Industry veteran Kenneth Vona sets out to rebuild, not a structure with wood and nails, but his company.
A home built by Kenneth Vona.   PHOTO BY TRENT BELL.
A home built by Kenneth Vona

For many, the word no is paralyzing. But to Kenneth Vona (, no means yes. For over 40 years, he has been a leader in the industry, respected by his peers and revered by the younger generation. As he begins to rebuild his business, he looks back at the experiences that have shaped him.

Ironically, he credits a disability for his self-confidence. He was diagnosed with severe dyslexia at an early age and was often taught reading and writing isolated from his peers in a room alone with a teacher. She would teach him small words and he would have to reread and reread and reread until he understood. He was the slowest reader in every grade and yet he didn’t give up. He learned then that he could depend on himself to persevere. And where he felt stupid dealing with letters, numbers were a language he could understand. “I can look at numbers and quickly add them in my head. I can look at geometric shapes and see through them,” Vona says. In fifth grade he took a woodworking class after school and suddenly everything clicked. He was no longer lagging behind, but leading the charge. “I was always the first one done and mine always looked the best. It just came natural to me,” he says.

After high school, Vona decided to try his hand at construction. He told his dad that school wasn’t for him and what he really wanted to do was “go out and bang nails.” His father had two pieces of advice: do a good job and put your name on it. Vona immediately opened a business account at the bank under Kenneth Vona Construction and he had business cards made.

Kenneth Vona

It took Vona about 15 years to find his footing. He was always great at the work, but bad at making money. There were days when he thought about cashing it all in and trying something else, and then he met Brian Wait. Wait changed everything for Vona. He was not only a great carpenter, but he knew the right people to hire and how to grow the business. “Brian drove me like I had never been driven before. I started getting bigger and bigger jobs and hiring more people. One day I turned around and we had 12 employees. The next time I looked it was 22 and then 50 and then 100,” says Vona.

Although the expansion was exhilarating, it was also unsettling for Vona. He didn’t like not knowing all of the employees well and he felt like he had lost control of the company. It’s one of the reasons why he’s rebuilding now, not something of wood and nails, but of community. “I lost control of the company and who I was as a person. Right now we’re a company of 30 people and I know everybody. I have control over our destiny,” he says.

He’s setting out now to do what he’s always done, what he’s always been good at—banging nails. “We’re given a set of plans and a stack of lumber and then we get to give someone a home. There’s nothing more gratifying to me than knowing that we just handed someone their future. I go back sometimes and drive by the houses I’ve built and I wonder what it means to the families inside. My soul, my heart is in these homes,” he says.