Published on May 9th, 2017 | by UC&D Magazine0
Feeling Fine at 89
Stallings Construction founder Rex Stallings continues to show up every day at the company he founded in 1951.
Having just entered the final year of his ninth decade in life, Rex Stallings continues to look at each day as an opportunity to get something good done.
As the elder statesman of Murray- based Stallings Construction, a 66-year-old company he founded with his father in 1951 and is currently in its third generation of family, Stallings in many ways is the epitome of the old school, hard working contractor that enjoys nothing more than seeing the fruits of his labor. Despite turning 89 on January 10, he still relishes the opportunity to come into the office on a daily basis and work amongst family members and other long-time employees, including nephew Don (65), son Reed (63), grandsons Jed (40) and Brady (38), and grandson-in-law Orrin Porter (43).
“They’re still putting up with me every day,” chuckled Rex. “I still prefer to build, but they won’t let me do some things.”
“He is the ultimate example of an extremely hard worker – we gotta be careful, otherwise he’s grabbing a jackhammer or climbing a scaffold,” said Reed, who serves as a Project Manager. “(His mantra) is ‘I’ll work hard and you guys try to keep up’.” It’s our responsibility to keep up with him. Everything he’s done has not been for a selfish reason – it’s to do the right thing for the good of everybody, from clients to workers.”
“It’s tough being involved in a family business, historically,” said Jed, the company’s Office Manager. “In our type of business we see lots of families that implode. We don’t argue. To have three generations working together speaks to my grandpa and my dad and uncle’s character. That same attitude extends to our subs, our employees. We try to treat people right – it’s a lesson I’ve learned from them. We’re in this for the long haul.”
Rex grew up in Buhl, Idaho before moving with his family to Salt Lake City at age 14, where he attended East High School. His father, Charles, was a farmer and sheep herder, and also did some construction work in the 40’s including working on the Utah Oil Refinery and building the Bushnell Hospital for wounded soldiers in Brigham City (it later became the Indian School) during WWII.
In 1944 when Rex was 16, he worked at the Clearfield Naval Supply Depot (now Freeport Center) as a laborer building concrete ramps and platforms. He recalled having to transport concrete via a wheelbarrow (which he had never used previously), and also mix concrete virtually by hand, shoveling sand, aggregates and cement into a hopper, which was then fed into a mixer. He was working with a friend, and recalled of the experience, “We were working so hard; they just about killed me off. My friend didn’t show up for the second day, which was just as bad. By the third day, the other workers slapped me on the back and said ‘we really don’t like working that hard…we were just trying to kill you off’. They realized I could handle it.”
Rex ended up serving a mission for the LDS Church to the Western Canada Mission from October ’48 to October ’50 and when he returned, he and his father started Stallings and Stallings Construction in 1951 when Rex was 23 and Charles was 63. They started out small and stayed that way for several years, working on a variety of residential and small commercial projects. Charles worked four years before moving into a more part-time role, while Rex searched out any kind of work he could find, including finishing basements, small concrete jobs, and gasoline stations.
“I started out pretty humble – I was going out and doing whatever jobs we could find,” said Rex. “My philosophy in those (early) days was I wanted to stay small – we weren’t a big name around the valley.” Rex admits that construction “is kind of in my blood – I always wanted to be a builder.” His great grandfather, Joseph Stallings, was an early convert to the LDS Church in 1838 and helped complete the Nauvoo (Illinois) Temple in 1846 before coming out west with the Mormon Pioneers in 1950 and settling in the Millcreek area, where he built a lumber and shingle mill.
Rex recounted a story from November ’63: His company was replacing a roof for the Utah School of the Deaf and Blind when he heard on the radio that John F. Kennedy had been assassinated. “We could look down from the roof and see the kids’ beds – we figured we better get the roof replaced before storms started blowing in.”
Stallings also remodeled several banks, which burnished his firm’s reputation as an honest contractor. Rex said on one particular project he and his crew were doing TI work in an actual bank vault, with all the money sitting right there on shelves. The bank president told Rex ‘Don’t open the door for anybody!’ Someone tripped the alarm – which was a silent alarm so the workers weren’t aware – when a group of police cars filed into the parking lot. An officer banged on the bank door, demanding Rex to open the door.
“The policeman said ‘let me in’ and I wouldn’t let him in. He pulled his gun out…I let him in,” Stallings smiled. “I felt like we have a good reputation for honesty – to be trusted working in a vault.”
Don and Reed started working for Rex as teenagers, before coming on board full- time in the early 70’s: Don in ’73 at age 21; Reed in ’74 at age 19. The company started branching out into different markets in both public and private sectors, including building meetinghouses and other projects for the LDS Church, a client they’ve worked with for 40-plus years.
Rex recalled many significant jobs he’s worked on over the years, including the Highland Dairy, transforming the original Bountiful Tabernacle into an LDS Stake Center, the first truck stop at 2100 South 900 West for American Oil (“that was a pretty big job in those days, he said”), a TI finish of the Carriage House at the old Kearns Mansion (now Governor’s Mansion), a new chapel at Camp Williams, and the Decker Lake Youth Correctional Center, a $2.6 million job which at the time in ’83 was the largest project the company had built. Recent jobs in the past couple of years include a TI remodel for Clark Planetarium’s rebranding, new dugouts at Smith’s Ballpark, a remodel of Abravanel Hall, and the Midvale Senior Center, which earned UC&D’s 2015 ‘Outstanding Public Project Under $10 Million’ award.
“Our success stems from the ability to start a job and finish it – it doesn’t matter what time the clock says, we stay with it and make sure everything is done to everybody’s satisfaction,” said Don, the firm’s main Estimator. “We’ve done a lot of jobs that went into the night, trying to make sure it was done right.”
Rex also provided solid advice over the years on how to deal with the cyclical, ever-changing nature of the construction industry.
“He taught us to stay steady during highs and lows,” added Don. “You’re not the king of the hill during the good times, so you have something during tough times. We’re able to do large and small projects, whether it’s somebody’s driveway or basement or a jail or school remodel or addition. We try to keep clients happy on all levels. You do what needs to be done.”
“From his example we learned that we’re not better than any job – we can own the company but still wash windows and sweep floors,” said Reed. Rex is also credited for being willing to utilize new technology and experiment with innovative construction methods and techniques.
“His example has always been as an innovator – in his mind there is always a better way to do it,” – said Reed. “I remember him showing up on a job with a Bunyan (Striker) concrete roller screed…we were one of the first owners of that.”
Rex is quick to return compliments to his kin.
“They’re craftsmen in multiple trades. During hard times they’ve been able to do masonry work, concrete work, finish carpentry work. Sometimes we were the only subs on a job,” said Rex. “They’ve taken (the company) to a way ‘nother level than where I was.”
Regarding his future, Rex is loathe to say the ‘R’ word, so Don and Reed, despite being in their 60’s and nearing a ‘traditional’ retirement age, concede that they’re not going anywhere as long as Rex keeps showing up at the office and on job sites.
“We can’t think about it as long as we have an 89-year-old father working as hard as we are,” said Reed. “We can’t contemplate it until after he retires.”
“I seldom go through a day without someone asking when I’m going to retire,” said Rex. “It hasn’t been these guys…we get along well and enjoy one another. What could be better than being in the presence of your children and grandchildren on a daily basis? I look back, and I wouldn’t have gone into anything different. It has been a very enjoyable life.”