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June 2008

Making the Grade

Family Matters

It's amazing to think that simply lending a hand during a family project could direct a young person's future aspirations, but that's exactly what happened to young mason Cory Keskitalo.

"While my parents were remodeling our house, my uncle came over to do the masonry work," says Keskitalo. "I pitched in and helped."

That experience interested Keskitalo in masonry, and he began seeking instruction from his uncle. "My uncle taught me some things, including taking pride in your work," he says.

Following a stellar high school career, during which he earned New York Mills High School's Vocational Excellence award, Keskitalo enrolled in the masonry program at Alexandria Technical College in Alexandria, Minn.

While in Alexandria's program, he twice made the Dean's List and was a member of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society. At graduation from Alexandria Technical College, Keskitalo was awarded the school's Merit Award for outstanding achievement.

"Cory is from my hometown, New York Mills, Minn., so I knew he was a fine young man," says Alexandria masonry instructor David Malone, "but I didn't know how well he'd do in our program. Like nine out of 10 of my students, he had virtually no applicable experience. But Cory took to it naturally. He has an eye for straight and plumb.

"Cory was a 4.0 [GPA] student," Malone continues. "And he always got his work done, so I had to have extra work to keep him busy. Cory took his work seriously and made the best use of this time."

Malone says Keskitalo loved the competitions. "I loved his competitive spirit. I think his high school wrestling experience helped him in the masonry contests. He knew how to prepare and never seemed stressed. Prior to one competition, we looked at the plans together. In his head, he computed the number of bricks he would have to lay each hour of the contest, and he planned his time and work. He knew how to pace himself, and that impressed me. Cory sees the big picture when others his age do not."

Keskitalo is the fifth-consecutive winner of the state competition who has graduated from the six-year-old masonry program at Alexandria Technical College. The school has sponsored the Minnesota winner each of the five years the school has participated in SkillsUSA.

As the winner of Minnesota's Skills-USA state contest, Keskitalo participated in the national masonry contest held at Bartle Hall in Kansas City in June 2007.

Keskitalo is the stereotype of today's top young masons. They are hardworking and active. "I'm not good at sitting still," says Keskitalo. "It's not unusual for me to either leave or fall asleep during movies. I guess I just like the active life."

As an example, Keskitalo has supplemented his schoolwork with work on a farm, in a locker plant and on a construction crew. When time permits, you'll find Keskitalo hunting, fishing or engaged in some other activity.

Keskitalo is employed by Roers Construction in Fargo, N.D. While he is currently doing mostly concrete work, he is involved in all the masonry jobs the company can commission.

"When Mr. Roers asked me if the company should go after more masonry jobs, I told him, "Yes, sir. For sure."



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