Editor’s Note: As part of the World of Concrete and MCAA Annual Convention 2018, I had the privilege of getting to sit down with three of the inductees. Though I’d previously worked with each of them on content for this magazine in the past, it was an honor to hear their stories and advice from their own mouth. I felt that this mini-masterclass with three legends within the industry should warrant its own article in the magazine. To see the video versions of these interviews, please check out MASONRY and the MCAA’s respective websites. I truly hope you enjoy hearing from them as much as I did.
On Tuesday, January 23rd during the World of Concrete and MCAA Annual Convention 2018, before the competitions kicked off in the Bronze Lot and the Hall of Fame dinner had been taken place, MASONRY was able to conduct interviews with some living legends of masonry: Damian Lang, Mackie Bounds, and Curtis Hoover. These three men are some of the most influential within the industry, and took some time to reflect on their respective careers and the honor of being inducted into this prestigious group.
Dan Kamys: So, Damian, congratulations on being inducted into the MCAA’s Masonry Hall of Fame. I wanted to have our readers know a little bit more about how you got started within the masonry industry.
Damian Lang: Well, I started out as a farmer, a farmboy. So I wanted to do something that was hard work, and I liked the outdoors. Masonry fit the bill. I liked to do something that you could see what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day.
DK: So did you do any formal type of education within the masonry industry when you got started?
DL: Yeah, I went to a career center in high school. [I] didn’t go to college, and studied for two years. Then, I went to work for a local mason contractor and at 19 years old started my own company.
DK: So tell me how you made the transition from mason contractor to EZG and Malta? What happened there?
DL: Well, I was upset with the equipment that was being build, the quality of it. I actually called a couple of companies and tried to show them how to build the equipment. They refused to make it any better.
I’ll tell you one story. I called one of the companies and said ‘the wheels are in the way on the mixers,’ and he said ‘well they can’t be in the way, we’ve been putting them there for 35 years.’ I said, ‘well they were in the way 35 years ago when I was a kid.”
DK: Talk to me about some of the challenges you’ve faced either during your masonry career or starting your own companies.
DL: Well, the biggest challenge I would have to say has been enduring two recessions. You know, both times just about put us out of business. Luckily, I was a big saver so I did have some cash back that we used to finance our way out of the recessions.
DK: Wow, so that’s not something a lot of people can do. I’m sure you have a lot of other proud moments as well. Can you talk to me a little bit about some of your proudest moments?
DL: Well when I think of the single proudest moment, I would say about a month ago [when] we had a Christmas party with 200 people there. I stood up to give a little talk like I always do, and I told them that I was going to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. I got a standing ovation from my employees.
I think it was at that time that I felt I really made a difference to them, and they made a difference to me. Some of them had been there 15, some of them 30 years. That was really precious to me.
DK: Do you employ 200 people?
DL: I’m guessing about 200 employees. I have Lang Masonry Contractors, EZG Manufacturing or EZ Grout Corporation, Malta Dynamics Safety Company, and Wolf Creek General Contracting Company, and I’ve got several rental companies too.
DK: What advice would you have given a younger Damian?
DL: I would tell myself to quit taking so many chances without doing your research up front. I’ve had a lot of failures because I’ve taken so many chances. I reckon taking the chances is how I got where I’m at, but I’ve done a lot of things that I should’ve done more research before I got into them.
DK: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the masonry industry right now?
DL: I think the biggest challenges facing the industry right now are competing products, and as a whole we’re so slow to change. I think that we need to innovate, we need to keep looking at different materials, different systems, different ways of doing things to advance the industry.
I will say this: the MCAA is doing a great job with things like [The Masonry] Foundation and bringing everyone together. That’s been really good, and I hope that continues. If it does, then we’re on the right track.
DK: One of our big pushes with the magazine is workforce development. What advice would you give people who are just looking into the trade?
DL: Well, if you don’t want to get your hands dirty, you better not get into the masonry trade. I would advise the younger generation to work hard, set goals, stay away from the naysayers, and surround yourself with positive people. You know, network. Join committees, join other people in the industry and learn what they’re doing to advance.
DK: What does being inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame mean to you?
DL: It’s humbling to say the least. When I think about all the people that have the passion for this industry, and I think ‘boy, they should be here,’ you know? A lot of them are here for us, for me, so I hope I’m here for them too. To all of the employees that have been a part of it and my mom, dad and family, I’m a lucky man.
DK: What is Damian Lang’s legacy?
DL: Well, when I think about my legacy, I think I never took the path of least resistance. When we were doing something, I always thought outside the box. So, I hope that the industry some day when I retire, I hope it’s a better place because I was part of it.
