Three more inductees were welcomed into the Rural Builder Hall of Fame at the National Frame Building Expo in St. Louis on March 1. They were nominated and elected by their Hall of Fame peers and now join an elite rank of builders, suppliers and educators.
John R. Darrah, Sr. Vice President (Retired)
“If they had asked me 40-some years ago when I was out there working on a crew in the blowing snow if this was going to last for 40-some years I would have said no,” John Darrah says. Yet his early experience in post frame as one of the young guys on a Morton crew served him well for his future career. He retired in 2008 as Senior Vice President of McElroy Metal after helping the company introduce many products that served the post-frame industry.
Darrah started down the road to his career in 1967 in western Illinois where he grew up in a community of 750 people. “I had some friends working on a crew at Morton and I thought it looked like a pretty good deal,” he recounts. He moved to sales about three years later. “I got cold working out in the cold in the winter,” he jokes.
Darrah began at McElroy on June 1, 1981 out of a new office in Illinois.
“When I first started with McElroy, their primary business was the all-steel fabricating business,” Darrah explains. “We were providing purlins and panels for that business. Freemon Borkholder talked Tem [McElroy] into building the plant in Clinton, Illinois.
That’s where I went to work for them. They had very little insight into the post-frame business and I was able to help out a lot there.”
Darrah moved even deeper into warm weather in 1991 when he was promoted to vice president of sales at company headquarters in Bossier City, Louisiana. It wasn’t long before he got the nod to become senior vice president of the company in the mid 1990s. His post frame experience continued to influence his decisions.
According to Tem McElroy, president and CEO of McElroy Metal, Darrah’s contributions to the company and to post frame are significant. “I think he brought a unique prospective being an executive with a components company like McElroy Metal – or any of our competitors for that matter – who had actually worked in the field installing post-frame buildings. He had a perspective about the importance of offering quality products and services with the builder in mind. That’s a perspective people in the manufacturing entity generally don’t have.
“John was always an outspoken proponent for doing things for the contractor, for the builder,” McElroy continues. “He knew what they went through on a day-to-day basis. He was always fighting for the builder and the importance of having a high quality products and services and delivering those in the right way so the guys on the job could do their jobs.”
One particular product came out during his leadership, a patented product called Mesa Panel that features an invisible lap. It was actually developed by another Hall of Famer, Rick Bragg, after Darrah posed a challenge to his sales team. “He always challenged the guys reporting to him and gave them the autonomy to go out and do things in the industry that made sense,” McElroy explains. “John was the guy who said ‘we need something new’ and he gave the guys the authority and the autonomy to go out and spend some R&D time to talk to customers and develop products. That’s the kind of stuff John did. He always encouraged them to think about how we can build a better building – that can be panels, that can be trim, that can be anything that goes into a building.”
As he looks back on his career, Darrah says the biggest shift occurred when post frame grew beyond farm buildings to commercial. Another big shift was the use of laminated columns. “When I was doing it, it was creosote posts,” he remembers.
He believes post frame continues to have a bright future. “How it will grow I don’t know but it will be around for a long time to come, it’s still needed,” he firmly believes.
Today, Darrah enjoys traveling, fishing and hunting. He looks fondly back on his career. “You get to meet a lot of interesting people, a lot of good people. I had a great time in this industry,” he says. “I really did.”
He continues to live in the warm climes of Louisiana with his wife Kathryn. They have two children who both retreated back to the cold: a son in the Chicago area and a daughter in Loveland, Colo.
Steve Eversole, Eversole Builders, Lancaster, Ohio
It was a college internship that brought Steve Eversole to the construction profession. He was attending Ohio State University when he went to work for a construction company in his hometown of Lancaster, Ohio. Although he thought he was headed back to the family farm, the detour became permanent. The 1980s farm crisis was just hitting the country at the same time post frame was moving from the farm to the commercial arena. It was a good time to enter the post-frame market and he enjoyed the work.
Once married, Eversole didn’t like the builder’s commute, so in 1983 he started his own company, Eversole Builders. “We started out just me and one guy out in the field,” he recalls. He admits that his attempts at cutting down on travel weren’t very successful. “I was probably home less,” he says. “When you have your own business you do everything.” Today, he operates 4 to 5 crews and manages to stay in the office more, but still travels in the company’s 60-mile radius to visit jobsites. His time is spent as president and salesman.
He works closely with several architects and credits the Post-Frame Marketing Initiative for promoting standards that have helped build a relationship between architects and post-frame builders.
