Billie's Corner

Welcome to Billie's Corner!

 “There are other things in life besides concrete ... but my husband doesn't believe that.” - Billie Snell

Luke and Billie Snell have been instrumental in educating the concrete community and others about concrete and concrete technologies. Throughout the years, the Snell’s have lived across the nation and the world. Luke Snell, once a professor in the Construction Department at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville (SIUE) mentored students for nearly three decades. Throughout his career at SIUE (and even today), Luke and his wife Billie, have continued to educate people of all ages in concrete and concrete technologies.

 In the spirit of spreading concrete knowledge, Snell recently took on a new challenge – establishment of a Concrete Industry Management Program at Arizona State University. The CIM program at Arizona State University was eventually established with industry-wide support. This program is one of only four in the United States and is quickly gaining in national recognition for the quality of its graduates.

Snell has since moved his focus beyond the borders of the United States. With trips to places like Algeria and Mongolia, Snell has continued to educate people around the globe. Due to Snell’s continued passion for the concrete industry, he was recently honored to be selected by Concrete International as one of “The Ten Most Influential People in the Concrete Industry.”

The ACI-Missouri Chapter is proud to have had Luke and Billie Snell within its ranks and dedicates this page to spreading the word of Luke and Billie’s travels around the country and the globe.



As many are aware, Luke and Billie continually travel to distant locations spreading concrete knowledge and goodwill. This coming May, Luke and Billie will travel to Ethiopia. The following is a email received from Billie regarding their latest expedition.


"Luke and I leave for Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on May 3rd and do not return until May 26th - our longest trip so far.  Luke will be teaching at two different universities and Luke will also be doing research with a new metal locator with the graduate students.  We will be doing the Paper Bridge kits with them as well as teaching them to make lightweight pink concrete hearts.  The hearts are to be given to their wives, sisters, and mothers to encourage them and to teach them how to give themselves a breast exam. Breast Cancer is the second killer of Ethiopian women, so we feel it is up to us to help them, if we can." - Billie Snell


While Luke and Billie are travelling you'll be able to follow them on this site as they update their travelogue. Please check back often for new stories from Luke and Billie!!




To all of our friends and family:

When you receive this, Billie and I will be heading to Ethiopia for three (3) weeks, from May 3rd to May 26th.

To give you some details about the trip:

1. Billie and I worked with Ephraim Senbetta to start the Ethiopian ACI Chapter in December 2009.  Many of you supported this effort by helping to pay for ACI memberships, donating equipments, and books.

2. The ACI chapter has continued to be a strong chapter. One of their main efforts is to have a workshop each year, which is well attended.

3. Ephraim Senbetta won a Fulbright to teach at the Addis Ababa University and to help improve concrete technology in Ethiopia.  After his Fulbright was completed, he has decided to stay at the university and work with the students and to help the ACI chapter to remain a strong force for change. 

4. I was approached by Zircon Corporation to help them with evaluating a new piece of equipment.  This new equipment is a metal locator and should be able to locate reinforcements in concrete giving an accurate location and depth of the reinforcement in the concrete.  Zircon Corp. are makers of hand held equipment and most of us know them for their stud finders and metal locators.

5. In discussion with Zircon, I suggested that we do the research at the Arizona State University (where I use to teach) and at the Addis Ababa University. This will let them know:

a) how easy it is to use the equipment with students - those that do not have a lot of field experience;

b) that  the instructions are easy enough for students whose English is their second language;

c) how easy the equipment can be used by contractors and engineers where English is their second language; and

d) what is necessary for students in the USA and Ethiopia  as well as the contractors and engineers of Ethiopia to have the confidence that they can use the equipment successfully.

6. The management of Zircon liked this approach and is providing the major funding for this trip.  The editor of Concrete Construction (Bill Palmer) has expressed interest in this evaluation/research effort – hopefully, you will be able to read about it, after the trip.

7. Several other companies and organizations have donated equipment, computer programs, and books for the trip.  We would like to thank the American Concrete Institute, National Ready Mixed Concrete Association, Welded Wire Institute, Decorative Concrete, and Calculated Industries for providing support for this trip. 

8. We hope to do some other projects while there.  Billie and I hope to do the paper bridge competition.  The students build a paper bridge out of 3 -4x6inch index cards.  Their bridges are evaluated for strength and aesthetics.

