Denny Pehrson admits that he has the instincts of a teacher as much as a builder. Pehrson, 75, honed his teaching skills working as a foreman, superintendent and senior superintendent during 57 years in the industry—a career in which he mentored hundreds of young constructors. He officially retired five years ago from Adolfson & Peterson Construction, Aurora, Colo., but Pehrson continues to visit A&P jobsites to offer suggestions, safety tips and "an occasional kick in the pants" to younger colleagues. In July he celebrated 49 years with the company.
"I have enjoyed many parts of the job," Pehrson says. "But one of the best is watching the younger generation grow up, seeing them get better at their jobs every year. I have always been firm with them—some might say I was pretty tough at times—but that was to make them better builders."
Pehrson says he tries to teach young workers how to understand all aspects of a project, not just the task they are assigned to do. "If you paint that wall in your mind, and then work backwards from that, thinking about everything that had to be done to get there, you'll make fewer mistakes on your end," he says. "You've got to retrace those steps to see how the trades work together on a project."
"Denny has the ability to teach without giving the answer," says John Herrera, A&P general superintendent. "He leads you down the right path to the answer, but in the end, you would be able to answer your own question."
Pehrson learned his trade skills working for his father, a part-time bricklayer, on the family farm in western Minnesota. After high school, he took a job as a bricklayer and completed a three-year apprenticeship while working for a local construction company.
He was promoted to foreman and learned to do finish work. Then, in 1965, he was hired away by A&P co-founder George Adolfson. Pehrson's first project with A&P was a school in Fairmont, Minn. He tackled his first superintendent's job on a National Guard Armory project.
A&P asked Pehrson to move west in 1981 to help open the firm's new Colorado office. Since then he has worked as a superintendent on more than 30 major projects, including the $27-million Kaiser Permanente Rock Creek Multi-Specialty Medical Campus. It was completed two months ahead of schedule and more than $2 million below budget under his watch. Pehrson says his toughest job was the 80-acre Cherry Creek High School, where A&P built additions and renovated 50% of the campus in less than two years.
"I've always found satisfaction in completing good projects and knowing that they are working well for their owners," Pehrson says.