Commercial buildings have continued to be a mainstay of Eversole Building, with 60 to 70 percent of its jobs commercial. More than 50 percent are repeat customers. “We’ve been very blessed. I think we’re in the upper 20s of the number of buildings we’ve done for our top customer,” he says.
What he continues to enjoy is watching the entire building process evolve. “It’s always interesting to see a building start from just a sketch on the back of a napkin to when the project is completed, as it morphs through the entire design process,” he describes. “When you’re building it, you see it just start out as a conversation and in time you pull out of the driveway and there’s a new project the customer can use and enjoy.”
Connecting with other post-frame builders has been important to Eversole. He joined the National Frame Building Association and the Buckeye Chapter of the NFBA in part on the advice of a plumber friend who emphasized the importance of networking. “An old plumber I used to work with would always say: ‘listen and learn from your peers, you can never live long enough to make all the mistakes you can make, so learn from other people’s mistakes.”
Eversole served a number of years on the board of directors and also as president on both the national and chapter levels. Though taking a well-deserved step back, he continues to promote post fame. He is part of a team that has been working with the Ohio Department of Transportation to help the Department better understand the benefits of post-frame for projects they’re considering.
The post-frame industry has changed a lot over the years. Particularly challenging is keeping up with the changing regulations, Eversole notes. “Rules and regulations have grown to where it is tougher to do things than 20 or 30 years ago,” he observes. His advice to builders: “Learn what the systems are. Don’t try to buck it.”
Work is his career and his passion. For ‘fun’ Eversole works on real estate investments including a side business in mini-warehouses. Aside from post frame, he is a big supporter of 4-H and FFA.
Eversole offers great credit to his wife Denise for helping him establish and maintain his business. “She has always been super-supportive of me,” he says. She started out as Eversole Builders’ first full time bookkeeper and still works part time at the office. Their three children are now grown. Alex is a math teacher, Clint a mechanical engineer and daughter Kara is a freshman in college.
Ted L. Funk, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign
As a young college student, Ted Funk thought he was headed for a career in machine design. His studies led to a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Opportunities, however, led him to a career in Extension work and two more degrees that he earned while simultaneously working full time: a masters degree and a doctorate in ag engineering.
For Funk his career choice came natural. He grew up on a farm in western Illinois. The soil was poor but it was a great place to grow livestock.
“Growing up on the family dairy and hog farm in western Illinois, I had a good example in my dad, who loved to plan and build things,” he says, adding: “My dad’s curiosity and willingness to try new things on the farm, and an encouragement for me to get an engineering degree at Illinois, made a big difference.”
After college Funk was a partner on the family farm. “We demonstrated some of the earlier solar collector innovations that the University of Illinois was promoting,” Funk recalls, “including a big roof-integrated solar collector for grain drying. I discovered during that period some of the advantages of post-frame construction (although we barely knew enough at the time to be dangerous). I learned the price of making incorrect assumptions, too, and gained appreciation for construction professionals.”
Funk has been an active member of the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers, concentrating on animal housing and rural-based alternative energy systems. He has also been involved for many years in a multistate committee that comprises ag engineers, animal scientists and water quality specialists. His focus has been to get the latest and best technologies from academia to real practice in rural America.
For him, the most enjoyable part of his work is “learning and analyzing new technologies that help make rural structures more durable and functional.”
In the early 1970’s, U of I recognized the need for environmental stewardship training for livestock producers as well as dialog among academics, industry, regulatory agencies and producer groups. As Funk’s career with the U of I developed, he provided the leadership to keep the University in its well-deserved role of educator and liaison with all the parties involved.
He feels his greatest professional achievement has been “to inspire young people in rural Illinois to explore careers in agricultural engineering,” he says. “I have also been privileged to help a large number of our livestock farmers improve the rural environment, as a result of my in-depth program in waste management practices and emergency response planning. As our college has faced budget cuts and shrinking staff, I have served in recent years as the main “Extension engineer link” between our field-based Extension staff and the Urbana-Champaign campus, keeping an engineering presence and capability available for a wide variety of clientele needs in rural Illinois.”
To newcomers in the construction industry Funk advises: “Do your homework, listen to the professionals, learn all you can, protect your clients: ‘Form follows function.’” He believes the sector of the industry serving livestock production needs to continue training professionals and concentrate on qualities that will promote welfare of the animals kept and enable protection of the community environment.
Funk and his wife Jan are empty nesters with three grown and married children and six grandchildren.
His special interests include grandkids and guitar, in that order. – By Sharon Thatcher, Rural Builder
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