Ronald Staley, who earned an associate’s degree in civil engineering technology in 1977 and a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1980, has high praise for Michigan Tech.
“I learned how to study hard,” he recalls, “and I remember working hard. I wouldn’t be where I am today without Michigan Tech.” With his dual degree, he says that he was able to understand building construction and such critical business principles as overhead, return on investment, balance sheets, and income statements. That capability set him up for creating a new business niche—historical preservation—for his employer, The Christman Company, a construction firm headquartered in Lansing.
In 1988, the firm began to restore the Michigan State Capitol. Staley led the day-to-day work of a nationally recognized team of experts during the four-year project. When it was finished, Staley approached the company president, who also was a Tech graduate. “I realized that there weren’t any general contractors who specialized in historic preservation work—that it would be a differentiating business sector.” He was directed to co-develop a marketing study and business plan, relied on his Tech education to do so, received the go-ahead, and started the unit in 1992.
Historical preservation has taken Staley afar. He has worked on buildings of the Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet; five hundred-year-old churches in Poland; Notre Dame’s famed Golden Dome; the Capitol of Virginia, which was designed by Thomas Jefferson and built in 1785; the Henry Ford Estate; Fort Mackinac; the US Capitol, including the stands for the 2009 inaugural; and, most recently, the former American embassy in Tangier, Morocco.
Staley is gratified to be entrusted to undertake “these buildings that have a history,” but he doesn’t live in the past. “If you stand still and look back,” he says, “yes, it’s exciting. But you have to keep moving. We have a great résumé of projects, but you always have to look for the next one.” That said, he adds, “There are a lot of buildings I’d love to get my hands on.” He has always been an adventurous soul. As a scuba diver at Tech, he explored the depths of Lake Superior and checked out shipwrecks; and as a pilot today, he takes flight with the two airplanes he owns: a WWII era North American T-6 Advanced Trainer and, most recently, a 1981 Russian jet, an Aero L-39. Staley, who is 52, took up flying after his two children were grown.
He allows that he is part-ordinary, part-standout. “I attribute much of what I accomplished to hard work. My mentors are those who demonstrated that hard work and making the extra effort will take you far. Also, I still love to learn. That, too, comes from Michigan Tech.”
This story is published in the Spring 2010 issue of Foresight, a planned giving newsletter.