For Bob Grove, construction is in the blood.
His father, Fred Grove, was a contractor who built houses in Columbia.
Bob Grove began working for Little Dixie Construction in 1974 as a general carpenter and worked his way up to co-owner of the company, with Bob LeMone and John States. At the end of August, after 35 years with one of Mid-Missouri’s largest general construction companies, Grove retired.
But Grove, at age 57, isn’t getting out of the construction business entirely. He’s helping his son, Tony, start a new construction company. Tony’s first job will be adding retail space and an apartment unit to the Crazy Music Building at 125 Eighth St.
“That will be three generations of the family in construction,” Bob Grove said.
Bob Grove and Bob LeMone first met when LeMone was Grove’s fourth-grade baseball coach at Russell Elementary School. “We were the only team who had full uniforms,” he said. Years later, the two donated baseball dugouts to both Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools.
Grove’s only other job out of high school was in a push boat moving barges between St. Paul, Minn., and New Orleans, but he grew tired of being away from home, he said. In his early 20s, he went to work for LeMone.
He describes LeMone as unique. “We worked side by side with each other and did not always agree, sometimes loudly, he said. “He was always hands-on and not an office type. He treated me well and gave me a lot of breaks.”
The list of Little Dixie’s projects while Grove was supervising construction includes a wide variety of office and industrial buildings, warehouses, retail stores, restaurants, banks and housing developments.
“Over the years, we did hundreds of jobs,” he said.
Grove had a hand in remodeling many buildings downtown. In recent years, his crews remodeled Downtown Appliance Home Center on Broadway, while the store remained open. They also removed the concrete canopies that lined the Broadway business fronts.
Perhaps the largest job in his career with Little Dixie was the $12 million Datastorm Technologies Building at 2401 LeMone Industrial Blvd.
One favorite client was the Bill and Nancy Laurie family, who wanted an unusual job done: construction of a 4,000-square-foot air-conditioned English-style chapel for the wedding of their daughter, Paige.
Grove started thinking about leaving Little Dixie after the death of Bob LeMone on St. Patrick’s Day 2008.
Two months later, Grove was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. “I thought it was back pains from picking mushrooms, but it was cancer,” he said. He has since undergone chemotherapy.
Grove said his decision to leave Little Dixie was good for him and the company, which is now primarily run by States and LeMone’s wife, son and daughter. And besides, his son has started his own company “and I thought I could advise him some. ”
He has seen the construction business change over the years.
“In earlier days, there was construction on a handshake, and plans were drawn on a napkin,” he said. “There are so many rules and regulations now. It is more complicated and more difficult to build today.
“Everything used to be time and materials. That’s how we did it,” he said. “Now everything is hard bid. With the economy tight, more companies are competing for business. It used to be three or four companies bidding, and now it may be 10.”
But Grove indicated that his son might be timing his entry into the business at a good time, even though the recession has tightened credit and stiffened competition.
“Building is cheap now, and it’s a good time to build if you can borrow the money,” he said. “Cash is king.”
Grove keeps busy with rental properties, including about 50 apartment units in Columbia. He also owns a 133-acre farm in Easley, growing corn and soybeans.
But he admits that construction is still in his blood. “Every time you do a job,. you make a friend,” he said. “We have been very fortunate.”Sep 18, 2009 BY ROBERT E. THOMAS