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VAA celebrated the season with an ugly sweater day and a Partner-served luncheon in the Plymouth, MN office. An annual tradition, the lunch is a way for our leadership to take a moment to engage with each employee and share gratitude for collective efforts throughout the year.

This sincerity is also paired with a light-hearted competition. Awards were doled out for Most Rash Inducing, Most Flammable, Most Creative and, of course, Ugliest Sweater.


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Gene Haldorson is our final club member of 2018 and longest-running employee to date. After 37 years, Gene’s authenticity and no-nonsense leadership is as valuable today as it was when he joined the firm in 1981. We thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
Dick Van Sickle hired a gentleman who I worked with before he joined VAA’s sister company, Grain Facility Design (GFD), in 1980. After introducing me to Dick Van Sickle and Chuck Allen and several “get-to-know-each-other meetings,” I received and accepted a job offer in March of 1981.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Several come to mind that guided me throughout my career. Work ethic is important. Honesty, commitment and integrity earn the respect of those who you work for and those who you work with. Don’t pretend to know something you don’t. It is best to respond, “let me see what I can figure out and get back to you.” Finally, don’t forget to do what you say and follow through in a timely manner.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
I am proud to have become an Associate and Partner of the firm and feel my biggest contribution has been developing VAA client relationships, especially those in place for 30 years.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Diverse – In our clientele, staff knowledge and project experience.

Committed – VAA is a devoted firm to its employees and clients.

Longevity – Being in business for 40 years, VAA provided me more than just a job – it was a career opportunity.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
Design technology / resources and becoming a multidiscipline firm to include architectural, civil, structural, material handling, mechanical and electrical engineering capabilities. Also, the number of “high quality repeat clients” we are privileged to work with. We earned their trust by performing well technically to retain their business. I have also seen changes in the grain industry, particularly increases in the rates of grain handling both at the truck dump pits and loading 110 car rail shuttle trains on loop tracks.

Do you have a motto or personal mantra?
"Always do your best."

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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Gary is celebrating 34 years with VAA and is our fourth official member of the 25 & Up Club. Joining the firm only seven years after its inception, he has quietly shaped the growth of VAA with his unshakable dedication to his work and his clients. We thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
I worked for an engineer located in the Wesley Temple Building in Downtown Minneapolis. VAA (formerly Van Sickle, Allen and Associates) along with several other architectural, mechanical and electrical firms were in the same building. The engineer I was working for decided to pursue other business ventures and I applied for a position with VAA.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Chuck Allen told me to value every project – big or small. Small projects sometimes lead to bigger projects and are the building blocks of relationships.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
I have been fortunate to work with some very good clients over the last 34 years – some for many consecutive years and who trust me with their projects. My biggest accomplishment is completing projects where everyone looks forward to working together again.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Growing, quality and relationships. VAA has grown consistently in the time I have been with the firm. Much of the growth is attributed to the quality of work we provide and relationships we value.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
We have far more resources now – in material and human capacity – than we did when I started. VAA offers people from different disciplines with diverse experience that allow us to solve problems and take on challenges we could not before.

Where is the nicest place you've visited for work?
Bonaire, Netherland Antilles. It was for a project in 2014. I have returned for vacation twice since the project – incredible scuba diving and great people.

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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Bernie Jansen is our third recognized club member and resident agribusiness guru. Serving as a Partner at VAA for 18 years, Bernie is currently a Principal and still values hitting the road for face-to-face visits with long-time friends - our clients. We thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first hear about VAA?
A help wanted ad in the Star Tribune newspaper.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
A good piece of advice was shared by Dick Van Sickle, “God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason - make sure to listen well.”

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
Building a network of clients with a repeatable workload and a talented team to serve them. I am proud to contribute to this model and share it with future VAA Partners to help grow the company.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Relationships – This defines most businesses and we have been blessed with many great client relationships over the years where we have helped each other succeed.

Growing – We are always looking to grow and add services and staff that we and our clients see as beneficial to achieving project goals.

Responsive – A key to building great relationships, we do what we said we would do and get it done when we said it would be done. We return calls and emails promptly and if something goes wrong, we are proactive in fixing it and don’t pass blame.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
We can certainly offer more to clients with the technology of CAD and Revit as opposed to hand drawing, which was common practice when I started. We also offer more today with the experiences and staff in civil, rail, architecture, mechanical, process and electrical. When I started, VAA was primarily civil and structural engineering.

If you could meet anyone, from any time period, who would it be?
My ancestor from Holland (Bernardus). He was a flour miller and it would be interesting to see how the Jansen name was made; how they lived and worked in those times; how they survived through the various occupations in Europe; and how they built and operated flour mills in Holland.

I do know Bernardus (19 years old) went to Hengevelde – a small community where he worked as a millhand at the Bolohermill owned by miller Ten Heggeler. Built in 1820, the mill one mile east of Hengevelde was special as it was made of bricks instead of wood.

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.


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Our second featured “25 & Up” club member is Connie Cronquist. As a Front Desk Administrative Assistant for the past 26 years, Connie is the personality / friendly face of the company. We thank you for being you and congrats on this milestone.

How did you first learn about VAA?
I was job hunting in the fall of 1992 because the company I was at had been sold and was closing their Minneapolis office. After seeing an ad in the Osseo / Maple Grove paper, I called and made an interview appointment. Since my secretarial skills were a bit rusty, I did not know if I would be hired – they must have seen potential in me somewhere.

What is the best piece of advice you received throughout your career?
Be yourself and do your best in everything you do. It was a message my parents instilled in me when I was a young girl. It is also something I try to pass along to others.

What do you feel is your biggest accomplishment / contribution since you started working here?
I am the clerical point of contact and assist many of our engineers in the renewal process to ensure our licenses remain current nationwide and in Canada.

Also, I often hear I’m good at “knowing where things are” when new employees join VAA. I like to help where I can. Being a reliable resource when employees don’t know exactly where to go for an answer I think is comforting to many of our employees.

Pick three words you feel best describes VAA. Why do they apply to the company?
Integrity. Quality. Consistency. They are all connected - integrity because we make good on our promise to provide quality work consistently.

From your perspective, describe the biggest differences between when you started at VAA and the company now.
The culture of the company has changed so much. When I started, men wore suits with ties and women (the two of us on staff) wore dresses or suits, high heels, etc. (i.e., business formal attire). Gradually over the years, the atmosphere has become much more relaxed. People still dress professionally, just not so formal. I think this change has created a friendlier, more approachable environment.

Also, within our culture the teams are larger, more interactive and do more together. The team-building off-site activities help people to relax and get to know one another on a personal level.

How many pairs of shoes do you own?
You may be sorry you asked - somewhere around 450, including boots.

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Interested in the stories from our other "25 & Up" club members? Click on a name to read another Q&A session.