Making the Grade
Age Is Nothing but a Number
When Robert Read enrolled at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, he was 41 and had worked on railroads for more than 20 years. When his railroad division was sold, Read found himself out of work. Being a third-generation railroader, he was disappointed. But he remained positive and motivated to move forward.
To the surprise of many, Read enrolled in instructor Joe Luchtenburg’s masonry class at Kirkwood Community College.
“Not only was I surprised that Bob enrolled in my program, I was more surprised at what a great student he turned out to be,” says Luchtenburg. “Bob had a perfect attendance record and a 3.8 gpa. He was one on the hardest workers I’ve taught and one of the finest people, too.
“This is not just a story of ‘starting over’ or over-coming odds, or even of incredible work ethics,” Luchtenburg continues. “The best part of the story is that Bob seems to triumph over almost any obstacle.”
Prior to going to Kansas City to compete in the SkillsUSA national masonry contest last June, Read’s home was among thousands inundated by the nationally publicized “500-Year Flood” of the Cedar River that ravaged the area in the spring of 2008. Undeterred, he worked nights and weekends to repair his home, so he could participate in the Kansas City competition. But he didn’t stop there. Luchtenburg says Read assisted his neighbors as well.
While a student at Kirkwood Community College, Read was hired by Seedorff Masonry in Cedar Rapids. His supervisor, Bob Falck, is a fan of Read as well.
“Bob started working on facing-stone pieces before placement,” says Falck. “He is now working on large-scale factory, like laying block in stairways and five-story elevator shafts.
Falck says Read is the kind of person who will help in any way possible on the jobsite. “In this lean economy, we favor employees who are eager to learn and are willing to get out of the comfort zone of ‘good enough,’” he says. “I think the mere fact that he’s learning to be a bricklayer at over 40 years of age says a lot.”
Falck says Read’s persistence and patience will serve him well as he continues to perfect his work and learn the cutting-edge innovations that are part of the building trades today. His persistence is further exhibited in his commitment to continue his technical training at Kirkwood Community College.
- 37Gene Swafford has owned GSM Masonry for nine years. Mentoring was a big part of his beginning and is still part of his current trade.