DK: Well, Damian, I know you’re a busy guy but thank you for taking the time to talk with us.
DL: Thank you.
Dan Kamys: Well, big congratulations to you, Mackie. So let’s talk about how you got started within the industry.
Mackie Bounds: Well, it’s kind of different. I was a 16-year-old, rebellious young man. My dad said ‘you know, you’re going to learn how to respect those who are older and learn about work.’ I was raised in the carpet business, so I actually thought he was going to put me on a carpet crew. But he had a friend that was a mason contractor, and he introduced me to him and he put me to work.
The first three days that I came home, puking every day, I worked so hard and was never called so many bad names in my life. This guy could put a whole sentence of cuss words together and it sounded halfway right. That was the beginning. Now you would’ve thought I would’ve run from it. Actually, by the end of the summer, I absolutely loved it.
When I got through with high school, I took a couple of college courses. In the back of my mind, I thought ‘this is not for me.’ I actually went into my family’s carpet business for a little while. That wasn’t for me. I liked the outdoors. When I got my chance to go back to the masonry world after I married a Texas girl and moved to Texas, I jumped at it. The rest has been industry.
DK: How’d you get back into the field and how did you wind up where you are now?
MB: Well, I was in the field for a short period of time, then I came into Al Brown Masonry’s office operation and became an estimator. From estimating, he made me Vice President of the company. I did estimating and project managing, looked over some of the jobs. I learned a lot of do’s and don’ts from the man. I still admire him to this day.
Then March 21, 1989, I thought to myself I can do this. It was on my birthday, and I found out I was really young and dumb. But that’s how I got here.
DK: What are some of the challenges you’ve faced to get where you are now?
MB: The biggest thing is getting started. It takes a lot of money, I found out. I didn’t have a lot of money. So, I remember putting my Astro van up for collateral just so I could make payroll. I started the company with $40,000 and I got down to the last bag of beans. I came home one day and my wife said ‘you’ve got to get a paycheck.’ I’d gone without a paycheck for almost six months.
I ended up getting a financial backer. Without him, I would not be where I’m at today. I’m indebted to him to this day. Don’t owe him anything but in my heart, I’m indebted.
DK: That has to make you proud. Can you talk about some of your other proud moments?
MB: When my son came into the business is one of my most proud moments. I didn’t force him in, in fact I tried to discourage him. I paid him 50 cents an hour when he was 10 years old counting anchors. So, I thought ‘no way he’ll ever come in.’ But, that was a very proud moment.
Another proud moment was when I became an officer of the MCAA. This is my 30th convention to come to, so I’ve been involved for a long time. I never really thought I’d ever become an officer, much less President. But those were proud moments, and I could go on and on.
DK: Go on!
MB: Well, when you top out a 38-story building, brick all the way to the top. You go to the topping out party and your people are excited. It makes you proud. And then you go and top out a 42-story [building], and you go to the topping out party and your people are all excited. It’s a great feeling. You go out to jobsites, and you have people who’ve worked for you for 29 years and they come up and give you hugs instead of shaking your hand. That makes me proud, that I’ve got a company that’s grown as a family. They’re comfortable with me and of course I’m comfortable with them.
Just being a part of this industry. It’s hard to be humble when the industry is so great.
DK: What piece of advice would you have given a younger Mackie?
MB: Oh man. Many, many. First of all, have money. Probably the biggest piece of advice is listen. Get involved in your industry. The industry gives to you, and I feel very strong that you should give back.
One of my regrets is probably that I didn’t get involved as heavily as I probably should have. I’d come to the conventions, but also had a lot of fun rather than getting really involved. But, I would definitely encourage involvement as soon as you can. Not only on a national level, of course, but state level, local level.
The other thing [is] getting financial advice. I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and if I had all the money that I lost with bad mistakes, hey, I may just buy us a jet! Bottom line is learning to listen to those who have more experience. But see when I was young and going into business, I had this vision. Rather than listen, I was kind of hard headed. I’ve mellowed out now, but looking back if I’d have just stopped and listened more, I’d have been better off. Ask a lot of questions.
DK: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing masonry now?
MB: No doubt, manpower. It’s unbelievable, the manpower shortage we have. And it’s something that affects us from coast to coast. Probably the only part of our country that would say they’ve got a good manpower supply would be North Carolina due to their great apprenticeship program. But in most other parts of the country, getting young people into our industry is a phenomenal challenge. I think we’re making some changes, and it’s going to take a while for us to reap the benefits.
