February 2013: Making the Grade

Words: Dan Kamys

Making the Grade

(Left to right) The Soley Brothers: Jason, John, Daniel and Caleb flanked on the right by their father and masonry instructor at Pearl River Community College, Porter Soley. (Left to right) The Soley Brothers: Jason, John, Daniel and Caleb flanked on the right by their father and masonry instructor at Pearl River Community College, Porter Soley.

For masonry work in southern Mississippi, just call a “Soley.” Four technically trained masons and their father live and work in the Hattiesburg, Miss., area.

Porter Soley has been the masonry instructor at Pearl River Community College in Poplarville, Miss., since 1996. In that time, Soley has sponsored 11 contestants, including his four sons, in the National Masonry Contest held annually in Kansas City, Mo., at the SkillsUSA National Leadership Conference. Each of his sons placed in the top 10 of the national contestants that year.

Porter Soley’s oldest son, Jason, competed in 1999 and finished eighth in the post-secondary division of the national contest. Now 31 years old, Jason is a firebrick specialist, traveling across the country building and repairing brick furnaces.

Caleb Soley (l) and his instructor and father, Porter Soley, (r) relax in front of Caleb's composite project.  Caleb, the fourth of four Soley sons who all competed in the national contest, finished in seventh place in the 2012 National Masonry Contest held in conjunction with the SkillsUSA National Leadership and Skills Conference in Kansas City, Mo.

“I was 18 and my first job was a firebrick job,” says Jason. “I guess that’s how I got stuck traveling and working 12-hour days! It’s alright, though. Dad taught us not to shy away from hard work.”

John Soley, now 28, competed in the national completion in 2002 and finished fourth. He works in residential construction and says his passion is building fireplaces, and his specialty is setting stone.

Daniel Soley, now 27, finished fifth in the 2006 national competition. Daniel works independently and with his brother, John, on residential, fireplace and patio jobs in southern Mississippi.

“Dad taught me the value of hard work, and he polished off my masonry skills,” says Daniel. “I started working with my Dad when I was 12 years old, but he taught me so much more in his class.

“Masonry looks easy, but the really good masons make it an art,” Daniel continues. “In my Dad’s class, I started noticing how he moved. It looked like he built effortlessly. It was the way he moved: He flowed. I’ve tried to copy him.”

Daniel is continuing his education at the University of Southern Mississippi, working toward a degree in construction management and engineering.

Caleb is the youngest Soley, and started as a welding student at Pearl River Community College. He received the school’s outstanding student award in welding in 2011and earned third place in the SkillsUSA state competition. In 2012 he, again, received the outstanding student award, this time in the masonry program. Caleb won the SkillsUSA state masonry competition and finished seventh in the SkillsUSA national contest last summer.

“Having laid brick with my Dad for a number of years, I was surprised by how much I learned in his class,” says Caleb. “That year in his class really helped me formalize my skills. It made me more technical in my approach.”

Caleb’s welding training has proven valuable as he currently is working in West Virginia on a pipeline project.

“This is what I’m doin’ now. Dad taught my brothers and me to work hard,” says Caleb, “and, right now, this is where the hard work is! As soon as more masonry work opens up back home, I’ll be laying brick again.”

Porter Soley has fathered four boys. He’s taught each of them, at home and in his masonry class. He’s worked with each of them. And, now, he sees them successfully off on their own.

“I’ve been very lucky to have four good boys,” says Porter. “And, yes, I’m a proud papa to see each of them on their own, taking care of themselves.”

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