The Good Stuff

Forty years. 2,085 weeks. 14,600 days. 350,400 hours. 21,024,000 minutes. I won’t even attempt to guess how many cups of coffee that is. 

It all started in 1958.

Chris Wilmes was born and raised in Dardenne Prairie, MO (and now lives only 3 miles from his childhood home in Lake Saint Louis). He stuck around Missouri until he was a Junior in college when he decided to head down to Florida International University. He graduated in 1981 with a degree in Business Management and Marketing.

Fun fact: Chris also played baseball all four years of college and caught for future MLB pitcher Tom Henke. His team even participated in the Division II College Baseball World Series in Riverside California.

Chris’ career in construction began while he was still in college. He needed a summer job and he ended up meeting the VP of Fred Weber, Inc. (FWI) at the time. Although he didn’t immediately offer Chris a position, he eventually wore him down, “I think he got tired of me calling him once a month – so he finally gave me a summer job, so I would quit bugging him.”

He worked during the summers of 1979 and 1980 working in the Construction Division of FWI. “I really had no official title but was unofficially called the gopher/office boy. One definition I found for Gopher is ‘a zealously energetic person.’ That would be a good description since my responsibilities included a variety of duties, none requiring much skill; just energy and a willing-to-do attitude.”

After college Chris was offered and accepted a full-time position at FWI working in the Field Office on the I-170 Project – the construction of the New Innerbelt Highway from I-270 to I-70 in St. Louis County. This was Fred Weber’s biggest active project and included complete construction of a new highway.  

“I was an assistant to the Office Manager and given an opportunity to learn from some of the smartest and most experienced men in the industry.” Chris’ duties included preparing daily payroll and quantity reports, material ordering and cost coding, quantity takeoffs and estimate preparation. “My early mentors were highly dedicated to their job. Few were college educated, but they had character, experience and knew how to get the work done. I was privileged to meet and work with quite a few veteran’s, (WWII, Korea, Vietnam) and had ultimate respect for them,” Chris recalls.

According to Chris, this was the beginning of a “lifetime of learning” in the Highway & Bridge Construction industry.

It’s important to mention that during the first project Chris worked on, the field office was located on Hazelwood Avenue a block off Pershall Road where Chris spent three years during the construction of the new Innerbelt Highway (I-170) between I-270 and I-70.

The last project Chris worked on at Millstone Weber is the I-270 North Design Build Project, which we just won. This project is in the same area as his first project and even includes work on Pershall Road and I-170 where he started 40 years ago. “Was this a coincidence? As I worked on the proposal for this project it brought back many memories of the start of my career in the early 1980’s.”

Chris recalls many wonderful memories during his 40 years; but when asked what the best memory is, he had this to say:

“I was blessed to work for a good company (FWI & MW) and surrounded by outstanding men and women my whole career. I have great memories of the people and the relationships that have been developed over the years with MW and prior to with FWI.

Outside of the people, some of the best memories include ‘winning’ and successfully completing large complex projects in the St. Louis Area. During the late 1990’s and 2000’s there was a period of sustained growth in western St. Charles County. This growth brought an incredible amount of road work, which included improvements to I-70, the upgrading of Route 40 to Interstate 64 and the Page Avenue extension into St. Charles County. I was proud to be part of the Teams that constructed these projects with quality, safely, ahead of schedule and under budget. Many of these projects were in the community where I grew up and still live today. Every day when I leave my house I drive on pavement or across a bridge that I was involved with building. These are awesome memories.

The recent award of the I-270 North Design Build Project is one of my BEST memories. I am proud to be a part of the MW team who put the winning proposal together. Thanks to everyone for the dedication and effort put into winning this Project!”

As for the worst memory? Well, there’s “none worth remembering!”

Advice for the younger generation?

Chris has a tremendous amount of respect for everyone he has worked with over the years. 

“With over 4 decades in the industry (1979 – 2020) I have worked with multiple generations. One thing I know: There is no substitution for dedication and hard work. Here are a few more things I would like to share:

  • Give your best every day, treat everyone around you with respect, and set an example for others to follow.
  • Be Patient. The Road to success is always under construction.
  • HAVE FUN!”

What’s next?

Chris has had nearly the same routine for the last 40 years: get up and go to work. So with his new flexible schedule, he was asked what he’s most looking forward to.

“I will definitely enjoy spending more time with my wife LuAnn, our family and friends. LuAnn and I will especially enjoy creating memories with our 4 soon to be 5 grandkids, along with our 4 children.,” he said. “I have always liked to stay busy, so I’m looking forward to some new adventures that will certainly include travel. LuAnn and I have talked about visiting some of the National Parks in the western part of the United States. There are a lot of places we have not been, so now is our chance to enjoy some of the beautiful parts of this great country.”

What a life.

Before we wrap up, some people around here had something to say:

“As many people know, Chris is very even-tempered. However, back in the day at FWI, Chris was in a meeting with MoDOT reps regarding a project at Lake St. Louis where he apparently had quite enough as he slammed his fist on the conference table and said (loudly) ‘We are not the big green machine; we aren’t Santa Claus!’ I think everyone there, including myself, was shocked. I’ve laughed about this over the years as it is one of maybe two times I’ve seen him angry. It’s been a pleasure working for him over the last 25 years.” – Sharon Jepsen

“I first met Chris in 2003 when I worked for MoDOT. I remember thinking this guy is just too nice, saying and doing all the right things, thinking what is his angle, what is he trying to get out of me. Well, it turns out this is just Chris. It has been a pleasure to work opposite him at MoDOT and then with him at FWI and MW. He is someone I would always want on my team. He will truly be missed.” – Brandy Broeckling

“No matter what the subject or situation Chris will always have a story to share; most of which at least have some relevance. This sure made road trips across the state go by faster when we weren’t checking the rumble strips!” – Bob Leingang

“Chris was always an advocate for partnering with owners and always was the one to lead the meetings. On 364 Phase 2 he got MODOT and the FWI team together for a “lunch” which he quickly turned into his own version of a partnering event. He had taken time to write a little note about every person working on the job and found a corresponding gift. I think Sharon might have helped write these. He gave a couple of the superintendents (Dennis Byrd and Rich Montgomery) and inspectors “happy pills” because they were always so crabby. He gave me and a MODOT inspector a “decision maker” because we always seemed to disagree (I still have it in my office). He saved the best gift for Brandon. Brandon didn’t operate on the same schedule as the more seasoned construction guys did. He was always a little later getting into the office than those guys and they always gave him a hard time about it. So Chris thought he’d help Brandon out and bought him a new alarm clock to help him get up in the mornings. It made for a good laugh and a good Wilmes memory.” – Brett Lennon

“Chris is what’s right about the world. He cares. He wants to make it better. He takes seriously his work, his faith and his commitment to his family and community – not himself. He also has the best head of hair I know on an old fart. Chris – as they say in the old country – have fun!” – Thom Kuhn

Chris has lived a life many dream of living; and I have a feeling it’s about to get even better.

See you soon.