owners Jim and Janet Knauf
You can see brickwork done by J.K. Masonry just about everywhere in West Michigan including the Tanger Outlet Mall in Byron Township. In Comstock Park where the commercial masonry construction company resides at 4000 West River Drive, they did Pine Island Elementary, Mill Creek Middle, and Comstock Park High Schools, as well as NuCraft Industries located on West River Drive.
Along Alpine Avenue, they did Star Theater, Kohls and Burlington Coat Factory. They did the brickwork on the Cabelas in Grandville as well as one in New York and are currently working on a Cabelas in Ohio.
Janet Knauf, who with her husband Jim owns J.K. Masonry, said their company is one of two masonry companies in West Michigan that do commercial masonry on school, college, government, and commercial buildings. They recently completed the brickwork on the Viking Hall building on West River Drive in downtown Comstock Park, right across from their business. Janet said the company does a lot of work in Grand Rapids restoring old buildings. They’ve done buildings in several school districts including Grand Rapids, Kentwood, and Cedar Springs, which delights their grandchildren.
“We go to our grandkids’ basketball games (at their schools), and they say, ‘Grandpa built this building,’” said Janet, president of the company.
Jim, who is vice-president, started working at Spartan Masonry in Sparta in 1972, and learned the trade there through hands-on work. He liked masonry work immediately.
“What I like is when we’re done we can take a look at what we’ve built, and there’s very much a pride and satisfaction in having a finished product,” said Jim, who first worked for a bricklayer when he was 16 years old.
Jim became a partner in Spartan Masonry Company in 1982, and the company’s name changed to J. K. Masonry. The business moved to West River Drive just north of their present location for better access to the expressway. They soon needed more space, and when their current building, formerly a boat storage, became available in 1991, they bought it. That’s when Janet, who had worked at Sparta State Bank, now ChoiceOne, for twelve years, joined the business. Now Janet runs the office, and Jim manages jobs and the employees.
Their current building includes a 9900 square foot warehouse and a 1705 square foot office space. A distribution company leases the other 10,000 square feet of the building from them. They employ 135 people full-time including masonry laborers, hi lo drivers, and estimators.
Masonry dates back more than 6000 years when sunbaked bricks were used in building construction. The Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China are just a few of the architectural achievements built with masonry. Brick construction has evolved becoming more elaborate and sophisticated. Become a mason, and you become a part of history as well as having a secure future, said Jim, and he encourages young people to consider the trades after high school.
“We need trade people to build buildings,” Jim said. “There is a future in the trades, not just masonry, but carpenters, electricians, mechanical people, plumbers.”
The trades offer good pay and good benefits, he noted, and apprenticeships in the trades are available at no cost to the apprentice. The skill and precision of the mason can never be replaced by machines, Jim said adding. “It’s been tried, but they haven’t had any luck.”
The company likes “to build buildings like they were our home,” Jim said, and the Knauf’s who live in Sparta have a brick home inside and out, including a brick pantry, and a brick garage. The couple both grew up in Sparta, met in high school and have been married 40 years. They have four grown children and seven grandchildren. Two of their sons Corey and Ben Knauf work in the business with plans to buy it. When he’s not busy working Jim likes to hunt and fish and some of his trophies are on display on the brick walls in the company’s office.