was test-loaded with 188,000 pounds of concrete block and only deflected about a meager inch and one-quarter in height—an astounding result. Wilson was hooked on thin-shell design.

The finished shell opened in 1963 as the Winter Garden Ice Rink.

Wilson's First Dome.

Wilson’s first thin-shell concrete dome was this triaxial ellipsoid constructed in 1963 in Provo, Utah.

Submitted Media

In 1976, Barry and David introduced Arnold to the Monolithic Dome. At the time, Wilson had developed and patented a dome-forming system that used an umbrella-like system to create the shape. It is a testament to his humble character that he set aside his patent in favor of working with air-forming techniques developed by the Souths. It was decades before he told anyone about the prior patent.

He formed a tight bond with David, Barry, and Randy South. He also mentored new thin-shell engineers. Wilson was a key player—equal to the South brothers—in the early days of the industry. He literally wrote the book about Monolithic Dome engineering: Practical Design of Concrete Shells.

We at Monolithic are grateful to have known Arnold Wilson and his family. He graced our lives with his soft-spoken, authoritative presence. We will miss him, and we will always be grateful we knew him.

Official Obituary

Arnold Wilson was born February 1, 1933, in Payson, Utah, to Robert L. Wilson and Luella Althea Tippetts. On September 2, 1952, he and his high school sweetheart, Joyce Hutchings, rode his Harley Davidson motorcycle to the Manti Utah Temple where they were married and sealed for time and all eternity. They recently celebrated their 71st anniversary together.

Arnold grew up in Springville, Utah and graduated from Springville High School in 1951. After graduation, he attended Brigham Young University (BYU) where he received a Bachelor of Engineering Science degree. Upon completion, he was hired as a professor in the Department of Civil Engineering. He continued his education and received both a master’s degree from BYU and a doctoral degree from Oklahoma State University in civil engineering. During his 40-year teaching career at BYU, Arnold published extensively and received many awards, including Professor of the Year in 1980. He was well known for his research and experience with concrete thin shell structures and domes. Some of his most notable local projects were the Reams Turtle (which was originally an ice-skating rink), and the Marriott Center at BYU. He was instrumental in bringing affordable housing to the less fortunate people around the world. His engineering projects span 45 foreign countries and most of the United States.

As an active member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Arnold served faithfully throughout his life in many callings, including as bishop, high councilor, counselor in the MTC branch presidency, and scoutmaster. He knew that God lives and that Jesus Christ is his Savior. This knowledge provided a spiritual foundation that would guide him throughout his life. His Christ-like example inspired all that knew him. He was a man of integrity. He was a man of conviction. He was humble and kind. He was always positive and his smile radiated love. “It takes less muscles to smile than to frown,” he would say.

He was involved in the Boy Scouts for many years and was proud to be an Eagle Scout. He loved taking the young men on their 50-mile hike in the High Uintas. He was honored to receive the Silver Beaver award for his exceptional character and dedicated service. He loved his country and he tried to live the Scout Oath every day of his life.

Arnold was always up for an adventure. As a teenager, he learned to fly airplanes and race stock cars along with his dad and brothers. While attending BYU he began wrestling and later started and coached the Springville High School wrestling team. He liked to stay busy. Hiking, fishing, horseback riding, skiing, traveling, farming, and reading were just a few of his diverse interests. Arnold and Joyce loved the outdoors. They rarely missed their yearly trip to Yellowstone. Family camping trips were a favorite pastime, and “Ghost Riders in the Sky” sung by Arnold became a legendary campfire song. He taught his family to work and play hard and instilled his love of adventure in his children. Arnold would often say while referring to his family, “I’m the richest man on earth…”

Arnold is survived by his wife, Joyce, and his ten children: Dennis (Pam) Wilson of Sandy, Utah; Sharon (Randy) Hansen of Lindon, Utah; Diana (Brian) Eastman of Mapleton, Utah; Kerry (Linda) Wilson of Payson, Utah; Craig (Susan) Wilson, currently serving a mission in Anaheim, California; Christine (Eric) Weight of Salem, Utah; Kendall Wilson of Mapleton, Utah; Mark (Renae) Wilson of Elkridge, Utah; Annette (Rick) Darling of Lake Point, Utah; Michael (Susan) Wilson of Salem, Utah; 60 grandchildren; 133+ great-grandchildren; and 2 great-great grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother Keith (Leslie) Wilson, Hurricane, Utah and preceded in death by his parents Robert L. & Luella Wilson, siblings Wilbur Wilson, Arlea Nimer Tolboe, and Gene Wilson, as well as 3 grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held Thursday, October 12, 2023, at 11:00 am at the Mapleton White Church at 31 West Maple Street, Mapleton, Utah. A viewing for friends and family will be held Wednesday evening from 6:00 – 8:00 pm at Wheeler Mortuary located at 211 East 200 South in Springville, and on Thursday just prior to the service from 9:30 to 10:30 am at the church. Burial will be in the Springville Evergreen Cemetery.