When Mike U’Ren was 14 years old he went to work for a carpenter. That experience was more than just a job. That man, and many others like him, became mentors for U’Ren.
Nearly five decades later, U’Ren can look back on that time as a significant influence on how he lived and worked.
“I have been blessed to work with my brothers all of my life,” said U’Ren, “and we still get along. That is a rare thing. You might see it once in a while but not that often.”
U’Ren, who graduated from Morton High School in 1973 never went to college, but had a long and successful career in the construction industry that has come to an end. As of Dec. 31, U’Ren has hung up the hammer for the last time as part owner of Everstrong Construction.
“We started the business Dec. 13, 1983,” said U’Ren, adding before that he worked for his dad in various capacities learning all along the way.
U’Ren recalled one event when his dad told him someone they knew had a furnace that wasn’t working.
“He told us to go fix it,” said U’Ren. “I told him I didn’t know anything about how to fix a furnace, and he said ‘someone built it, so you should be able to figure out how to fix it.’
“So, we figured out how it worked and got it running.”
Those kinds of stories from his past demonstrate what U’Ren said developed a sense of confidence in him that led to the successes Everstrong Construction was able to have over the years.
U’Ren admitted at one time he wanted to join the military.
“I wanted to fly,” he said, “but I found out my eyes weren’t good enough.”
So, U’Ren stayed in the Redwood area, raised a family and became part of a community he said has been very good to him.
Driving through the City of Redwood Falls, U’Ren could point out a number of buildings that have the Everstrong fingerprint on them, as the company worked with private entities as well as public to help the community as it grew.
It wasn’t always easy for the family as the construction business is often a reflection of the economy.
“I remember the late 70s and early 80s were pretty bad,” recalled U’Ren. “There was one year in the 70s when there were 100 houses built in town. The next year there was only one.”
The U’Ren family also was on the cutting edge for a number of years, as it was involved in earth home building. Those homes, built with a patented plan developed by U’Ren’s dad, were erected all over the United States, and U’Ren said many of them are still standing today. Those structures, he said, were extremely efficient.
When the economy started improving and people were not as concerned about energy the novelty of earth homes wore off, and the U’Ren family moved on to something else.
“I think with all of the talk about energy today that the earth home idea could be done again,” said U’Ren.
The U’Ren family also had an impact in the area, as they were instrumental in the construction of what started out as a bingo hall on the Lower Sioux community and has grown to be a major casino and a growing community.
“We were hired to build 16 houses on the reservation,” said U’Ren. “With our crew and a crew from Lower Sioux we built the first eight units in eight weeks.”
That, said U’Ren, was an $800,000 project that he was able to make work with a $20,000 local bank loan.
“Look at what has happened out at Lower Sioux,” he said. “I believe our community would not be what it is today without what has happened out there.”
Car dealerships, school facilities, city buildings and so much more have all been influenced by the Everstrong touch, and U’Ren said he is glad to have been part of creating the landscape that is Redwood Falls.
Yes, there have been bigger projects in the region and much farther away that have been done by the U’Ren family, but for him knowing the impact they have had in the area is most fulfilling.
As an example, a few years ago U’Ren purchased the old Belview school building for $1 from the Redwood Area School District. Today that site is being used to house the Belview Learning Center.
“It has been great to work with the (SW/WC Service) Co-op,” said U’Ren. “The whole project turned out great, and it nice to know the students who are there have a place to go and are not being sent away. For them I think that is such a big deal.”
The addition of a solar garden on the site of the school is helping create even more efficiencies, added U’Ren.
“It is those fun things that I have been able to do that make all of the hard work worth it,” said U’Ren.
While U’Ren does not have to deal with the day-to-day operations of the family-owned construction business, that does not mean U’Ren will not be involved. He said he plans to help out when he can. Of course, he has every confidence that the company will continue to see great success under the direction of the remaining U’Ren family members.
More than that, however, he plans to get more involved in the community.
“I would like to continue to help move the Lake Redwood project forward,” he said. “The work has been done, and the decision was made to fund it.
“We just need to keep it in front of those who will be making the decision to fund it again. We have some unfinished business, and I want to help finish it.”
When asked why now was the time to step down, U’Ren admitted his physical health is not what it was 30 years ago.
“My body is shot,” he said with a laugh. “I think all of the stupid stuff I did when I was younger has caught up with me.”
While U’Ren has officially retired, he has no plans to move away from the place where he has spent his entire life.
“I have traveled all around the U.S. and have never found a place I would rather be than right here,” he said.
After all, he said, there is still a lot of work to do in the community, and he has no intention of not being here to see what happens next.