In 1974, the late Robert L. "Bob" Mendenhall’s fledgling pavement company made history by renovating a one-mile stretch of interstate highway with recycled asphalt. The process – which Mendenhall himself created by experimenting with hot pavement recycling – forever changed the industry, and set Mendenhall on the path to international renown. He acquired more than 50 U.S. patents, was inducted into the Nevada Inventors Hall of Fame, and turned his business, Las Vegas Paving Corp., into an industry powerhouse.
At UNLV, he was known for more than his ingenuity and business acumen — he was also a prolific philanthropist. With his support, UNLV was able to build expand facilities and programs for both academic and athletic programs.
The Mendenhall Center basketball training facility, standing between Thomas & Mack and Cox Pavilion, is a 35,000-square-foot, three-level facility includes two full-size basketball courts, 12 baskets, state-of-the-art locker rooms, strength and conditioning rooms, an academic room, and a media room with luxury seating. When it was completed in 2012, it became an instant showcase for recruiting athletes. The facility was funded through private support, led by the Mendenhall family.
In the Howard R. Hughes College of Engineering, the Mendenhall Innovation Program and the Mendenhall Innovation & Design Laboratory connects the classroom-based training of undergraduates with the hardware-creation and problem-solving activity required of them on the job.
“[Mendenhall] was instrumental in pushing hands-on, project-based experience from the senior level into the freshman level,” said Dean Rama Venkat. “Our students think big and build big because of the facilities afforded to them through the Mendenhall Innovation and Design Program.”
Born in Canada, Mendenhall moved to Springville, Utah, with his family when he was eight years old. Fascinated by all things mechanical, he spent much of his spare time taking machines and toys apart to see how they worked. His grandfather, G.W. Mendenhall, owned a construction company, and Mendenhall began working as a water boy for the family business. and grew up constructing fences and nailing barbed wire to posts.
After the start of World War II, he worked for his grandfather at Utah’s Tooele Ordnance Depot, an installation used to store ammunition and other war supplies. He graduated high school in 1947 and continued gaining knowledge of the construction industry by working for his father, W.D. Mendenhall, at his company, Deal Mendenhall Construction Co. After that, it was on to Vernal, Utah, where he worked as both a timekeeper and on a Cat DW-10 scraper building roads for the state.
In June 1948, he married Paula Clements and the couple moved to Las Vegas in January 1954. In October 1958, Mendenhall established Las Vegas Paving Corp. and became a contractor in both Arizona and Nevada.
Mendenhall held many distinctive titles in Southern Nevada, including president of the Southern Nevada General Contractor’s Association and president of the Southern Nevada Chapter of Associated General Contractors. In 1969, he was commissioned by Nevada Gov. Paul Laxalt to serve a four-year term on the Nevada State Contractor’s Board and was recommissioned to that post by Nevada Gov. Mike O’Callaghan.
Additionally, “The Grandfather of Asphalt Recycling” received an honorary Doctorate of Law from UNLV in 2006, and was a member of the Palladium Diamond Society for UNLV philanthropists who have given the university $10 million or more. He was inducted into the Nevada Business Hall of Fame by the UNLV Lee Business School in 2015 and into the inaugural class of the College of Engineering’s Academy of Engineering society for distinguished educators, alumni, and industry friends in 2017.
He died at age 90 on June 2, 2018.
“Bob was a prolific innovator, incredible entrepreneur, and generous philanthropist, yet still very humble,” said Venkat. “He was a great role model for innovators, entrepreneurs, and especially for our UNLV engineering students, staff and faculty. His dedication and support will continue, to transform hundreds of students' lives every year by providing them the access and opportunity for true hands-on learning, designing, and creating.”