AW Grads Making An Impact In Construction-Related Fields

BY KAREN GERHARDINGER | MIRROR REPORTER — From home renovations and new builds to skyscrapers and factories, Anthony Wayne graduates are leaving their mark on the community as members of the construction industry.

As part of a series following the careers of AW graduates, The Mirror is focusing this week on those who are forging paths in construction. 

Chris Gunderman, a 1998 graduate, is general superintendent for OCP Contractors. 

“I get to work with hundreds of people and build some of Toledo’s largest projects that I can show my family for years to come, including the Toledo Hospital’s new 14-story building and the Hollywood Casino,” he said.

To effectively do the job, Gunderman said he has to work well with people and understand project budgets. While he has many certifications, Gunderman said nothing replaces years of experience.

During high school, Gunderman took drafting and industrial technology, and attended Penta Career Center his junior and senior years. After graduation, he completed a four-year apprenticeship with the Carpenter’s Local 351 in Rossford.

His experience includes 14 years as a project foreman, one year as a project assistant and two years as a project manager before becoming a general superintendent two years ago.

“I’ve had the opportunity to work for OCP Contractors for over 23 years right out of high school and I still enjoy what I do and who I work with,” he said. 

On shadow days, Gunderman spends time taking high school kids with him to get an idea of the types of careers available in the trades. He shares with them the long path he took to get into management but tells them that there are other ways to become a project manager without going to college.

“I also tell them that you have to love what you do. You don’t want to get stuck in a career you hate just because your dad did it or you need a job.”

Evan Hartzell, a 2012 graduate, is a carpenter’s apprentice with the Local 351 Carpenters union, working for A.A. Boos and Sons. He has two more classes to take before completing his journeyman’s card.

Every union carpenter, unless they bought their journeyman’s card, goes through a four-year apprenticeship program to acquire certifications ranging from concrete forms to interior finish work, he said.

“What I like most about my job are the benefits and the pay,” Hartzell said, noting that he has full health coverage, dental coverage and a supplemental and annuity pension.

While he took a semester of shop class, Hartzell said he wishes he would have pursued the trades at Penta Career Center, which would have given him a jump-start on a career. 

“Go to vocational school and learn a skill,” he advises teens who aren’t interested in college. “It will jump-start you in life and you will be far ahead of your friends going into debt going to college. You will be making more money than the people that are graduating college.”

Austin Kaminski, a 2014 graduate, is construction project manager for Buckeye Real Estate Group.

“I love seeing the joy of someone moving into their brand-new house that we just helped them build,” Kaminski said. “I really enjoy building a community and watching families interact with each other.”

As a student at Anthony Wayne High School, Kaminski said his math classes with Carol Rea and James Eberly, as well as industrial technology classes with Aric Christman, steered him toward a career in construction.

After graduating, Kaminski earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in management from Bowling Green State University. During his senior year, he did an internship in construction management.  

“I believe that the most important skill for this job is communication. I have to communicate daily with my coworkers and also my contractors, or else the job can become hectic and not be completed on time,” he said. “A few other skills that are needed in my job are leadership, and organizational and adaptability skills.”

For high school students or recent graduates considering a career in construction, Kaminski has some advice.

“It is going to take some hard work and a willingness to learn, but there are many people who will help you be successful,” he said.

Chuck Kethel, a 1998 graduate, is superintendent and project manager for Ivy Development Group, managing the day-to-day operations and scheduling emp-loyees on construction jobs.

“I’ve worked on the Toledo Hospital Gener-ations Tower, Hollywood Casino and Huntington Center,” Kethel said. “Steel-workers are employed on any job where steel and concrete are used in the construction of buildings and roads.” 

While in high school, Kethel knew he wanted a career in construction, but wasn’t sure which path to take, so he attended Eastern Michigan University and studied construction management.

“After two semesters, I decided it wasn’t for me and I joined the Iron Workers (union), which has a four-year apprenticeship program,” he said.

The perks of his job include the opportunity to deal with a variety of people on a daily basis and not having to sit at a desk, he said.

The most important skills for his job: a good attitude and a strong work ethic. He suggests those who are interested in learning more about the career visit www.ironworkerslocal55.com.