But, once we get the manpower, I hope we retain our market share. We cannot sit back and not talk about our product. We’ve got to share the plusses about it, and there are many. It’s the most sustainable product out there, most beautiful, long-lasting. If you want something with character, it’s not with eephus. I hope I can say that. I hope you don’t go beep beep on that one, because it’s the truth.
You look at the buildings many years after they’re built. Go to Washington D.C., look at our Capitol. That’s not out of 2X4s, that’s out of masonry. It’s beautiful to this day.
DK: So what advice would you give to the young people looking at or getting started in the trade?
MB: Well, very similar to that I would give young Mackie. Try to connect to someone that you feel comfortable with and learn from. Don’t go straight into the office. A lot of young people, especially in today’s time — we’re in high tech world — so everyone wants to make sure they’re sitting behind a computer. The fact of the matter is that they need to know what they’re looking at on that computer. The best place to do that is out in the field. Be on the jobsite.
Learn how the pieces go together, and the names of the pieces. Now, you’ll get a lot of tricks pulled on you. I remember my first day in the field. The guy told me to go get a bucket of head joints. Fifteen minutes later, he was cussing me because I wasn’t back. Well, I was doing what he was telling me, to only find out those head joints were on the wall. But, those are the things you learn out there. Then when you come into the office, you become a very valuable person.
I think it’s very, very important they work for someone else before they think about going into business for themselves. Now, I will say this to every young person. It’s a great industry to make a living and raise a family and I would strongly encourage it. I can assure them as you drive down the roads and the streets and the highways, it makes you so proud to tell your kids — and now I get to tell my grandkids — I did that, look how beautiful it is. My wife gets on me about that until this day. But she’s getting used to it.
DK: In your words, what is your legacy?
MB: You know, I always think of a legacy after I’m dead and gone.
DK: You’re not going anywhere.
MB: I’m not going anywhere, not right now! I’ve still got a lot of things I want to accomplish. I hope I’m known for being somebody that is not afraid of change and not afraid to get other people to think about change. Teaching the young people. I have a very young staff in my company today, and I take a lot of pride in the fact that we’ve been able to teach them. I hope I’m known for that; I hope I leave behind a company that people will say ‘that company’s going to last for a long, long time because of the age of the people.’
I hope people will remember me as someone that was willing to be involved in the industry. When I was President of MCAA, some of the worst economic times that we’d had in my lifetime anyhow. But I was willing to travel the country to encourage us, to try to let us know ‘hey, this is the time that we can prepare for the better days.’ I think we have.
I love masonry, and if I’m not remembered for anything else, that’s the one thing I hope I’m remembered about. I love masonry. And it is the right product to build with.
DK: What does it mean to be inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame?
MB: Wow. Wow. From a rebellious 16 year old to now, I’ve traveled a long ways, a lot of crooked roads and I never dreamed I would be in a hall of fame, especially Masonry Hall of Fame. When I was President, this was one of my ideas of getting started. I felt we were lacking maybe pride in our industry and I wanted us to be proud of who we are and what we’re all about. There was a lot of people.
My hero in my younger days in the masonry business was Dee Brown. I lived 100 miles from him, and he always called me ‘kid.’ He never did call me by my name. I’ll never forget the first time I came to my very first convention. He knew who I was and he walked up to me, and said ‘well, I hope you learn how to put more money in your bids.’ He felt I was bidding too cheap.
But now, to be in the Hall of Fame with a man that was your hero, that’s amazing. I mean there’s times I sit and think about it. My wife will tell you I almost get emotional about it, because this is something that you know didn’t happen overnight, but all of a sudden it happened. It makes you look back, and when you look back you go ‘this is amazing.’
But I hope it will be an encouragement to my son, and that he will one day be in the Hall of Fame. I hope I’m alive when it happens, because I’ll be happier for him than for me. But, I’m honored and very humbled that I’m joining such a great group of guys. I’m going in with a magnificent set of guys. I guess one thing I can say is I’ll be remembered— I’m in the Hall of Fame. I hope many more will follow in the steps, and will join some of us old guys.
There’s other honors you hope you get. As I get older, you start thinking about the end of your life. You start to think ‘hey, I hope I lived my life well enough to go to heaven.’ I was asked the other day if there was anything else I wanted. Well, yes, I want a mansion out of granite in that beautiful city. If I can get a pink Cadillac with it, I’ll be happy you know. But this is great, it means a bunch to me and a bunch to my family.
When you go through tough times and you work hard, you spend a lot of hours and something like this happens, it makes those hours shorter, those tough times easier as you look back.
DK: Mackie, a tremendous thank you again and congratulations on the honor.
