Three men who have contributed to the advancement of the post-frame industry were inducted into the Rural Builder Hall of Fame at the Frame Building Expo in Nashville.
Al Geisthardt, Plyco Corp., Elkhart Lake, Wis.
Al Geisthardt found his career early in life and not far from home. He grew up as a farm boy in the Fond du Lac area of the Badger State and attended college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW-Madison he discovered “there were sections of engineering that dealt with agricultural structures. I just decided engineering was something that fit my aptitude,” he said.
The young agriculture engineer found a home right out of college at Jack Walters and Sons (commonly known as Walters Buildings) in Wisconsin. He moved nearby to Plyco 12 years ago.
Geishardt enjoys his work for the same reasons so many in the industry do: the satisfaction of creating something tangible that improves the quality of people’s lives. “We’re able to improve people’s lives by improving the tools and the structures they use,” he said.
His work has helped to create movement of post-frame construction into the commercial world. “I think we have been able to improve the way buildings are designed, to cross over from the farm into the commercial industry,” he said.
While he sees there has been a good deal of movement towards the mainstream of construction into the commercial world, he also sees a lot of untapped potential. “Post-frame structures are a sustainable means of construction. It’s truly a green building technique and it truly has the potential to lead in the sustainable construction market,” he said.
Geisthardt says he likes to keep a low profile but his ongoing work with the NFBA has been substantial over the past 25 years. He is a member of the Technical and Research Committee. He recently assisted in the writing of a PFMI presentation as part of a focus group. He is also a judge for the Building of Year contest.
When he’s not at work, he tries to stay physically and musically active. He refers to himself as a “hobby guitarist”. He also enjoys opening his mind to new learning opportunities when time allows.
John R. Hill, Lester Building Systems, LLC, Lester Prairie, Minn.
Upon graduating from the University of Kansas with an undergraduate degree in business administration and an MBA with a concentration in finance, John Hill wasn’t sure if he would be working as a CPA for an accounting firm or as a bean counter for a manufacturing firm. He started on his path to post frame by choosing the latter.
“I have always struggled with consultants,
who have never been involved in business that come into a business and want to offer advice,” he said. “I thought early on that it might be important to work for a manufacturing business and learn how things are made.”
Having grown up in Kansas City it was natural for him to look towards Butler Manufacturing, a major and well respected employer in the region. He started in Butler’s accounting division in 1980, first in the grain bin division, then in steel buildings.
By the time Butler purchased a then-regional post-frame company called Lester’s of Minnesota Inc., Hill already knew he wanted to work his way into management. “In 1988, Butler opened Lester’s first new manufacturing facility in Winchester, Va.,” said Hill. “I was ready to do some things outside of accounting because I eventually wanted to be a general manager,” he said, jokingly adding: “I think they thought: we’ll give him a small facility where he can’t do too much damage.”
In reality, it was a big vote of confidence for Hill, who at the time was in his late 20s.
He stayed in Virginia for about five years learning the manufacturing side of the business. To further his learning, he was transferred to Minnesota, where Lester was headquartered, and introduced to marketing.
Five years later he was made sales manager. And in the year 2000 he was promoted to president of Lester.
Yet another big transition occurred in 2004 with the sale of Butler to the Australian steelmaker, Blue Scope Steel. The new owners were not interested in post frame, so Hill was tasked with finding a buyer for the Lester division.
“I worked with my management team to come up with an offer to buy the business,” Hill recalled. “We came up with a package and we put it on the table.”
Blue Scope accepted and the transfer was completed in July 2004. Hill has remained president of the company.
Hill became involved in the National Frame Building Association during his early years at Lester. He has served several terms on the Board of Directors and served two years as Board Chair. While serving as Chair he helped to ramp up the Post Frame Marketing Initiative with increased fundraising and program development. He also oversaw the change of NFBA management to AMC.
He feels strongly in the efforts of the NFBA to bring together competing factions within the post-frame industry for the common good of all. “We can compete against each other all day long, but there are a lot of things that we can band together and do collectively to improve the industry and improve our industry’s position in relation to all the building types and products we’re competing with.”
One of those issues is worker safety.
When OSHA introduced general guidelines for fall protection across the entire construction industry, there were strong lobbying efforts by the home building industry to obtain an exemption from the regulations. Many people in the post-frame industry also advocated to be grouped in under the residential exemption. But Lester sided with the few who chose to go the opposite direction.
“Lester early on said ‘no, this is the right thing to do,” said Hill. “Let’s figure out how to comply and get fall protection in place on our jobsite. We felt like, if people in the industry keep putting their heads in the sand, they’re going to create a black eye for the industry for not taking care of its workers.”
He continues to advocate for worker safety at Lester and at the NFBA.
He also continues to enjoy his career in the construction industry. “Most customers who are building something are doing it for a reason. They’re business people who have a dream to build a business larger and more successfully, or they’re consumers who just bought a boat and want a nice building to put it in, or an equestrian owner that has a dream to have a stable rather than pay for boarding somewhere else.”
It’s a satisfaction shared by Lester employees. “There is a tangible satisfaction that comes along with it. You can drive along the landscape and quickly see how you and your company have made an impact,” he said.
Rick Stowell, University of Nebraska, Lincoln, Neb.
Rick Stowell is an Extension engineer with the University of Nebraska. His dairy farm background and his interest in science and math influenced his career path and studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. At UW-Madison he took several structural engineering courses. He especially enjoyed learning about wood structures and new advances in housing systems for animals. “I like the interconnection between the animal or human-worker environment and the structural design itself,” he said. “How do the two interact?” During his graduate studies on naturally ventilated dairy facilities, discussions with builders led him to consider both what’s good for airflow and animal health as well as what’s needed for diaphragm design and structural integrity of the building. Nowadays, prospective owners of new or retrofitted rural buildings commonly ask him questions like: ‘I’m going to get bids for such-and-such a building. Should I insulate it and, if so, what material works best?’
“My focus is animal environment and animal housing,” he said. “I teach a course in light-frame structural design and another on animal housing systems. In my extension work, I meet a lot of people who may be considering a new building or expanding their operation. I also connect with a variety of builders and equipment suppliers on new innovations for animal housing. I’ve enjoyed working with facilities like High-Rise hog facilities, tunnel-ventilated dairy barns, and monoslope beef barns, as well as outside-of-the-box concepts like the Greener Pig Barn.”
He started his career at Ohio State University. While in Ohio, he helped a group of post-frame builders revive the Buckeye Frame Builders Association. “That was about 1997,” he recalled. After moving to Nebraska in 2001, he has worked to provide professional development opportunities to builders and suppliers through collaboration with the Minn-kota Builders and Equipment Suppliers Conference.
Stowell has become involved with sustainability issues for livestock facilities. “What began with teaching producers about improved manure handling practices evolved into advancing their abilities to site new facilities for reduced odor risk to neighbors and to control air emissions,” Stowell said. “More recently, the focus has turned toward designing buildings to meet the challenges of changing weather and climate outlooks,” he said. “A big topic is energy savings and reducing the amount of resources that goes into operating a facility.”