Chairman's Message: Passing the Baton, Staying the Course…

Words: Dick Dentinger

Dick Dentinger

There really is no other way to put it other than to say it’s an awkward time of year at MCAA. While the rest of us were celebrating the completion of the year’s efforts culminating in the priceless networking, training, and annual MCAA meetings held at World of Concrete, MCAA’s Jeff Buczkiewicz unceremoniously confronted our outgoing chairman, Larry Vacala. He gave him a quick pat on the back and put his hand out – palm up, not for a handshake. No, he was on the hunt for Larry to return his perk privileges for volunteering to lead our association. Larry awkwardly shuffled through his backpack and handed over his MCAA office parking pass, the extra key to the MCAA Swag closet, and the coveted 10% Discount Card for Starbucks. It was uncomfortable for the MCAA staff for sure, but for Larry, it had to have been downright crushing to be pushed out the door after all he has done for MCAA over the last eight years.

MCAA has a long list of gifted leaders who took turns as chairman of our board. Each wanted to give back to this industry and volunteered to steward MCAA through its challenges. Having witnessed the last six years of Larry’s service, I can assure you he is an incredible manager and leader. He spent the last two years burning the candle at both ends on behalf of our members. He constantly noticed things the rest of us didn’t quite see as clearly. He pushed for considering change or having the courage to reach for a higher goal, which worked well with Jeff and his team, who see no hill too high to climb. Larry is handing over the keys to a machine that is firing on all cylinders with a very bright future. He gave so much of his time and energy to our industry - all while still managing each of his own businesses and a busy life back home in Chicago. If you see Larry, please give him a firm handshake of thanks and perhaps offer to take him to Starbucks and buy him a coffee and bag of roasted almonds. We all owe him much.

So, you’re wondering, “Who’s this new guy challenged with filling the giant shoes of our recent MCAA chairman?” If you are taking the time to read this trade magazine, attempting to grow your business and learn from others who share the same worries you face, then you and I have much in common. Whether you are part of a small, medium, or very large company, we’ve “drank the same Kool-Aid.” Whether a contractor, bricklayer, project manager, equipment, or material supplier, we are on the same game board hoping to earn opportunities for success.

I grew up immersed in this industry. My parents started a Milwaukee, Wisconsin, masonry company in the mid-1970s. My dad, Bill Dentinger, was very active in MCAA his entire career and was chairman of the association in the 1980s. Early on, Dad would come home from work, and after dinner, he would go to the basement to takeoff plans. It was not uncommon for us to see our mother spending afternoons at the kitchen table working on payroll or AP invoices. They worked hard but still provided a terrific childhood for the family. My official baptism to the industry was when my brother Bill and I spent a frigid Wisconsin winter weekend helping Dad brand his first truckload of scaffold plank. Only an eighth grader, I vowed right then to never work in the industry. The pledge didn’t hold. My sisters both did administrative work for the company to help earn high school and college tuition. My brother started his bricklayer apprenticeship after graduating high school and spent his entire career in our industry, working first for my parents and then later, together he and I started our own business, B&D Associates, in St. Paul, Minnesota.

For me, however, it was more of a serpentine route before choosing masonry. I worked as a mason tender throughout high school and college. I was fortunate as it helped pay tuition. Most valuable to me, however, was the time working with the crew on the jobsites. Back then, many of the bricklayers I tended were veterans of WWII or the Vietnam War. I so enjoyed their company. Every so often, a few of the WWII veterans would open up about what they had endured. These men had cut their teeth on the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima. The greatest generation, beyond a doubt. Not facing what they faced at a similar age, I was dialed in on a career in radio. So, I went off to college in Minnesota. Freshman year, I apparently complained about not receiving any mail while away from home. Dad was on the executive board of MCAA at the time, and during a speech at the banquet of the annual convention, he mentioned his son pouting about not receiving mail at college. He then proceeded to hand out hundreds of pre-addressed and postage-paid postcards to the MCAA attendees. They were instructed to write messages to young “Dick Dentinger” and send it from wherever their hometown happened to be. Over the next month, I went to the dorm mailboxes and would receive an abundance of mail. It became a spectacle! Other students began to wait for me to arrive each day to see how many postcards fell onto the floor when I opened the little mailbox door. The messages were the best part. “Dick, your dad is crazy!” was a common note. My networking at MCAA began to take root.

Anyway, somehow, I dramatically outkicked my coverage and met my beautiful, kind, and talented wife, Sheryl. We both landed our first jobs in advertising. Sheryl worked at a major Minneapolis advertising agency, and I worked at a number one-rated Twin Cities radio station selling - air. Yep, I sold 30-second and 60-second commercial slots. I enjoyed the industry a great deal and did well. But, after four years in radio, I finally gave in to the constant thoughts to try to rejoin the family business. Interestingly, my parents were concerned I was perhaps just bored and would change my mind again. So, I had to lobby for the job. Eventually, I convinced them of my desire to start at the bottom and learn.

Fast forward a few decades and a transition to a full head of gray hair, and now my partners and I manage B&D Associates in St. Paul, Minnesota. We perform commercial, municipal, and institutional concrete and masonry work throughout the state. We also travel a bit when our customers need a partner they can trust. Choosing a career in masonry has given me so many opportunities and friendships. And I continue to learn every day – especially from all of you.


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