Dick's Plumbing and Heating celebrates 50 years in business
The folks at Dick’s Plumbing and Heating of Bemidji are celebrating for two reasons this year. It was 50 years ago when Dick Gregg started the business that bears his name. They’re also relieved that his son, Mike, who now serves as the company president, is alive and well after suffering a stroke on April 26. That was just five days before the official 50th-anniversary date.
BEMIDJI -- The folks at Dick’s Plumbing and Heating of Bemidji are celebrating for two reasons this year.
It was 50 years ago when Dick Gregg started the business that bears his name. They’re also relieved that his son, Mike, who now serves as the company president, is alive and well after suffering a stroke on April 26. That was just five days before the official 50th-anniversary date.
“I honestly thought I was almost in the best shape of my life at that time," said 62-year-old Mike. “So it’s a good lesson for all of us. Don’t take anything for granted. I have a little different outlook on things. I’m glad to be here.”
All in the family
Dick Gregg grew up in a plumbing family but didn’t get into the business right away. His father, Wendell, owned Gregg’s Plumbing in Bemidji. Dick worked in the mines for four years on the Iron Range but came back on weekends to work with his dad.
“At that time we were selling surge milkers to farmers,” Dick said. “So I’d travel with my dad, mainly north toward Debs and Pinewood. I had grown up on a farm of my uncles and milked 35 cows with surge milkers, so I could go out and show these guys how to run their milkers.”
He said the plumbing business started growing when farmers asked to have water heaters installed and water lines run between milk houses and farmhouses.
Wendell later sold Gregg’s Plumbing to his son Dick and son-in-law Elvin Burnham. A few years later, Dick sold the company and went to work at Bemidji State College. “They needed a plumber and I was a master plumber,” Dick said.
He would work from early morning to mid-afternoon, then do plumbing work on the side evenings and weekends. After about 15 months at the college, Dick decided to start his own business.
“I made more money on the side than I did working at the college,” he said, “so I figured it was a no-brainer.”
Fifty years later, the company is busier than ever, and Dick Gregg is pleased that it has remained in the family.
Sons Mike and Randy joined their father and eventually bought the business when Dick was ready to retire. Randy sold out to Mike two years ago but continues to work on medical gas projects. Tippy Gregg, Dick’s daughter, is the company’s office manager. Mike’s son, Matthew, joined the company last year, adding a fourth generation to the family plumbing and heating business.
“I have to give both of my boys and Tippy really a lot of credit because they have worked hard,” Dick said. “I walked out of there on the day I retired and knew it was in good hands. But I still go in there just about every morning.”
A scare for the family
Mondays are the most challenging day of the week for Mike Gregg. April 26, 2021, was no exception.
“It was another crazy Monday,” Mike said. “Life would be a lot better if I could just not have Mondays. But you’ve got to have Mondays to set the table for the rest of the week. We’ve got way too much work. That’s some Monday stress that we’ve created on our own. But you just have to roll up your sleeves and get it done.”
Mike had a nagging cough for three or four days when he came to work that day. “I was coughing to the point where I’d get lightheaded,” he said.
So he went home in the afternoon but decided to work out.
“One of the ways I’ve always tried to deal with the stress in my life is to exercise,” he said. “If you work hard and exercise hard, it forces you to focus on the exercise and you can forget about everything else for a little while. So that’s what I was doing.”
He grew concerned when he started seeing stars. His wife, Leisha, came home from work and took him to the emergency room. He was then flown to Sanford Health in Fargo.
“They put a clot buster in and I basically had the stroke on a gurney in Fargo,” Mike said. “They opened up the blockage. If I would have gone to bed that night and not listened to my body, I would have died. I had a little tiny artery swollen up to the size of a pencil. I only remember bits and pieces. It was not a pleasant experience.”
Two weeks later, he was back home in Bemidji, and shortly after that, it was back to work.
“I’m still rehabbing on my own,” he said. “It would have been nice not to go back to work, but that wasn’t an option.”
The work goes on
Work at Dick’s Plumbing and Heating didn’t slow down during Mike’s hospitalization and rehab. Randy stepped back in to guide the business and Tippy, Matthew and the rest of the 15-member team also picked up the slack while worrying about their boss.
“Your initial reaction is I just hope my dad’s OK,” Matthew said. “Then after that, it was ‘how do we keep things running here without a hitch?’ Fortunately, I had Randy. He was instrumental in keeping us going. We didn’t miss a beat. Everyone just kind of picked up a little bit more and we just battled through it. Fortunately, he’s back and healthy. It was good for me because I learned a lot. I was forced to learn a bunch of things.”
Randy knew what he had to do.
“It was like jumping off the dock with both feet and coming in to figure out what was going on and what they needed help with,” Randy said. “They had a project in Cambridge, a project at BSU. I had to get in the middle of that and help them mitigate some of it. Hopefully, he was going to snap out of it because I didn’t want to come back to work anyway.”
The next generation
Mike said he’s been approached a few times about selling the business, but now with Matthew on the team, that’s not a consideration
“Coming out of this health issue, if I wouldn’t have had an heir I probably would have said, ‘Screw it; call the broker,’” Mike said. “Matt’s getting a baptism by fire. It was his choice. We’re pretty close.”
Matthew added, “It really wasn’t too difficult of a decision. It wasn’t forced on me. When I went to school at BSU I didn’t know exactly what I was looking for. I started studying project management and I was interested. It aligned with the family business, and that’s when it kind of came to my attention that maybe this was a real possibility. I brought it up to my dad, and here we are. Grandpa’s name is on the building, so it would be hard for him I would imagine to see it go into somebody else’s hands.”
Talk like that makes grandpa Dick proud.
“I just think of how well things have gone,” Dick said. “It’s been a good business. If Matthew hangs in there, and then maybe he has a son someday, you never know.”