9. One other project we hope to do with the university students is to have them make pink concrete hearts necklaces.  Breast cancer is the second major health issue for Ethiopian Women.  Note: the necklaces are made of lightweight concrete and are approximately 1 1/2 inches wide. The students will hopefully give these to the female members of their family along with an article on how to do a self-breast exam. Hopefully, this project will increase the social awareness of the students.

10. I will be teaching some graduate classes while there - not sure exactly what I will teach other than it will be concrete. 

11.  We will be going to a technical conference in Bahir Dar, Ethiopia.  I have a paper that will be published there plus I will be presenting the various donated tools to actually both universities.

 This gives you an overview of what and why we will be going to Ethiopia. One thing we have learned when doing projects overseas, those original plans you made will usually change.  So as you follow us on this trip, do not be surprised when things are different than our above plans.

 Billie will add some of her comments – hopefully, she will be able to go to some of the grade schools (I really prefer Junior High or High School but I’ll teach wherever they want me to) and work with the kids there.  She is a schoolteacher and can share with them some of the science/engineering projects she has developed.

Luke M. Snell


Hi folks, my turn to prepare you for our trip.  I try to share where we are going – as most of you already know wherever we go we do CONCRETE.  After all, that is what he was educated in!

First thing is the map of Ethiopia; which you can actually check one the following website.

Notice the locations of Sudan, South Sudan (yes, it’s different than Sudan), Somalia, and Kenya.  Eritrea was originally part of Ethiopia; you can check the following website for more information on why they separated.  It’s interesting and so very disappointing that 2 countries could not get along – but hey, that’s not really that unusual. But what am I saying, difficulties and differences between nations and individuals have been going on forever.

Addis Ababa is the capital of Ethiopia and it is at 7550feet high – which amazes me because it has affected my vertigo.  It probably wil again but this time I am taking my medications with me. Oh yes, the average temperatures range from 57F to 75F and they always have a chance of rain every single day. I am NOT complaining - hey, it isn't snowing there.

If you’ll look to the north of Addis Ababa, you’ll see Bahir Dar.  It is supposedly a tourist attraction – it is close to the Blue Nile River, the Blue Nile Falls, and Lake Tana.  Yes, we are to go there May 16th and work there as well at it’s university.  Bahir Dar is at 6040feet high and the average temperatures are 60F to 83F.  

Well, I have given you a brief education on where we’ll be but you have to know we’ll be in the USA (Washington, DC) until May 4th; yes, this is a layover.  Oh well, God’s is in control and we follow as He leads.  Keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Billie Snell


I am now going to take you all the way from Phoenix to Ethiopia – so hang on, it’s quite a ride.  To start out with, we were up at 5:15am on May 3rd (two days in a row are a wee bit much – we were exhausted).  We loaded all 4 of our large suitcases and two carry-ons – they were partly our clothes and toiletries but mostly tools and various items that the Ethiopians could use in their construction and for the engineering classes.  Luke is planning on doing some research within the universities.

We drove to Western Tech, Inc – this is where Luke wo0rks when he’s not traveling, and one of the guys who comes in early drove us to the airport.  The reason we do this is that the driver bring our car back to Western Tech and parks it inside a locked and guarded location.  We’ll take a cab back to the same place, get the car and go home.

Both Luke and I dozed off at least twice in the plane, which was taking us to Washington, DC.  Once there, we had to claim our luggage – and then catch the Airport Hilton Hotel shuttle.  Our hotel room was nice, comfortable and yes, we fell asleep with no problem.  We did have dinner prior to going to bed.   The hotel was located in a gorgeous location – tall trees with lots of leaves and buds, tulips and daffodils were in full bloom as were other flowers.

May 4th, 2013

Saturday morning, we arose around 7:15am – we had packed last night, so we were ready to catch the Hilton Shuttle but this time to the Ethiopian Airlines. We got to the airport around 8am and the line for the Ethiopian Airlines was very long.  We didn’t get our luggage checked or our tickets until around 9am.  That’s all right because we made it!

We had a brief breakfast, once we were situated and found our gate.  Our flight was to have originally left at 11:05am, then 11:45am, and then we all loaded up at 12:30pm and took off around 1pm.  We flew Ethiopian airlines.  

Both Luke and I had aisle seats and both of us took a couple of naps once we were situated.  We were surrounded by Christians – it was so awesome and such a wonderful feeling. 

