In the Ballpark with Masonry

George McDonnell & Sons Tuckpointing

By Jeff Klayman

George McDonnel & Sons Tuckpointing Co., Inc. is the caulking contractor for the new Busch Stadium.

Towering cranes punctuate the downtown skyline on this warm spring day as Tom McDonnell, the 42-year-old president of George McDonnell & Sons Tuckpointing, walks the open perimeter of the new Busch Stadium. McDonnell is enjoying the construction of the Cardinals new home, and with good reason: his family's company has six contracts for work on the stadium, including two with Heitkamp Masonry, the mason contractor on the project. Given the mild winter, stadium construction is running ahead of schedule.

At this point, the South East barrel has received the arch tops and cornice, and attractive masonry walls are going up throughout the building. Given the pace of construction, McDonnell's crews have been busy, caulking everything from the enormous precast seating bowl to the doorframes. "It's a large project that just sort of snowballed," says McDonnell, adding that the stadium is about to displace the Edward Jones Dome as his family's company's largest grossing project to date.

Tom's grandfather, George McDonnell, started the family-run company during the Great Depression (1933) when he was cleaning, caulking and tuckpointing new homes for family relatives. Tom's father-George, Jr.-and George's brothers worked for the company as they were growing up. Eventually, Tom's uncles left and George, Jr. and his family took over. As a boy, Tom wanted to be a conservation agent, but circumstances pushed him in another direction.

George McDonnel & Sons Tuckpointing Co., Inc. is the caulking contractor for the new Busch Stadium.

"My dad and grandfather got sick and I started working in the office," he recalls. He soon got involved with the estimating and that led to blueprint reading classes. He officially joined the company in 1980, and became president when his grandfather died in 1983. When Tom's father passed away in 1991, the family decided they'd keep the company going. Tom's mother, Betty, still owns the company and works in the office two or three days a week. Brother Mark is the head bricklayer, brother Mike is the head finisher, sister Debbie is the office administrator and sister Trisha takes care of billing. A fourth generation of nephews - Rich, Matt, Dan and Dave - works in the field.

As passionate as McDonnell is about the work of the firm, he is equally dedicated to building the professionalism of those who work in the craft. He is a member of the local Mason Contractors Association, the Site Improvement Association, and he sits on the board of the American Subcontractor Association. McDonnell credits the MCA especially with improving his skills as a businessman. "(The organization) has helped me tremendously," he says, "teaching me what my dad and grandfather couldn't about business."

Tom is also the chairman of the MCA's Pointers, Caulkers and Cleaners committee. As the committee chair, he is working with Dave Gillick, MCA executive director, to build a PCC certification program that will provide training on tools, techniques, materials, and business operations.

George McDonnel & Sons Tuckpointing Co., Inc. is the caulking contractor for the new Busch Stadium.

McDonnell acknowledges that there are a lot of tuckpointers active in St. Louis but warns that untrained, nonunion workers are known for using cheaper, substandard materials that cut costs-and quality. Union contractors, on the other hand, "use the appropriate materials, even if they do cost a little more." He emphasizes that it's a wise investment to employ skilled union labor and the correct materials because their superior performance will pay significant dividends over the life of a building.

Over the years, George McDonnell Tuckpointing has succeeded by adapting to the demands of the market. "When tilt-up got going, it furnished finishing business," McDonnell says. As a result, half of the company is currently made up of finishers, and business is contracted as far away as Wisconsin and Indiana.

Looking to the immediate future, McDonnell indicates that with projects like Busch Stadium, the Jones Dome, Washington University Housing and the Jones and Whittaker residences adorning the company's portfolio, he's satisfied with the current size and scope of the 20-person company. McDonnell may have traded a conservation agent's hat for a gleaming construction helmet, but the pride in his voice when he talks about his family's company reveals the simple truth: the hardhat suits him just fine.

Originally published June 2005 by the Masonry Institute of St. Louis.

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