MB: Thank you!
Masonry Instructor— Center of Applied Technology North
Dan Kamys: Curtis, congratulations on being inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame. You are our second instructor inductee. So why don’t we begin with how you got started in the masonry industry?
Curtis Hoover: Well it started in high school. We moved to the county, and the first year of my high school they opened up a technical school. My dad was a cop, and my uncles in home improvement. Well, [the school] had a Home Improvement class. After the first semester, they actually stuck you on another class, and that was Masonry. I just fell in love with it. I love working with my hands, and I guess you can say the rest is history.
DK: So, going from being in the industry to being an instructor, can you tell us a little bit about how you made the move to where you are now?
CH: I have a lot to do with it [because of] my old teacher. He actually got me a job; I worked for a year with a peer’s father was a contractor. I was looking for something that had benefits, [so] I got into the Union. I worked at the same company for 17 years. Worked my way from Foreman, Assistant Superintendent, all the way up.
Then the economy took a nosedive, so I went back to Foreman. The son took over the company, changed the name a little bit, third generation. I loved working with them. Then one day I got a call from my old teacher 17 years later telling me that the position at our school was open. Same principal was there, so that was pretty funny being in the principal’s office for something different.
It felt natural, I love working with kids. This is my 25th year now. It’s neat to go back and teach the same class you learned the trade from.
DK: Wow. So doing all that, what are some of the challenges you faced either in the educational side or when you were actually in the field?
CH: In the field it was just learning everything, progressing through my career. Instructor-wise, I didn’t realize how much paperwork and administration you had to take care [of] for the school system. Teaching the kids was the easy part.
DK: On that, what is your proudest moment? I’m sure you have a few.
CH: I have many. A student [of mine] won the first SkillsUSA — back then it was VICA — medal for our school. It displayed in my showcase in our classroom. Being promoted to Foreman, Assistant Superintendent, actually getting the job as an instructor. Again, that was 25 years ago and it’s so rewarding to teach the kids.
DK: So looking at the younger version of Curtis, what advice would you have given him?
CH: Learn everything you can, and ask questions earlier. I would’ve [taken] a couple more classes in business or construction management. Learn the trade a little bit more from the inside at the time.
DK: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry now?
CH: Of course, it’s workforce development. We’re getting a different breed of kids today. It’s not a problem getting them. I have no problem filling my lower-level classes up. The problem is keeping them. Getting [them] convinced about what a great career this is. I can take them back through students who’ve been successful in this trade, and I’ve been in their shoes. I know what it’s like to start here and where you can go.
DK: What is the legacy of Curtis Hoover?
CH: I never really thought about it before… just passing on that knowledge I’ve learned over these years to the student and watch[ing] them be successful.
DK: What advice would you give first-year students in your classes who are just trying to figure things out?
CH: Have fun. Just see how fun this trade actually is, what you can create with your hands. One of the things that we do is let the kids go back and after they finish a project, take pictures. They’re so proud to show their parents and other family members what they’ve done.
DK: What does it mean to be inducted into the Masonry Hall of Fame? Second instructor ever.
CH: I think Milton (the first Instructor Inductee) put it best last year. It’s an awesome feeling. It’s the highest honor that one can receive. I’ve never ever looked for recognition, I’ve always just wanted to do the best that I could do with whatever I was doing. This still hasn’t soaked in yet. It’s the highest honor of your career.
DK: Is there anything else you want to talk about?
CH: I would tell future instructors or anybody to get involved in the industry. Get involved in everything you can. It can only help your program.
DK: Curtis, congratulations again and thank you for taking the time to share your story with us.
CH: Thank you.
ABOUT THE MASONRY HALL OF FAME: The Masonry Hall of Fame was created by the Mason Contractors Association of America to recognize and award individuals who have dedicated their lives to the masonry industry.
HALL OF FAME CRITERIA
Individuals must have had a major impact on the masonry industry, not necessarily with just the MCAA.
Nominations must state the significant accomplishments of the individual nominee.
Individuals must have been or be in the industry for a minimum of 25 years.
Individuals cannot be a current executive officer of the MCAA.
Masonry instructors can only be submitted by the National Masonry Instructors Association.
Submissions will be reviewed and voted upon by the Hall of Fame Selection Committee.
Nominees must receive two-thirds of the eligible votes in order to be accepted into the Hall of Fame.
Involvement in the industry is open. Nominees can be but are not limited to contractors, employees, instructors, architects, engineers, and association staff.
Each recipient will receive one plaque.
A high-resolution photo must be provided for each inductee to be used on the Hall of Fame plaque.