It was a thirteen hour flight but I entertained myself by watching “Parental Guidance” starring Billy Crystal, Bette Midler, and Marisa Tomei; “The Jewel of the Nile” starring Michael Douglas, Danny Devito, and Kathleen Turner; and then I watched an old movie – “Love Me Tender” starring Richard Egan, Debra Paget, and Elvis Presley.  All the while I was crocheting (JoEllen Sprankle, I believe I have another shawl finished for you.  Also, Phyllis Lalley, I mailed my application for Mission U on Thursday morning.)

I’ll stop now and try to relax and also get ready for our plane breakfast (See little brother, kindly notice I never mentioned the food! Love ya!)

May 5th, 2013

We have arrived – yep, at 9:30am.  We went through one line and purchased our Visa ($20 each) and then through customs and finally waiting for quite a long time for our luggage – the first three came quickly but our biggest one was near the end of the line.  I also had to search for a cart to carry luggage – but we made it.  Our host wasn’t there to meet us because his family celebrated Easter breakfast together.  We were picked up around 10:15am and you should have seen us get the luggage in his little car.  We managed but I sat in the back with 3 of the suitcase seated next to me and Luke had one in front with him.  We checked into the same hotel we stayed at the last time we were here except this time we are on the first floor, not the third.  We’ve had lunch and I am going to quit for today – I’ll send this out tomorrow.  By the way, here on Easter Sunday is a legal holiday and so is Monday after Easter.  So long until tomorrow.



May 6, 2013

Boy, were we exhausted when we went to our room, after eating our supper at 6pm.  We attempted to watch TV – CNN and/or BBC.  Boring and repetitive!  Then we attempted to read and work on our diaries – my writing began to become scribble and made no sense to me.  We fought going to bed early but couldn’t help it.  At 8:15pm, we finally gave up; we did our dental hygiene and then crawled into a very firm bed – even more than ours at home.  My back was killing me when I got up – I was in pain.  (And,  no, Phyllis L. I did not sleep on my back – I slept on my left and right side, not my back).

I couldn’t believe it – I slept for 12 hours and 15minutes – Luke did not.  He never could sleep long and especially when he was concerned over this trip (I will be sharing his comments shortly – it explains quite a bit.)  We dressed, started to head downstairs for breakfast when we discovered that our closet pole fell down and we had to pick up our clothes.  Nothing else we could do about now, so we continued on downstairs.  Luke stopped at the front desk and explained what had happened and the manager said we would be placed into another and better room.  We shall see.

Now for Luke’s comments:  It is about 5:30am and I slept until 3am but they were not good hours of sleep.  I just can’t stay in bed or even lie down and this happens to me every now and then.  Sometimes I have no reason why but it is extremely tough for me when I am in a hotel room.

Now here are the thoughts I had while I couldn’t sleep: 

