Husband, father of four, grandfather of seven, and owner of Gerdy Construction
When did you first start working in construction?
When I was in high school I was in need of a summer job and ended up working with a contractor and enjoyed it. Through high school and the first couple of years of college I was working construction—at the time it was a lot better than working in a fast food restaurant. The pay was a lot higher and I seemed to have a knack for it. I spent two years playing football at Virginia Tech and then transferred to Montclair State College in New Jersey to finish my degree. I worked full time for a builder in my last two years of school.
And you didn’t leave the profession behind once you graduated?
When I finished college, I had a marketing degree and I thought that meant I’d be wearing a shirt and tie. That didn’t sit too well with me at the time so I figured I would swing a hammer for a little while longer.
I was smart enough to marry my wife, Jane, right out of college. In football terminology I out-kicked my coverage. As soon as we were married, we moved to Lynchburg, where I worked for a builder for five years. I decided to go out on my own in 1981.
It’s kind of crazy when you think “Oh I will just a swing a hammer for a few years” and 40-something years later I’m still out there doing it. But I had a knack for it—it came very easily to me. Also, there is a heck of a reward in seeing what you can create with your own hands. A lot of jobs don’t give you that satisfaction.
What are you working on now? What is Gerdy Construction’s niche?
We focus on mid-sized projects—we have enough employees to handle projects that are somewhere in the middle of a monster high rise and a small renovation. Our mix is half residential and half light commercial.
We have the personnel to handle those and treat people right. The middle is where we have settled and that works for us.
Looking back at your career so far, do any learning experiences stick out in your mind?
I had a major one when I made a fairly significant error and it affected a customer as well as a neighboring property. I did everything I possibly could to solve it—but I happened to run into a person who wasn’t interested in solving the problem and was more interested in suing me. I sat down with a businessman who had helped me early on, Bert Dodson, Sr., founder of Dodson Pest Control. He took it all in and just quietly said, “Have you done everything you could possibly do to make this situation right and to treat everyone involved properly?” I said, “Yes, I did everything I know.” He said, “Well then just relax and sleep good at night. There are certain times in life where you will run into people who aren’t interested in working with other people.” That was one heck of a lesson because any time you are in business you have those challenges and you want to keep everyone smiling and grinning.
And the lesson is, occasionally you won’t be able to do that. But as long as you are being honest with the situation and everyone involved,
then you can wait for the results in peace.
You are pretty well known for your involvement in the community. When did you start getting involved with Habitat for Humanity?
The Lynchburg Habitat affiliate started in the late ’80s, and I was asked to be on the board but declined. I’m not a board person—I don’t sit well at meetings. I’m better suited to be physically involved. I am thankful that there are people who handle the board work and the planning. I was asked to work on the very first house and I said, “That I will do.” And from day one I realized… this is what I was supposed to be doing. It was a perfect fit for my skill set and my heart.
What I like about Habitat is they figured out you can’t just give things away. People don’t appreciate them—people have to work for something. When potential homeowners put in sweat equity hours toward a home purchase, the success rate for them in the long run is much higher. Habitat has been a big blessing for me and I’m forever thankful that I was asked to participate by Mary Adams and Kevin Campbell on the very first home in Lynchburg. Now, 30 years later, the Lynchburg chapter has just celebrated building its 300th home in this community. That sure says a great deal about this town.
I am now the fearless and sometimes senseless leader of a group affectionately known as the Habitat for Humanity Road Trip Crazies. We travel two or three times a year to a small Habitat affiliate on the East Coast and help build homes in a blitz fashion. The group’s motto is “Let your heart tell your hands what to do.”
The results are amazing when that takes place.
Another passion of yours is Insights from Inside. Tell us about how this book came about.
When I was in high school I was in a youth group and they brought in two inmates to speak to us about the mistakes they had made. It stuck with me.
Several years ago I knew of someone who was trying to get parole after serving many years in prison for some bad decisions. He said he wanted to talk to young people about not making bad decisions. So we sent a message back and said, “You can start while you are still in.” We asked this person to start collecting letters from other inmates talking about their mistakes. That was the birth of the book, Insights from Inside. It’s a grassroots effort to help kids understand that every decision they make can have lasting effects. The book is based on the premise that every young person is at risk of making that one bad decision that could change his or her life forever. We have about 10,000 copies out there and it’s being used by youth groups, churches, boys and girls clubs, and community centers. We’re very excited about its impact.
And in the rare, spare time you have left, you’ve taken up writing later in life?
It’s kind of ironic that a person who could barely write a two-page paper in college has now written about 90 articles for Huffington Post. For some reason, 30 or 40 years out of college, it clicked. I try to stay away from politics. I like to write about reaching out and making a difference in the world—parenting, community involvement, things like that.
Any final pieces of advice to business owners or leaders who want to make more of an impact?
I believe that every business and every resident needs to play a role in the community and try to make a difference in his or her own way. Helping those around us is the rent we pay while we are here on earth. I’m also convinced that everyone wants to feel there is something more important than the nine to five. I have gotten some attention for my volunteer work in the community but that is simply because I have a cheerleader personality. Central Virginia is a powerful community. If you cheer, people will come out of the woodwork to make a difference.
People want to feel the feeling you get when you make a difference. The ultimate reward is when you know that the world is a kinder and gentler place because you were here. It doesn’t get any better than that.
Learn more about Insights from Inside at www.insightsfrominside.com. Find The Habitat for Humanity Road Trip Crazies on Facebook.