Local men shovel themselves a place at The Timbers tablePublished 10:24am Tuesday, January 12, 2010
By JOHN EBY
Dowagiac Daily News
Their sunny enthusiasm for brighter days ahead warm the space they are clearing snow from the new entranceway built on to the former Dowagiac Nursing Home.
It’s bitterly cold, but Doug Wolverton and O’Larry Anderson seem impervious to the chill they are so excited about the future and expanding their knowledge.
They not only read the Daily News carefully, they don’t confine their job searches to classified ads, but closely follow articles about Michigan Works! program opportunities and today’s 6 p.m. Green Construction Academy open house at Lake Michigan College’s M-TEC facility at 400 Klock Road, Benton Harbor.
They operate under the premise that good things come to those who hustle while they wait,
“Tapping into community resources – Southwestern Michigan College, Michigan Works! and No Worker Left Behind, through reading the paper – led us to Matt” Thaler of South Haven, who joined construction manager Shelton Construction of Niles last November.
Mark Southwood is managing the project for Shelton.
“It’s a blessing,” Anderson added. “My handyman service, there was nothing to do, but they gave me an opportunity to remove snow, which led to doing more work and getting more hours. Getting up in the morning and having some place to go.”
Fryman isn’t out there yet, but will be doing siding on the project.
There is also a local plumber with Fenner.
Thaler estimated there were 60 people working Monday on the job, which is about two weeks behind thanks to an old-fashioned Michigan winter.
“We’ve got 15 roofers and 18 framers,” Thaler said. “Interior framers just started doing the metal studs, and they’ve got a crew of seven. The framers are out of Ohio.” Others hail from Indianapolis, Kalamazoo, Byron Center and Traverse City.
“They fully gutted the whole building,” Thaler said.
Shelton has also been busy in Dowagiac with the second SMC dormitory.
“People are amazed that people are doing construction work in the heart of the winter,” Anderson acknowledged. “After this flurry goes by, it’s supposed to brighten up.”
Wolverton lost his United Auto Workers job in Holland.
“I qualified for No Worker Left Behind,” the 1986 Union High School graduate said. “I always wanted to get back into maintenance and construction. The only one that had the program was SMC, so I decided to use my No Worker Left Behind grant at SMC. My mom had my old room, so it’s an easy transition. Once I arrived, I started hitting the pavement and using the community resources. Now I’m here, shoveling snow, and meeting with Dave Briegel (SMC president emeritus and father of Wolverton’s late 1986 classmate, Steve Briegel). I applied for a maintenance position with SMC, but got beat out by a guy who had a journeyman’s card and 15 years experience. That’s what it’s like entering the job force right now. I was one out of three people they interviewed, but they got like 75 applications.”
Wolverton, who played Chieftain football for Denny Dock, said, “I’m glad I’m back. I like being home. I didn’t know what I missed. As a kid everybody’s, ‘I want to get out of here, there’s a big world out there.’ I made great money up in Holland with the UAW, but I took a hit when the economy turned down last October. I knew I had to go back to school.”
Anderson, two years behind Wolverton in school, should have graduated in 1988, but dropped out in 10th grade and earned his GED in 1993.
Anderson did handyman’s work in Atlanta.
After Hurricane Katrina he spent half of 2006 in New Orleans helping rebuild the drowned city before returning to Dowagiac.
“I’ve been back and forth,” Anderson said. “The last time I went to Atlanta was last year. There was just not enough work, so I came here to stay with my grandma and help her out.”
“The cost of living here is cheaper and my wages are comparable,” Wolverton said. “It’s worth it to go home.”
Anderson didn’t spend much time contemplating higher education in the ’80s “because it was so easy to find work. Recently, I’d go to Chicago and get jobs here and there, but the thing is, not being a contractor who’s been through school, it’s kind of difficult. I guess my eyes were kind of opened from talking to Doug, Matt and Mark and looking at some of the courses up there at the school. It enlightened me to further my education because I quit school.”
“Learning green building also inspires me,” Wolverton said. “This is OJT (on-the-job training) for coursework that we’ll be taking out at SMC. This is a great start. I’m fired up. I can’t wait to start.”
Anderson is hoping to land a $10,000 scholarship Michigan Works! offers.
“My course is only $5,000, so I could take construction building and electrical trades, too. That’s my future pretty much. It starts here, waking up every day,” Anderson said.
“We’ve got a great support network with Matt,” Wolverton said.
“He encourages us and gives us opportunities when he sees things that need to be done. We’re thankful that he’s keeping us going. Just because I’m working out here, I got a call over the weekend from my sister’s friend about hiring the management for the general operation of it, which is about six months away. People are already gung-ho: ‘Can you bring me an application? Keep your ear to the pavement for me.’
“I bet they get 500 to 600 applications. Maybe more. They’re going to be bombarded from the general area of Dowagiac, Niles and Cassopolis. Thousands of people want those 100 jobs.”
“Basically, I’m using my childhood street skills,” Wolverton said.
“We used to walk the streets, knocking on doors to shovel snow. We played football in the snow and walked to school. We grew up in the late ’70s when we used to get those big winters when snowmobiles brought supplies to people.”