The engine started with a large growl, loud enough to likely wake the neighbors before idling into a less offensive, steady hum, but still strong enough to scare away squirrels and birds looking for an early morning meal.
My older brother and I would carefully slide off the sidewalk to the blue Ford Econoline van as it guzzled down gas, desperately trying to heat the cab amid frigid temperatures. That was a typical morning growing up as a son of an electrical contractor in Southeast Michigan during the 1980s.
As loud and clunky as the van was on the outside, the volume inside took it to another level. There was a single passenger seat we shared. It was also long before the days of “standardized” cupholders — not that it would have been large enough to hold my father’s heavy-duty, stainless steel Thermos that went with him to every worksite, every single day. On those morning drives to school, it would be my responsibility to hold that anvil-sized steel behemoth, and it was a job I executed with pride for the 3.5-mile trip to my school.
It wasn’t until years later — far after his untimely death from a heart attack — that I learned those mornings were a source of pride for my father, too. As an immigrant to the United States, he overcame some staggering odds to establish his company. And, it was he and his crews who were responsible for lighting and heating those same school walls my classmates and I roamed for the better part of a decade.
I’m drawn to those morning memories, as June is the time of year we overtly recognize dads everywhere for all they do to make our lives — and our communities — better. Also, I can’t help but think about that feeling of pride we both shared surrounding his profession and how there must be roofing contractors that can relate.
I’ve been writing about the roofing industry for eight years, and it didn’t take long to recognize how many family succession stories there are industrywide. Regardless of the sector, commercial or residential, and whether it involves installing, distributing or manufacturing roofing products, roofing professionals across the country have vibrant and inspirational stories about working with family members to reach their goals. And we’ve been fortunate to write about many of them.
A few years ago, in honor of Father’s Day, we launched our “Fathers & Sons” (or daughters) series focusing on some of roofing’s most dynamic relationships. We’ve chronicled how Ken Kelly (Kelly Roofing, Naples, Fla.) started his roofing career running estimates from a makeshift “mobile command center” while his dad repaired rooftops in the aftermath of Hurricane Andrew; how Gregg Wallick (Best Roofing, Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) stepped out of his father’s shadow, leveraging his high school alma mater’s athletic department to staff his first commercial roofing job as a sole business owner. And now how his sons are navigating their paths in the industry. We also shared how Kelly Van Winkle (King of Texas Roofing, Grand Prarie, Texas), seemingly born into “trade royalty,” is taking a longstanding roofing giant to new heights in North Texas. Last year, we even featured a role reversal in a story about Steve Taylor of Indianapolis, a sales executive who was recruited out of retirement by his son, Adam, to join his roofing business.
Our series continues in this month’s eMagazine with a closer look at the Bradford family and its multigenerational commercial roofing institution in Montana. Be sure to check it out here.
All these years later, it’s funny to think about that Thermos and how, by holding it during those morning drives, I somehow played a small part in every laugh, spill, frustration curse, and satisfied feeling from completing a job done well he experienced. I didn’t get to follow in his footsteps or repay the favor, as it were, but I believe the pride he instilled in me about the importance of skilled tradespeople is likely why I take great pride in covering the roofing industry today. Until the early 20th century, journalism, too, was considered a trade, and it’s undoubtedly a big reason I love doing what I do. I hope to continue fleshing out stories that help our readers excel in their respective business ventures for years ahead.
You can help. If you have a multigenerational family business with a good origin story, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.