BYU Carpenters Leave a Legacy in Wood

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    By Daniel Jackson

    A closet is not something the average BYU student spends much time thinking about. Closets are where heaps of dirty clothes grow to be veritable mountains, while empty stereo boxes and hideous sweaters gather dust in its dark recesses.

    But for the staff of BYU”s carpenter shop, who recently finished remodeling all the closets in Heritage Halls after six years of work, a closet is not just a closet. It is part of something bigger – a commitment to BYU students they say is central to their mission.

    “Our purpose is to serve the students,” said Kirk Jacobs, a 21-year veteran of the shop. “We hope we can make their living conditions more comfortable.”

    Jacobs works with three other carpenters and foreman Eric Tuttle at the shop, which they share with painters and locksmiths. The shop is tucked into the back of the Auxiliary Maintenance Building in a remote corner of campus north of the Marriott Center.

    The carpenters” work is visible, if often overlooked, everywhere on campus, from repaired doors in Deseret Towers to intricate cabinets for professors” offices. Their time is divided between maintenance, such as repairing damaged doors or kitchen cupboards, and building and remodeling projects for the university. Much of the routine maintenance is delegated to the shop”s student employees, freeing the full-time carpenters to do what they really enjoy – remodeling and building.

    At the moment, the tables in the shop are stacked with carefully-sanded wood beams for its current project, building 50 folding partitions for rooms in the Wilkinson Student Center. Many of their projects involve what Jacobs calls “mass production.”

    “Many of the places we service have about 100 units, and they want us to put the same thing in each one,” Jacobs said.

    It is when they are assigned more individual projects that the carpenters really get a chance to shine, he added.

    “We enjoy the mass production, it keeps us going,” Jacobs said. “But it can get pretty redundant. It”s exciting when things are a bit nicer; when we get to remodel an office, we get to be more creative.”

    The carpenters enjoy building furniture and cabinets because they are given a freer hand in designing them. While professors and others will give specific size requirements, they”re generally “pretty open to suggestions” from the carpenters about how to make the pieces better, Jacobs said.

    The Foreman

    Like Jacobs, foreman Eric Tuttle has worked at the BYU carpenter shop for 21 years. But his formative experiences in carpentry and construction occurred far from Utah.

    “I went on a labor mission with my dad in New Zealand,” Tuttle said. “I built a chapel with him there when I was a senior in high school. That”s where I first developed a love for building things.”

    After graduating from college with a degree in construction management, Tuttle went into the home-building business. But when former president Jimmy Carter raised interest rates in the early 1980s, the industry was hit with a recession. Tuttle was forced to leave his family in Utah, often for a week at a time, in order to earn the higher union wages being offered in Davis, Calif.

    “I was only home every other week,” Tuttle said. “My wife wanted me home.”

    A friend told him about a job opening at BYU, and Tuttle has been here ever since. He says his time at the university has been a great experience. He praised the carpenters that he oversees.

    “They can build just about anything,” Tuttle said.

    Tuttle said he plans to work at BYU another five years, but he doesn”t expect his retirement to end his carpentry. He is inspired by the intricate wood carving of the Manila, Philippines temple that sits atop his desk, a building whose construction his father helped oversee at the request of the First Presidency.

    After the dedication, Tuttle said, “President Hinckley told Dad what a good job he”d done on the temple. That made it all worthwhile.”

    Tuttle hopes that, after retirement from BYU, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints can use his talents to help build the kingdom.

    “After my parents” experience with the Philippines temple, I”ve always wanted to get involved in a church building project,” he said.

    The Newcomer

    Chad Brimley has worked in the shop for one and a half years but switched from the painting to the carpentry crew just four months ago. He switched just in time to help with the carpenters” latest big project, rebuilding the front desk and cabinets in the main lobby of the Missionary Training Center.

    Like the rest of the full time carpenters, Brimley has a college degree; he graduated with a degree in construction management from Utah Valley State College. He moved to Colorado with his family, but came back to Utah to work at BYU. He”s looking forward to the next big project, renovating the apartments in Wyview in preparation for their transition from married to single housing.

    Jacobs, Tuttle and Brimley, along with fellow full time carpenters Oran Crow and Wayne Olsen, are the unseen faces and hands behind many of the repaired doors, office cabinets, classroom partitions and wooden podiums at BYU. Although relatively few at BYU might recognize them, they”re motivated, in part, by a feeling of legacy.

    As Tuttle puts it: “I have a feeling of success to know that there will be things left as monuments to my time and talents after I”m gone.”

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