CANCO Project Manager Duke a true Hall of Famer
11 months ago
Companies everywhere like to boast about their employees by using terms like “rock star” and “hall-of-famer.” But for Carl A. Nelson & Company, saying those things about Project Manager Dennis Duke is no exercise in hyperbole. Duke is an accomplished builder, but away from the office and jobsite, he’s also a talented bass guitarist and Iowa Rock and Roll Music Association Hall of Fame inductee.
Duke grew up in Burlington, Iowa, where CANCO is headquartered, and during high school became active with a band called The Macabras, playing pop and rock music at school dances, weddings, parties, local events and frequent Battle of the Bands contests.
Instead of chasing the rock ’n’ roll dream, however, Duke decided “I had to grow up.” He followed his father and brothers into construction, but took a different path, attending Southeastern Community College, then — after a switch from architecture — earning a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering in 1979 from Iowa State University.
It wasn’t for another five years that Duke found his way to CANCO, where he started in 1984 as a project manager and estimator. It was the first of what would be two stints with the company, and included construction of most of the stores of the former Jack’s discount chain, as well as hospital and clinic projects, shopping centers and stores and warehouses for the grocery chain, Aldi. After a brief departure from the firm, Duke returned to primarily lead industrial projects for clients such as Bayer US/Monsanto, HON and Conagra Brands.
The variety of the work is appealing, he said. Duke explained he has enjoyed the planning and management aspects of construction, more than he would have the hands-on aspects.
“It’s like making a concept become a reality,” he said.
The work means estimating costs and soliciting bids from subcontractors, but it also involves working directly with architects and engineers to determine what does or doesn’t work in a design, and recommending changes based on his own engineering and construction experience.
Then, he said, you get to “stand back and watch it be built.”
Aside from Duke’s construction career, he has supported animal welfare organizations, served the Southeast Iowa Builders Association and Iowa Workforce Development, and is a past board member with the local YMCA. Meanwhile, music has continued to be a passion. After countless gigs in his teens through his early 20s, he gave up performing until he was in his 40s. Then, in 2012, The Macabras reunited for the first time in 40 years for their induction into Iowa’s rock ’n’ roll hall of fame.
Now in his 60s and with retirement and a future spent traveling with his wife of 39 years, Teresa, and their dog, Max, in his sights, Duke keeps right on making music. He’s back to gigging at public events, playing the occasional party and traveling with a group of 60-something rockers. Duke also helps organize an annual concert in Burlington to support the Iowa Rock Hall of Fame.
There’s still no dream of musical stardom, but neither are there any regrets about not pursuing it in younger days.
“It’s just a fun hobby,” Duke said. “It’s fun to play for a good crowd.”
Construction, near the end of a 42-year-long career, remains fun, too.
“Every day is a new adventure, a new problem,” he said. “It’s not the same old mundane thing.”
— Craig Neises, director of marketing