The reason I am writing about Jerry is because of the respect and admiration I had for Jerry over the years. Despite failing health in the past few years, Jerry always managed to show up at industry functions with his wife and life partner, Ruthe, at his side. Jerry always said he got just as much joy out of the camaraderie of the meetings as the technical knowledge that was available.
But Jerry's friendly personality is not the reason why I am dedicating this column to him. Lord knows I could write a book about the man. It is what Jerry represents in the HVAC trade that had the most profound affect on me. Jerry was the quintessential "old school" contractor - a class of people that is slowly disappearing from the HVACR landscape. These people are so important to the future vitality of a profession that lacks role models and big name stars. Jerry was simply a business owner who took a great deal of pride in his work. Yet he represented a lot more.
A BRIEF HISTORYJerry had owned and operated Jubinville Plumbing and Heating in nearby Buckland since 1964. According to Ruthe, "He had a passion for knowledge of his industry." He had also served as plumbing inspector for several area towns. Jerry served in the U.S. Army, enlisting in March 1957, and was honorably discharged in March 1960.
I first met Jerry at a "Wetstock" function several years ago, an event for hydronic heating (and other) contractors. There had been a number of different Wetstock events and Jerry and Ruthe made it a point to travel to as many as possible. I had come to expect to see their friendly faces at each event. I still recall Jerry and Ruthe donning safety glasses and taking a tour of the Burnham Boiler plant one year, and later sitting around a group chat table discussing equipment or services.
I last saw Jerry at an "Oil Heat Retreat" in Lancaster, Pa., this past September. Jerry was confined to a wheelchair and his constant companion was a canister of oxygen. His illness was not going to stop him from seeing his friends.
I chuckle when I think of Jerry's dilemma on the day I saw him. The older hotel had a wheelchair ramp that was inconveniently located off to the side of the main entrance. As I walked up to the lobby, the first image that struck me was Jerry, a solitary figure waiting for some help while Ruthe was out seeking directions to the ramp. I'll never forget that image.
THE TRADE NEEDS JERRYSWhat our trade needs are more people like Jerry. Here is a business owner who put his customers first and who took great pride in his work. Jerry had that certain "it" that is so sorely lacking in today's mechanical trades. It isn't that we don't have a lot of Jerrys in our trade - we do - we are just losing them faster than we can replace them.
How many people do you know who have spent more than 30 years in the business and enjoyed doing what they do?
How many young people or family members will come into the trade today who will last for more than 30 years and maintain a high level of service and take great pride in their work?
It is too much of an instant gratification world now. If an HVACR contractor decides he or she wants out because he or she doesn't like the trade or isn't successful at it, that person has many different avenues. Small businesses fail at an alarming rate; but I argue that it isn't because people are born failures.
Quite the contrary. I believe businesses fail because people don't care enough about the trade to make a difference.
Jerry cared about his trade. That's why he was a regular attendee of industry meetings and trade shows. He not only cared about making his business better, he cared about his peers, too. That to me is old school. This is what Jerry represented, and what our trade so sorely needs.
Publication date: 11/13/2006