Clarence Sommer and Gerald Swartzentruber are the founders of Sommer and Swartzentruber Contractors Inc. which has a rich history of quality workmanship, dedication, and integrity. Clarence Sommer, Gerald’s father-in-law, began mason construction work in 1945. Clarence was well known in the Kidron community and surrounding areas with his mason and concrete skills, his backhoe work and installation of in-ground swimming pools.
In the 70’s and the early days of Gerald and LuAnn’s marriage, Gerald was working in the automotive business reconditioning cars with his father, Ivan Swartzentruber. Realizing he didn’t want to work on cars for his whole life, Gerald asked Clarence if he would hire him on as a tender and teach him mason work. The very next day Clarence had Gerald out on a job mixing mud and tending for the crew. After several years of tending in all sorts of weather, Gerald again realized he didn’t want to mix mud his whole life. Gerald approached Clarence telling him he wanted to learn how to lay brick and block. The very next day, Clarence equipped Gerald with a nail keg, tools and a board. Gerald soon took the next step of learning to lay brick and block. Gerald recalls being able to carry 12” block or 5 gallon buckets of mud with ease, but keeping the mud on that little trowel was the real challenge as it twisted and fell off each time. With lots of hard work and persistence, Gerald was soon able to work right alongside Clarence laying up brick and block.
Clarence, a true businessman, was always on the lookout for building opportunities and land. He would purchase land, lay up the foundation with Gerald and crew and then carefully hire subcontractors to finish out the homes with quality workmanship. This system was working well as they developed land, built and sold home after home, but in the spring of 1974 Clarence had a heart attack at the age of 57. All of a sudden everything fell on Gerald to organize subcontractors and make decisions for the homes they had under construction. Gerald remembers having Clarence sitting in a chair guiding him verbally as he laid up his first fireplace since Clarence was not able to physically help. In 1975, they decided to incorporate the company and Sommer and Swartzentruber Contractors was formed. As the years went on, Gerald assumed the leadership role for the company’s day to day operations but Clarence was always there to consult and help with big decisions.
Gerald and LuAnn have three children- two daughters and a son. It was their son, Jeremiah, who grew up tagging along to building sites. Riding in the bobcat or bulldozers and watching his grandfather and dad gave him a real taste and love
of construction. In May of 1991, Clarence was working at clearing a lot in Dalton for a home when he peacefully died of a heart attack. This was a pivotal time for both Gerald and Jeremiah. Jeremiah continued to shadow his dad and during his high school summers, he did a lot of grunt work on the jobs and learned many new skills. After high school, Jeremiah went to The Ohio State University and studied construction management. He then came back to Kidron to work alongside his dad in the company. Gerald and LuAnn also have a son-in-law Troy Barkman who works for the company as well. Troy learned the construction process by working for SSC through excavation, foundation, framing, roofing, mechanicals, drywall, painting and punch out lists. Today Troy now works in the office helping with purchasing, scheduling and accounting.
Gerald learned many skills and values from Clarence in his work over the years and continues to pass them onto Jeremiah now as they carry on the company name. They both started at the bottom with the basics and gradually took on more and more responsibility as they learned new skills, worked hard, and were dedicated to doing it with quality and integrity. Gerald and Jeremiah, like Clarence, continue to look for new building opportunities and growth. Sommer and Swartzentruber is a part of the local chapter of the Home Builders Association of which both Gerald and Jeremiah have been president. They continue to build beautiful custom homes with a high standard of workmanship.
Jeremiah and his wife, Katie, have two boys just like Troy and his wife, Jodi. Maybe one day, one of Clarence’s great grandsons will want to continue building from the ground up, one block, one brick, one row at a time as the fourth generation of Sommer and Swartzentruber Contractors.