After years of relative stability, the U.S. economy has taken us all on a roller coaster ride the last few years. Health Sciences District carpenter Vince Belanger rode that coaster for several years before getting off at the University of Minnesota.
After working for Socon Construction for 20 years the company was dissolved, leaving Belanger without work for six months in 2005. He caught on with Donlar Construction for six months before joining Flannery Construction the next two years. Finally in 2009, after a year of on-and-off work in FM’s Central Services group, he landed in the Health Sciences District.
“I like the variety here at the U,” commented Belanger. “It doesn’t seem like every day is the same. My old employers went where the economy took them. I spent almost 10 years soundproofing airport housing.”
Here at the U, Belanger comes across many situations where he has to be creative and make something work. With the older campus buildings you can’t find many of the parts anymore, so you have to actually construct something that will work for your customers and make them happy.
“That’s the stuff I like,” said Belanger. “Trying to make something work that shouldn’t.”
He credits his farm upbringing for his ingenuity. His family ran a dairy farm in Zimmerman, Minn., where he still owns a hobby farm. Belanger got a lot of experience building and re-building automobiles and motors on the farm.
“We never had any new machinery,” remembered Belanger. “It seems like everything we bought worked for a week and then it’d break and we’d have to come up with a way to fix it on the spot.”
A linebacker and fullback for the Elk River high school football team, Belanger also participated in a work study program that allowed him to get out of school at noon his senior year to work at a gas station. His plan was to go to technical school and become a mechanic. But, when a friend got him a better paying job as a laborer building townhomes in Plymouth, his career path changed to carpentry. After a couple years on the job, Belanger joined the carpenters union with his co-workers and completed the requirements to become a journeyman. He’s been a member of the union for 27 years now.
Belanger and his wife, Kimberly, have two daughters -- Jennifer (21) and Valerie (18) -- who were both three sport athletes. The couple spent much of the free time in the last twenty years at youth sporting events. Now that the girls are in college (Jennifer is a senior at Winona State and Valerie’s a freshman at Gustavus Adolphus) Belanger has time to fix-up the shed in the backyard and begin restoring the 1968 Chevelle he’s had since high school.
While he still enjoys working on older cars, Belanger is glad he became a carpenter. He believes that auto mechanics spend more time working with computers than pistons these days.
The Health Sciences District is also glad Belanger chose carpentry, and that the roller coaster ride he was stuck on came to a stop at the U.