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Member Profile – Robert J. Boessen, Sr., RRC, CDT

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August 24, 2020
By Rick Gardner
Robert J. Boessen, Sr., RRC, CDT

In our ongoing series of IIBEC member profiles, we highlight Robert Boessen of Grayco Roofing Consultants out of St. Louis, MO. Boessen holds his RRC designation with IIBEC, as well as his CDT (Construction Document Technologist) designation from CSI. He is active with RICOWI and the IIBEC Mid-America Chapter.

Can you give me a brief overview of what you do in your day-to-day job?
I have been an advisor for Grayco Roofing Consultants since officially retiring from Terracon Consultants in 2015. I mentor the young people in Grayco and serve on their advisory board. I serve as the roof consultant member of the Architects Alliance, Inc.’s, architectural design team. I spend my time on sheet metal issues, reviewing shop drawings, desk-reviewing projects, and working on the large-loss resolutions teams supporting the insurance community following major hurricanes and act-of-God occurrences. From time to time I get involved with legal issues as an expert witness; and as a self-employed guy, I work by the project and/or by the hour with other select consulting firms.

What is your favorite part of your job?
Every job is the same…four walls and a roof. BUT, every job, every roof, has its own site-specific issue.

I love that every job is unique. Every job is new. Every issue is new. Each situation, you tear it apart and put it back together. I love a challenge, and I have never been afraid to learn something from the experience. I love it!

What is your least favorite part of the job?
Paperwork. I dread hearing, “Sounds great, Robert; why don’t you put that in writing and then get back to me?” I struggle with the written word, the formal presentation of the issue. I can do it, but it takes me forever.

As my mentor, Philip Nigus, PE, of Terracon Consultants, used to say to me, “Robert, we hired you to put the technical aspects on paper; you get that right, we’ll take care of making it pretty.” That man loved to connect the dots!

Peterson Event Center, Pittsburgh, PA

“Every job is new. Every issue is new. Each situation, you tear it apart and put it back together.”

What advice would you give today to someone starting out in the industry?

  • Make a commitment to being the best you can be.
  • Every building has a roof. If you know your job, someone will need your assistance at some point. It’s job security.
  • As the old saying goes, “Got to crawl before you walk, got to walk before you run.” And then, accept the fact that every once in a while you are going to fall down. It’s part of the process; you shake it off and keep moving. It is called lessons learned.
  • Be brave enough to admit when you made a mistake.
  • If you do not know something, if you don’t ask, it’s an automatic “No.”
  • You learn by doing it. So, get out there and do it.
  • My dad used to say, “Pay attention son, you might learn something.” There is always someone smarter than you; just make sure you know those people.
  • Remember, you do not do this by yourself; you are only as good as the people you surround yourself with.

Project discussion at the Grayco office. Clockwise from left: Steve Gray, principle; Robert Boessen; Michael Trower, RRO;  Drew Bade, consultant.

Can you tell me how you got involved in IIBEC?
I saw an ad in the classified section of a roofer’s magazine for the Roof Consultants Institute. Back then, I sent a letter. A few weeks later, I received a member packet. It was 1985. It took me until 1993 to establish enough accreditation points and roofing knowledge to sit for the RRC exam. The rest is history! Since then, I have met some of the most intelligent people I have ever had the pleasure to know and work with through my involvement with the Institute.

Who has been your mentor in the building enclosure field?
Throughout your work history, everyone is associated with that person who has made a difference, been there and pushed you. When taking my first job with Dressler Consulting Engineers in 2002, I was assigned a “peer review guy.” My assigned peer review guy was Philip Nigus, a PE, and an ex-Air Force captain. It did not take me long to figure out that we made a great team. For me, being a former Air Force sergeant, we formed a bond of teamwork doing things.

Sometimes when I would get a report back from Phil’s peer review, it would look like someone had bled all over it. Completing literally thousands of projects throughout my career, the two most complicated, the most diverse, the most high-profile projects I have completed were working with Phil. One of those two projects was the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center. We were tasked with determining the cause and origin of the failure of a two-year-old standing seam metal roof system. One other particularly memorable project was reroofing a 44-story tower complex in downtown Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike.

Through all of the hours and hours of pre-task planning, design, project management, and oversite, Phil was there, never wavering, holding my hand and asking the questions. “Have you thought of this? What is your plan for this? Are you prepared to answer the legal questions? Who do you have in mind to complete this?”  The list went on and on, yet Phil never questioned whether I could do it, he just wanted to know when. Because of Phil, you and I are having this conversation today.

When the Interface cover photo was taken, Boessen was working at approximately the red star on the aerial photo.

On the December, 2011 cover of Interface, Boessen does moisture testing with a Delmhorst probe 682 feet off the ground in Houston, TX.

Can you tell me more about your involvement with IIBEC?
When I joined RCI, Interface was four pages long. I served on a Recycling Committee for RCI because of a previous experience with re-roofing a 37½-acre roof footprint for the Department of Energy. It was reported that the debris from the project raised a six-acre landfill by 12 feet. I also had the privilege of working with Micki Kamszik, as well as a handful of super neat, extremely smart roofing folks by serving on the RRC Exam Development Committee.

I was humbled to place second in the IIBEC document competition a few years ago for my work at the University of Pittsburgh’s Peterson Event Center. It is a beautiful facility with an egg-shaped, curved radius, standing-seam metal roof system. This was an over $6-million-dollar project to correct deficiencies in the roof assembly.

I noticed you are a regular supporter of the Foundation’s Robert Lyons Scholarship; can you tell me why?
Bob was always there for you. It was the interactions. If you went to the annual conventions, you would run into Bob. He always had time for you. To me, he was “that guy” who would sit down with you and have a cold one and a discussion. He was always upbeat and simply good to be around. Bob always took the time to visit and talk with you.

As you know, this year we pivoted from an in-person convention to a virtual convention. What were some of the takeaways for you?
I was looking forward to the IIBEC Convention and Trade Show this year. I have only missed one convention in 29 years. I love seeing folks that I have not seen in a year. It was a bummer not being able to see these friends or the new stuff on the trade show floor. However, the classes and the online learning was a big plus…I have watched every class that was offered! I think I have taken in more excellent education presentations online this year total than any other convention during the last 29 years of attending!

What is one thing most of our readers probably did not know about you?
I joined the  Air Force in 1958. I was selected to be part of the Air Force Presidential Honor Guard. I was 18 years old and part of a 16-man drill team with chromed, Springfield 03, bolt-action rifles with fixed bayonets. At the time, Dwight D. Eisenhower was president and at one of our events he took a few moments to talk to our team and I got to shake his hand.

Boessen and wife Donna with four out of their six great-grandkids, all of whom are boys, and all of whom were born in June (The June Bugs). Front row, left to right: Jack Richard (4), Harrison Michael (4), Elias (Eli) Ryan (3), and Lucas James (2).

If money were no object, how would you spend your time?
I love to be with my family; we have had six kids (we lost a son), nine grandchildren and six great-grandchildren. All of the great-grandchildren are boys, and believe me, it’s a bucketful! My oldest daughter is 56. My oldest grandchild is 37. My wife Donna is my rock, and she likes to make lists. There is never NOT something on that list…I always have something to do.

The Lord has been good to me; I try to give that gift back to Him. As you are aware, everyone has a roof. I volunteer a lot for nonprofit organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and the United Way. My mom used to tell me, “The road to heaven is not always straight. Doing good works might help you straighten it out.” I just loved that special lady!