Bernie T. Lewis, a 1994 graduate, is a home remodeler with a specialty in tile and custom showers.

Working for Huffman and Sarver Construction and Real Estate, Lewis works with homeowners, designers and other team members on renovations and additions, tiling in kitchens, bathrooms, outdoor patios and other spaces.

“Tiling is super-precise and very artful. I like how precise you have to be. I try to make it as perfect as I can,” Lewis said. “Some-times, I get to put my own design on it.”

After graduating from AW, Lewis headed to college for a year but – upon a recommendation from a friend – became a journeyman brick mason. In 2008, when the housing market collapsed, he was laid off and became self-employed. During that time, he gained more home-remodeling skills and found that he really enjoyed the art of tiling.

For Lewis, the trades were always an option, especially as his family is involved in carpentry, building and custom homes, but some of his peers didn’t always see the trades as an option.

“I’m making $93,000 a year doing tile and other work. I’m well rounded,” he said. “A lot of kids have the stigma that doing work in the trades means you’re a dirtball or don’t want to do hard work. Work in many of the trades can pay over $100,000 a year with overtime.”

Jeremy Lowe, a 1997 graduate, is the owner of Anthony Wayne Roofing and Construction Ltd.

“I love getting to work on different properties and traveling to a lot of different areas of the community,” he said. “I also like the personal satisfaction you get when you complete a job well and when you make your customers happy.”

A Waterville native, Lowe decided to take machine trades at Penta Career Center and, after graduation, embarked on a career in construction because of the jobs available at the time. About 15 years ago, he decided to take classes and earned his contractor license.

“This was a valuable tool for expanding my business. During the housing market crash, I became a vendor for both Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and worked on a high volume of foreclosed homes,” he explained. “As the housing market rebounded, we started working on residential construction, and over the last few years have specialized in roofing.”

Certified with Owens Corning, GAF and a commercial roofing manufacturer called Mule Hide, he is able to provide extended warranties on both residential and commercial roofs. The company is now rated A-plus with the Better Business Bureau.

“If someone was to get into construction, I would recommend getting into the union to receive top pay, benefits and training and would even recommend specialty trades such as electrical, plumbing and HVAC,” Lowe said. “If you really want to make the big bucks, though, you have to take risks and go into business for yourself.”

Nick Lucachek, a 1998 graduate, is an electrical project manager at Nooter Construction.

“I enjoy providing solutions for my customers to ensure their businesses will continue to lead in their industry sectors,” he said.

While at AW, Lucachek found shop class led by Dan Henry to be the most beneficial, but it was his family that had the biggest influence on his decision to become a skilled tradesman. 

“My father was a dedicated Local 55 Union Ironworker, and that taught me that hard work pays off,” he said.

After graduation, Lucachek studied for a year in Owens Community College’s industrial electrical program, then transitioned to the IBEW Local 8 JATC five-year apprenticeship training.

“For those seeking hands-on training versus a traditional college education, the Local 8 electrical union is a top-notch alternative with the potential of a rewarding career following the completion of the apprenticeship program,” he said. 

Bryce Matney, a 2021 graduate, is employed at Superior Wire & Metal Specialties as a welder. 

“The thing I enjoy the most about my job is the different types of jobs I get to perform and build with my welding skills,” Matney said, adding that he also likes driving a forklift to move heavy objects and completed jobs.

During Scout camp, Matney was earning badges toward his Eagle Scout rank when he learned how to weld. That helped him decide between auto mechanics and welding, and he enrolled in the two-year welding program at Penta Career Center. In addition to the training program, he also acquired an OSHA health and safety certification.

“If a high school student is interested in a possible career in welding, I would highly recommend looking at the different programs offered at Penta Career Center or a vocational school,” Matney said. “Attending Penta gave me a head start in a career of my choosing upon graduating from high school.”

Don Taylor, a 1998 graduate, is owner of Adohr Corporation, a commercial general contractor in Ohio and Michigan.

As owner, general contractor and project manager, Taylor said he gets to work with owners, architects, engineers, tradespeople and representatives from area municipalities – all with the goal to finish a job.

“It is always rewarding to look back at a project and say, ‘Look at that. We built that,’” he said.

While at AW, art and drafting and shop classes helped guide him toward his career. He earned a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and construction technology at The University of Toledo, and also earned his OSHA certifications. 

