Beyond the Build: Ronald Nelsen, Senior Vice President, Field Operations
How did you get into the construction field?
I originally wanted to be an architect. I went to Harper College in Illinois for architecture, then decided to get a construction management degree and transferred to Ferris State University in Michigan. A professor of mine at Harper, who was a leading architect on the John Hancock Building in Chicago, told me that architecture was going to change a lot because of computers. At the time, the main program used was call Fortran. It was a messy approach that involved punch cards, and if you messed up one card you had to reprint the whole batch. Oh man, it was a big mess. When I returned home after graduating from Ferris, I connected with a friend’s dad who gave me a job as a laborer, and I worked my way up to superintendent from there. He pretty much gave me my start and I’m very grateful.
What is one memory you have of starting out as a superintendent?
We used to get paid every Wednesday. I would pick up all the checks for my crews, new batteries for my pager and a roll of quarters for the payphones. Every morning you had to find the nearest payphone or gas station to call in and receive orders. It was very different than what superintendents do today!
How did you meet your wife, Michelle?
I’ve known my wife since I was 9 years old. Her younger brother and I were good friends. She was a year older than me but we all went to the same schools so I saw her around a lot. I used to fight with her all the time. Now we live in Crystal Lake where we raised our two boys Johnathan, 30 and David, 21. Funny enough, people I went to high school with in Buffalo Grove live near me in Crystal Lake now.
What do you do in your free time?
I don’t really have free time! But if I do, I try to go out to my lake house up north every other weekend and either work on stuff at the house there or go fishing. That's how I recharge myself. It's about five hours away, which isn’t as bad of a drive as most would think. I leave right after work on Friday with my wife and four dogs to head up there.
How do you travel with four dogs?
We put the great dane and german shepherd in the back seat of my truck and the two chihuahuas are in my wife's lap. I used to have a pitbull, Dolly, but she passed away. She was the momma of everybody. They are all rescues. Dolly was one of two dogs that lived through a fire at a rescue house in Southern Illinois. So every time the fire alarm would go off at our house she would go nuts. She hated any kind of fire at all, for example if I went to light the grill with a lighter she would try to jump up and bite the lighter. She was a great dog, probably my favorite. She was very protective of my wife and the kids.
Any other pets?
I used to own a horse. Back when I was 21 or so I wanted to go out west and hunt on horseback. I figured that if I was serious about doing that, I should probably learn how to ride. I went to riding lessons and one day I saw the ranchers training a horse that piqued my interest, Rascal. The lady who owned the ranch said that I could have the horse for $500 if I built a fence around the back of their land. Of course, I took the deal.
The ranch was backed up to the forest preserve in Spring Grove so I had nearly 300 acres to ride. I found out that Rascal loved to chase deer. I almost fell a couple of times. He would go so fast but it was fun to let him go wild. Eventually we gave Rascal to a friend’s daughter who rode in parades and tournaments. I made a deal with them: if they ever wanted to get rid of Rascal for whatever reason, they had to give him back to me so I can make sure he goes to a good place. I retired him on a farm in Palatine where they used him as a trainer horse for little kids. He passed at 26 years old, which is old for a horse. He had a good life.
What is a favorite vacation of yours?
I went on an Alaskan cruise with my wife. All the seafood there was the best I’ve ever had. The salmon - whoa. We went to a restaurant that specialized in crab where I got two legs and a claw that were the largest I’ve ever seen. It came out of the shell in one piece! Phenomenal. We did a seven day cruise to hit the ports and seven days on land. We saw dolphins, whales, sea lions, and a lot of eagles. We went dog sledding, took an 8 hour wildlife bus tour, cruised Glacier Bay in a boat and actually saw a glacier drop! It was incredible. Our trip was the second week of June and had beautiful weather. Everywhere we stopped people told us we were lucky because it usually rains everyday. Honestly, the most expensive part of the trip was my wife’s shopping. We had to buy another suitcase just for the gifts and tchotchkes.
What are the most interesting projects you’ve worked on while with PREMIER?
I’d say the Hyde Park projects in Chicago and Mayfair Collection in Wauwatosa because they were different from the industrial box builds that PREMIER is known for. Hyde Park included a myriad of projects: we did historical renovations of retail and restaurant storefronts, including the Harper Theater. The theater had been closed for many years, so we gutted the whole interior. The project was like building a ship in a bottle: challenges the whole way through, but we were really proud of the result. We also reconstructed the Doerr building and Chicago Innovation Exchange for the University of Chicago in Hyde Park.
At Mayfair Collection in Wauwatosa, Wisconsin we transformed an area that had been industrial for nearly 70 years into a retail and hospitality hub for the region. It started with building the retail center, where we cut off one side of an industrial building to create a whole new look while maintaining the building’s skeleton. Most shopping malls have a cookie-cutter look, but in Wauwatosa the owner envisioned a modern industrial look. The area has since expanded with two hotels and a 10-story residential building with businesses on the lower level. Mayfair Collection is still growing, and we are still working there! In both projects, we were creating something that no one else was doing so we had to rely on our experience and teamwork to create the vision.
About PREMIER Design + Build Group
PREMIER Design + Build Group, LLC provides a full range of design + construction services for industrial, commercial, medical, multifamily and adaptive reuse projects. From office build-outs to large-scale industrial facilities, every PREMIER project benefits from the company’s strong client focus and concept-to-completion success strategy.