In the spring of 1987, Lyle Ott was relatively happy with his lot in life. He had a good job at an Omaha construction company and this proud "guy-in-the-field" superintendent wasn't looking for a change.
Ott was content with life, until the day two of his co-workers - Bob Carlisle and Jim Meyers - approached him with a bold plan to break away from Hicks Construction and start their own business.
Ott quickly realized Carlisle and Meyers were serious and, he said, he knew they made a formidable and profitable team. Still, Ott did some hard thinking before he agreed to become a "silent investor" in a new company at the age of 47 and, in the process, its first field superintendent.
"I knew Jim and Bob were getting all the jobs," said Ott, who is now 77 and retired from MCL Construction. "Bob is a good salesman and he's a guy who never stops. That's why that company is what it is today."
Ott left Hicks Construction about a week after Carlisle and Meyers left and he remembered his last day with a laugh. "I walked into the office and said, ''I'm going to go with Meyers and Carlisle,' " Ott recently recalled with a boyish giggle. "He said, 'Oh, those sons of bitches, they took you too!' "
Ott was one of the original investors in MCL Construction - an Omaha company that has landed numerous multimillion-dollar construction jobs since its humble beginnings and that is now celebrating its 30th anniversary.
Ott and two of the company's other "old timers" reminisced about the early years at MCL recently during the company's Christmas party last month.
Milt Critser, 76, also left Hicks Construction to join MCL as a superintendent a few weeks after the company opened its doors. Norm Christensen, 78, was hired as a laborer during the company's second year in business.
Both Critser and Christensen say they're not surprised the company is not only still around but that it continues to grow to this day.
MCL Construction now employs more than 120 employees and has been hired for some of the region's most coveted construction jobs, including the building of a large-scale spiritual retreat called the "Cloisters on the Platte" for Nebraska native Joe Ricketts.
"Jim Meyers and Bob Carlisle were a good fit to work together. I had a feeling they'd be successful," Critser said. "They were easy to get along with and their goal was to have happy customers."
Christensen agreed. "They had a lot of smart people working at the top. They treated their employees good. That's why we worked there," said Christensen, who spent more than 20 years at the company doing "demolition" work, tearing down walls and ceilings.
Ott said he realized he had made a good investment decision after the company's first year, when they began to acquire jobs and the company managed to pay its bills. "Every bill that came in, we paid for. We had cash to pay the bills. We never had to borrow," Ott said.
Each of the retirees had their favorite time and their favorite places that they worked at during their years at MCL.
Ott loved the 15 years he spent at Immanuel Medical Center, overseeing the remodeling of the hospital's various floors. They would work on one floor, and then go to the next, year after year. "That was my most enjoyable time in construction. I got to know all the nurses and doctors," said Ott, who retired in 2005 and sold his interest in the company to Gary Leapley.
Critser spent almost 20 of his 23 years at MCL working on remodeling jobs at First National Bank's old headquarters in downtown Omaha. "I was there long enough that I'd repeat floors," Critser smiled.
To this day, whenever Critser goes downtown, he looks at First National Bank and wistfully recalls his days on the job. "I think, 'It would be nice to be working again,' " Critser said.
Christensen also worked at Immanuel Medical Center, remodeling floor after floor. "We'd start on the bottom floor and go up. By the time we got to the top, we'd start over again," Christensen said.
Retirement is grand, they say, but all three MCL retirees make it clear that they miss their time on the job and the days they spent with coworkers. Today, they fill their days with hobbies or putting their construction skills to work for family and friends.
Christensen loves to fish and hunt, and you can find him most days transporting his grandchildren from school to outdoor activities. He too misses his co-workers. "Co-workers were pretty good to work for - most of them anyways," Christensen says with a laugh.
Critser says he has taken up "woodworking." As for what he builds, he left that to the imagination. "A lot of sawdust," he laughed.
As for Ott, the former superintendent finds that his construction skills are in hot demand now that he's entered the world of free labor. He says his neighbors and his children keep him busy, remodeling garages and fixing leaking pipes.
And, that's fine with him. "I'm not a book-working guy," says Ott. "I work (with my hands)."
30 Year Reflection Series
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