The most important skills in his career are communication, coordination and working well with others, Taylor said. 

“It might seem out of place, but I believe written and oral communication is one of the greatest skills for a construction worker,” he said. “Construction workers who can communicate their concerns, questions and decisions effectively will have longer and more prosperous careers than those who can’t. Construction workers have to write e-mails, texts and other documents to ensure the work continues correctly on any job.”

He also noted that construction is a team effort.

“Team players help build up the team and foster good communication and better construction,” he said.

The education needed can be in the form of a trade school or a two- or four-year degree, but learning from others who are in the same field is invaluable. Those who are considering a career in construction better love it, he said, because it can be a real struggle at times – whether it’s securing, doing or completing the work.

“At times, you may want to do something else, but what is really rewarding is at the end, when everything is completed, you can stand back and look at what was accomplished,” he said. “It might be painting the side of a building or actually building an entire building from the ground up. Each project has its own story and that’s what makes it great.”

Matt Telmanik, a 1997 graduate, is the owner of CCS Construction Staffing in Charleston, S.C.

Founded in 2008, the company provides skilled electricians, HVAC technicians and plumbers to commercial construction contractors. The business has grown from operating in one state to providing manpower in over 26 states with 80 team members and over 5,000 tradespeople working in the field.

“CCS has been recognized nationally and locally for its success over the years,” Telmanik said, noting that it was named to Inc.’s 5,000 Fastest Growing Company list, Charlotte’s Best Places to work and Fast 50.

As a high school student, Telmanik said he didn’t know what he wanted to do, but he always had an entrepreneurial spirit and wanted to build and run a company one day.

The AW curriculum prepared him to further his education at Wilmington College, he said. The business and English teachers made a major difference in his education, while counselors Georgeanne Bald-ridge and Karen Bixler helped provide him guidance. Playing football, basketball and baseball for four years gave him a foundation that helps him today, he said. Steve Wilwhol and Craig Smith helped him develop the skills needed to be a business owner.

“Both were extremely inspirational and helped me understand the work ethic required to reach your goals,” he said. “Even to this date, I still incorporate some of their lessons in my daily life.”

As CCS continues to mature, Telmanik has been able to give back to the AW community by offering an annual CCS Construction Staffing Entrepreneurial Scholarship as well as advising several tech startups throughout the country.

“From AW to present, I have been surrounded by people that supported and challenged me to work hard and push the limits to reach my goals,” he said. “Now, I believe it is my obligation to help other entrepreneurs fulfill their dreams. I love working side by side with passionate people, problem solving and helping drive more innovative ideas with them. I believe AW and its community helped provide that necessary foundation it takes to be an entrepreneur.”

Aaron Yost, a 2013 graduate, is the owner and operator of Yost Site Services LLC. 

Being self-employed requires a lot of motivation and the willingness to sometimes work 15-hour days and on weekends, he said. Excellent written and verbal skills, time management and computer skills are part of any independent contractor’s needs, but Yost’s position also demands an ability to use a variety of heavy equipment and work in all Ohio seasons.

“I have not been formally trained, but I am self-motivated and very driven to be successful,” Yost said, noting that having his name on his business means he wants to be proud of the job he does.

In his former employment, Yost was a general laborer who worked his way up to management, where he worked with strict safety standards (OSHA), used heavy equipment and supervised job sites and a crew. He uses podcasts, YouTube and other research to further his understanding.

While in high school, Yost said he learned in woodshop how to work with equipment and utilize safety standards and protocols. His math classes informed him on how to calculate area and do general financing; and in computer classes, he gained skills he uses today – using programs for bidding jobs, scheduling and social media networking.

In addition to being motivated and hardworking, self-employment means being resourceful and passionate about the career, Yost said.

“My motivation is to provide the highest quality product to my customers. That keeps me energized,” he said. “I set realistic goals and plan to expand my customer base and services every single year.”

The Mirror has previously featured AW graduates with careers in art, environmental science and medicine. Future topics may include: architecture and engineering; business and marketing; agriculture; research and development; safety services; and education.

If you have suggestions for graduates (preferably within the last 25 years) to profile, e-mail karen@themirrornewspaper.com.

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