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According to his son Samuel “Bud” Neese III, Neese Jr.’s career has been “quite remarkable” because of his perseverance and unwavering work ethic.
After serving four years in the army, Sam Neese entered the trade in Broward County, Fla., in the early ’60s by joining the local UA 725. Since his stepdad was a plumber, Neese originally went into plumbing. But after a stint working on air conditioning, he decided to switch to HVAC. “Plumbing was just drains and traps and toilets and sinks,” he said. “With air conditioning you had equipment to work on, and I liked the machines.”
As a union apprentice, Neese worked full-time at a mechanical contractor and took classes twice a week, four hours a night, for five years. “By my fourth year at the company I was working for, I was drawing journeyman’s pay. And the year before I graduated, I was drawing foreman’s pay because I was doing all these extra jobs,” he said.
During this early phase of his career, Neese took the two-day test to receive his Florida state master mechanical license. “Everyone told me, you can’t pass that — you’re too young, you don’t have enough experience. I said hey, I’ve been working seven days a week ever since I started in this trade — I’ve got a lot of experience.”
Neese reminisced that he had a young-looking face, so even into his late 20s, his fellow crew members would call out “hey boy” to him. By then, Neese said, he was a foreman with four kids who had spent four years in the army — two overseas. He wondered, “What do you want me to do to be a man?” These days, however, he appreciates looking youthful as he continues to go to work. “Now everyone says, you can’t be more than 60 or 65, and I tell them, ‘Try 73 and a half.’”
Experiencing All Facets
Neese started working for a mechanical contractor, helping initially with installation and start-up of residential equipment. Next he switched to the commercial side and went to work for a mechanical contractor based in Pompano Beach, Fla.
According to Neese, this contractor went out of business in 1975, and Neese was then hired by the bonding company to complete all the work that was under contract. At the same time, he also went to work for a smaller air conditioning company, but he didn’t get along very well with his new boss.
“I had a special general contractor I had worked with for 10 or 12 years,” Neese said. “We were going to air condition his house with very high-efficiency equipment, but I found out he [the owner] had used the cheapest units available instead of the high-efficiency units.” Neese returned to the office to confront the owner, and ended up quitting that day.
Around this time, Neese also became concerned with the quality of schools his kids were attending in south Florida. So he went up to Okeechobee, Fla., bought a home, and moved his kids up there. To keep working, he then commuted down to Broward County and stayed in a motel during the week.
While he was finishing up some work for the bonding company, one of the jobs Neese worked on was a high-rise in Miami Beach. “They were using small units for apartments,” Neese said. “They were having so much trouble with the units, they were burning out compressors right and left, and I was helping them resolve the issue. I met the sales rep, and he said, ‘Gee, I wish I had someone like you in Okeechobee.’ ”
The sales rep told Neese that an electrical contractor in Okeechobee was trying to do air conditioning work, but he didn’t know what he was doing and was ruining the brand’s reputation up there.
Neese responded, “Well, as it so happens, I’d like to be living in Okeechobee.” The next week, Neese went to Okeechobee and took over all the air conditioning work from the electrical contractor. That marked the start of running his own business in the late ’70s.
“I started with just me, my truck, and the tools that I had,” he said. “I did all the ductwork myself, set the units myself, piped them, did the low-voltage wiring and thermostats. I started them up, collected my money from the customer, and ran the business for the first six months or so from my house.”
As the business grew, Neese soon hired more technicians, and eventually built his business from primarily residential to include commercial and institutional work. But in 1982, the credit crunch caught up with him, and he went out of business as his accounts dried up and projects went unpaid. “I had a lot of money owed to me, but I couldn’t get it,” he said.
Neese acknowledged that it was a terrible time, but he kept moving forward. He spent some time working in North Carolina, but did not stay there long before returning to Florida. Upon his return, he called up the union and was sent to Richard Flanders Enterprises Inc. (RFEI), a testing and balancing company based in Coral Springs, Fla. In early March 1986, Neese said, “I went down and met Mr. Flanders, we discussed it for a couple hours, and I went to work for him that day. And I’m still working for them 25 years later.”
According to Neese, his favorite aspect of the job is solving problems. When he hears someone say “there isn’t enough air conditioning in this section of the building” or “the chillers keep cutting off every 10 minutes” or “our techs can’t balance that,” he loves to jump in and show them what to do to overcome the problem.
Neese has worked on many notable commercial jobs with RFEI, including the Raymond James football stadium (home of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), the original Miami Heat auditorium, a central chiller plant at Cape Kennedy for NASA, the Orange County Civic Center, and the Opryland hotel/convention centers in Orlando, Fla., and Grapevine, Texas.
Lorrae Flanders is the current owner of RFEI; three years ago, her husband Richard had a stroke and she bought the business. At that time of transition, she said, “I was really scrambling. I needed a lot of technical help.” Although she had been in the business for years on the back end, she needed help with the new responsibilities she was taking on. “I’d ask Sam to attend meetings with me, and he would educate me as to different things I needed to do.”
She was grateful for Neese’s support then, and continues to rely on him. “Every time we get into a bind, I beg him to come down,” Flanders said. “His greatest strength is he never says no. Sam gets the job done.”
Flanders added that she comes across a lot of technicians in her position, but Neese stands out. “I’d love to have him cloned for the young people today,” she said. “He’s the most dependable human being, and he’s very knowledgeable. My clients truly like Sam because of the professional way he conducts himself. He’s incredible.”
Bud Neese was in his early twenties when his father’s business failed. According to Bud, it was a devastating event, but the amazing result has been watching his father steadily rebuild ever since.
“The main thing through it all is he hasn’t stopped working,” Bud said. “He’d rather be working than sitting at home with his feet up and the air conditioning blowing on him.”
Neese Jr. did give retirement a brief try, but it wasn’t for him. “When he was in his 60s, I told my dad to go fishing and sit on the canal bank,” Bud Neese said. “But after a few months of staying at home, I called him one day and he wasn’t there.” According to Bud, he instantly knew his father had gone back to work. “If he doesn’t have blueprints, and somebody doesn’t have a dilemma for him to work out, he’s not happy.”
Bud Neese has stayed in the industry his father introduced him to, and he has owned his own air conditioning business for 27 years. He said that his father instilled principles that have allowed the next generation to be successful. “He said, ‘Bud you need to know what your costs are and you need to know your overhead.’ We are supposed to be making a profit. Supposing you take care of all the little things, the bigger picture will take care of itself.”
Sam Neese has also had to overcome a serious injury to keep working into his seventies. In 2005, he came home to his house being robbed and was shot twice in his arm. Thankfully, he was able to make it out of the house and call 911 from the cell phone in his truck. He was helicoptered to the hospital, and he said, “They put my arm back together.” Due to later complications with his arm, Neese said, he ended up losing almost a year and a half of work because of the gunshot wounds. But he returned to work as soon as he was cleared for light duty, and RFEI hired a helper to carry his tools.
Now, after 50-plus years on the job, Neese Jr. is currently supervising the test and balance for a huge medical complex in Orlando. When he started this job, Neese said, it was like so many others — he had to win the confidence of the general contractor, inspector, and others on the job. “You just have to prove that you know what you’re doing and are competent in a quiet way,” he said. “It isn’t long before they start to come to you for advice.”
As he helps them and others in the industry, his motto remains: “Take one problem at a time, solve it, and move on to the next problem.”
Publication date: 08/15/2011