  • When Zircon first contacted me in 2002 about analyzing the MTC metal locator, I had just finished starting the Mongolian ACI (American Concrete Institute) Chapter.  I had convinced them that we should do the investigation at SIUE (Southern IL University Edwardsville) and the Mongolian University.  This helped funding my trip back to Mongolia and I was able to get my article published in Concrete International (the ACI monthly magazine) and I made a good friend with Zircon.
  • Fast forward to 2009 – a friend of mine who is Ethiopian by birth but received all of his degrees (BS, MS, & PhD) from Purdue called me.  He had just visited his home country and was impressed that they need concrete help. (Yes, there are many more Concrete Experts in this world.) He remembers all of the help I gave to Mongolia and wanted to know if we could do the same in Ethiopia.  Billie and I worked hard to make this happen.  We contacted several stateside ACI Chapters to raise the money to help pay for memberships, collect books and received donations of various equipments.  We came in December (December 26th through January 3rd, 2010) and we had a wonderful time meeting the people, getting the chapter started and developing a friendship with the Addis Ababa University.
  • In 2011, Ephraim Senbetta (my Ethiopian friend) was awarded a Fulbright to come to Ethiopia to teach, strengthen the ACI Chapter, and to improve their Concrete Technology.  He was about 60 years old at the time, so he decided to “retire” here and make a difference.  I like people like that and I also want to help them as much as possible.
  • In 2012, Zircon approached me about evaluating their new metal locator that they were developing (the X8 metal locator).  This is new German technology that is supposed to find wire mesh and steel up to 8inches deep.  I suggested that we do the research at ASU (where I had taught for four years and have contacts still with them) and also do the research at Addis Ababa.  Zircon liked the idea and agreed to fund the project; they gave me ½ payment (covers our airline tickets) and promised all the equipment for me to take over with me.
  • In exchange of email and Skype with Ephraim, he liked the idea and the university suggested I come in May.  I was to teach a class and work with the students.
  • There is a conference in Bahir Dar (about 500miles northwest of Addis Ababa) and Ephraim sent me information on this conference.  He suggested that I submit a paper.  I sent them two abstracts about potential papers.  One was on the X8 Metal Locator and the second one is on the Pink Concrete Heart Necklaces.  My thoughts were to do the X8 evaluations of ASU and then do the write up of the Addis Ababa University’s work.  When we do the same experiments in Ethiopia, I would confirm the results and in my power point, I would show the Ethiopians doing the research.  The Pink Concrete Heart Necklaces would allow engineering students to use their concrete knowledge to help their concrete knowledge to help in a social issue – breast cancer (the second killer of Ethiopian women).
  • The committee for the Bahir Dar Conference accepted the metal locator but did not accept the Pink Concrete Heart necklace one.  According to Ephraim, an engineer with a social conscience is not normal here (the truth is unless an engineer’s spouse, sister or mother has breast cancer, they do not have a social conscience but they sure change their minds when it hits home).  The engineers just design and build.
  • Zircon promised to have the X8 to me before Christmas, so that I could do the research at ASU.  They had production problems, so they then told me they would not have the units until WOC (World of Concrete), which took place in February.
  • With the deadline coming up to have the completed conference paper in, I took the previous paper on the MT6.  I rewrote the paper, made it in metric and ended the paper that we would do the X8 experiments when in Ethiopia.                      
  • Zircon came to my office at Western Technologies, Inc. with the new X8 twice.  The first time they came, the equipment was erratic.  It would indicate copper and steel at places without any metal.  They took the equipments back to do more engineering on it.                     
  • The Monday before we were to leave for Ethiopia on Friday, they returned with several X8 for me to take to Ethiopia.  It did not work, as they had wanted it to.  It would locate the bar but it would either display the depth (cover) or would give an inaccurate number. They ended up taking the X8 all back. He wanted to send me a good picture of the X8, stating this was coming soon on the market.  I was going to get to put that in my power point presentation as my ending slide.
  • Just before I left, Zircon contacted me stating that it would take a longer time to work out the X8 problem and said it would be best at this time, not to include it in the power point or the paper.  Thus, the main reason for this trip was cancelled.  However, Zircon gave me several different pieces of equipment to take to Ethiopia. 
  • On Tuesday, Luke, Ephraim and Dr. Abebe will meet and work out exactly what Luke and I will be doing while here.  Luke was to teach three weeks but it will probably be more likely to be two or three days.
  • We are still going to Bahir Dar for the Conference and for about 6 days.  Luke thinks he may be teaching there as well.  (However, Bahir Dar is supposedly a tourist attraction as well – it has the Blue Nile River, Blue Nile Falls and Lake Tana.  This should be fun.)
  • Zircon, in a separate contract, wants me to write research programs that will use their equipment that they sent me with to Ethiopia.

               a. MT – 6 metal locator – top of the line equipment
               b. M – 40 metal locator – simpler than the MT – 6
               c. Stud/Electrical Finder        
               d. Electronic Water Level

  • I talked to Rex (editor of the Concrete International) and to Bill (editor of the Concrete Construction).  Rex wants or will accept the article on the Pink Concrete Heart Necklaces and Bill will accept the work on the MT – 6 in Ethiopia.


Both Luke and I are sure of a few things:

  • God is leading us here and something good will result from this trip.
  • Both of us are here together and it is another adventure.
  • All things will eventually work out for the good – may not be on what we think our schedule should be but hey, God’s in charge.
  • We need to be flexible and we know we’ll have some surprises.


Today, the first thing we experienced was meeting a gentleman from London, England.  He was amazed at the work Luke does; he stated “I have never met a Concrete Expert before, amazing!”  We set and talked for quite a while – he’s been traveling for a little over four months.  He spent three months in Egypt exploring all that the people do and then five weeks here in Ethiopia.  He returns to London tomorrow. 

We moved to another room – the sewer smell in our first room (#126) and our closet bar collapsed this morning, so they moved us to another room (#130).  This is a much better room – for one thing, we now have a queen size bed instead of a full size; way less sewer smell; two tables and three chairs in this room as compared to one chair, and two end tables in this room.  We had help moving everything – a very nice young man.

Well for today, this is all.  I’ll do my best to get in touch tomorrow as well.

NOTE: remember my additions are in red, Luke’s are in black.  Blessings to you all!