JK Masonry, Building West Michigan One Brick at a Time
You can see brickwork done by JK Masonry just about everywhere in West Michigan. Currently in Comstock Park, they are working on restoring brickwork at Pine Island Elementary School that was damaged in the August 24, 2023, tornado that tore through Comstock Park. They are also currently building the extensive, multi-year renovation at LMCU Ballpark. They also worked on the recent concourse expansion at the Gerald R. Ford Airport and the new welcome center at Frederick Meijer Gardens.
Also in Comstock Park where the commercial masonry construction company resides at 4000 West River Drive, they built Pine Island Elementary, Mill Creek Middle, and Comstock Park High Schools, as well as NuCraft industries located on West River Drive. They did AMC Theater and Kohls on Alpine Ave. They also did the brickwork on the Cabelas in Grandville as well as the one in New York City, and the Tanger Outlet Mall in Byron Center.
Ben Knauf, son of the company’s founder Jim Knauf, said he feels a sense of pride “when I drive by a building we did, and I can say ‘I did that.’” He and his brother Corey Knauf are in the process of buying the business.
JK Masonry is one of the three masonry companies in West Michigan that do commercial masonry on school, college, government, and commercial buildings. Besides Comstock Park, they’ve done buildings in several school districts including Grand Rapids, Kentwood, Cedar Springs, and Rockford.
Jim, who is semi-retired, started working at Spartan Masonry in Sparta in 1972 and learned the trade there through hands-on work. He liked the work immediately. Ben said his father passed that love of masonry on to his sons, as well as instilling strong family values such as hard work, honesty, and integrity. He said he and Corey apply those values to running the business. Ben said there is a feeling of satisfaction in a job well done when he looks at a project they’ve completed.
Jim became a partner in Spartan Masonry in 1982. The company’s name changed to J.K. Masonry, and it moved to West River Drive. His wife Janet became the office manager. They needed more space and moved to the present location in 1991. The current building includes a 9900 square foot warehouse and a 1705 square foot office space, which has brick walls of course. On the office walls are trophies from Jim’s hunting and fishing trips, and throughout the space are trophies that employees who play in a Grand Rapids Hispanic soccer league have won. 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.
According to the Mason Contractors Association of American web site, masonry dates back more than 6000 years when sunbaked clay bricks were used in construction. The Egyptian pyramids, the Roman Colosseum, the Taj Mahal, and the Great Wall of China are just a few of the architectural achievements of brick masons. The Association says that “whether you are working with brick, block, tile, terra-cotta, or stone…the mason can never be replaced by machines.”
Ben said that while “you’re always going to need human beings,” there are machines that have been developed in the last four to five years that use robotics to help masons lay bricks. He said “that takes some of the weight off. I think it’s going to be a big deal. The thing about masonry is it’s so heavy.” Ben said he would encourage young people to become masons. He thinks the trade is going to become “more in demand, more lucrative.”
Ben and Corey grew up in the home their parents built in Sparta that is brick inside and out, including a brick pantry and a brick garage. Ben said his house in Rockford is “all stone” including two fire places that have stonework from floor to ceiling.