Campus construction superintendent shares about his life, work and loves

Between Gregory Hall and Lincoln Hall sits a medium-sized trailer with a white and red exterior and the words “Grunloh Construction, Inc.” printed on all four sides. Inside the trailer, the walls are planked with wood paneling, and the tiled floors are covered with dirt from workers continuously tracing in and out. A long desk is mounted to the trailer’s northern wall, the top is buried under piles of papers. At the right side of the desk, in a black office chair, sits Nick Roussey, superintendent of the current Gregory Hall and Noyes Lab construction.

Roussey has overseen the completion of five projects as superintendent since first arriving on campus with Grunloh Construction, Inc. in 2007. These include the construction of the Poultry Research Facility and Nugent Hall, as well as the renovations to the Rare Book and Manuscript Library, the English Building and the Foreign Language Building.

Although Roussey said no work site differs much from the next, he enjoys working on campus because of the complexity involved with each project.

“I just like being here because it’s intriguing,” Roussey said. “You get into so many different variables of the construction trade right here, and trying to renovate a building and bring it up to speed with today’s technology, it’s a challenge, and I love a challenge.”

He does note, however, that the challenge isn’t always an easy one.

“It’s really hard to work around (the) students, work around the instructors and still be able to have the facility functional,” Roussey said. “These (buildings) provide a whole different challenge that nobody really wants, but you have to do it.”

***

Born in Bronson, Mich., in 1959, Roussey was introduced to the construction trade at a young age.

“That’s what our family always did,” Roussey said. “That’s what my dad did, my uncles did, my cousins. Everyone I grew up around.”

Roussey got his real introduction into the construction trade, however, when he got the opportunity to attend a vocational school in high school. Roussey said that as a high school student, vocational school not only gave him a feel for the responsibility of having a job, but the added bonus of earning his own money.

“I always had needs and wants and, in order to fill that, you had to have money. We were a family of seven (children),” Roussey said.

The road that led Roussey to Grunloh and the University was a difficult one. After vocational school, Roussey went out into the field to work as a labor carpenter and iron worker. He started traveling in 1978 with Ray Roussey Construction, owned by his uncle. After leaving his uncle’s company in 1985, Roussey went on to build self-storage units for a company called National Self Storage. This led him back to Michigan, and, in 1989, Roussey joined his cousin’s construction company as a superintendent.

On Sept. 9, 1992, Roussey was working as superintendent on the construction of an airplane hanger when a severe thunderstorm rolled into the area. Roussey instructed all his guys off the building and stayed to make the final connections and unhook the crane that was attached to the steel structure.

“We had 140 feet of stick (crane) in the air hooked to that steel structure,” Roussey said. “If that lightning had hit that crane it would have came down through the building and could have electrocuted all my guys. If anyone’s going to get hurt on a job site, it will be me, not my guys.”

After unhooking the crane and sending it away, Roussey began to make his way down when a bolt of lightning struck near the building, causing him to lose his grip and fall 17 feet to the ground.

“I told (my workers) to get me up, I picked my hat up off the ground, put it on my head, and said, ‘Come on you guys get me in my office, this foot’s broken,’” Roussey said.

But his men knew it was more serious than just a broken foot. Roussey broke 47 bones that day, causing him to permanently lose 30 percent movement in his right arm, 25 percent movement in his left foot and 30 percent in his right foot. Miraculously though, Roussey only spent eight days in the hospital.

“I asked the doctor what I could do to get home and he said have someone at home to take care of you and a hospital bed and (you) can walk out of here,” Roussey said. “So, I just got on the phone and called down to therapy and said, ‘Hey can you come up here and fit me for a walker,’ and they came up that afternoon and I was out.”

***

Upon returning home, Roussey’s cousin’s company closed and he experienced difficulty finding a new job since he did not receive a college degree.

Roussey was up for the challenge. In 1994 he enrolled in Kellogg Community College in Battle Creek, Michigan and five years later, he graduated with a degree in engineering, design and computer-aided drafting. His degree allowed him to secure a job designing office spaces at Officeways, Inc. out of Battle Creek.

The physical nature of the construction industry eventually took a toll on his body and after dislocating three disks in his back in 2001, Roussey was let go from his job. A little discouraged, Roussey decided to retire. He had his own self-storage complex and a few rentals to keep him occupied, but he was in search of something to do in the winter. This led him to Champaign where he started driving semi trucks.

While on the job, he met a woman whom he married in 2006. This led him to permanently leave Michigan and settle just outside of Sullivan, Ill. In search of more convenient work hours, he began to once again look for construction jobs.

“I started looking in the phone book and I found Grunloh Construction and it seemed like a good fit for me, so I just went down there and bugged (Tom Grunloh) once (or) twice a week until he gave me a job,” Roussey said. “I told him you might as well hire me because you’re not gonna get rid of me.”

Tom Grunloh, the owner of Grunloh Construction Inc., finally gave in and hired Roussey in 2006.

“He was persistent and thank God he was,” Grunloh said. “Nick is a dedicated individual. He is just rock solid. He’s just a good man.”

Grunloh said Roussey may come off rough around the edges, but that it is certainly not the case.

“He acts like he’s a bull, but at the end of the day everyone respects him and likes him,” Grunloh said.

Although construction workers are often stereotyped as “a bunch of low-life, uneducated people,” Roussey said many of them are as educated as anyone else and are skilled tradesmen.

One thing’s for sure, Roussey seems to have landed in the perfect profession.

“I honestly don’t see myself ever retiring,” Roussey said. “I love the job, I just love construction. You (get) to see things come from dirt and come up to something beautiful and all of them are beautiful in my eyes. All of them.”

_Morgan can be reached at [email protected]_