ECB alum built construction career

When Gary Jorgensen ’60 graduated from Cornell with degrees in math and economics and business, he planned to settle into the family construction business in Clinton, Iowa. But before long the Iowa economy failed and with so many family members in the fi rm, Jorgensen decided to take a risk.

He landed in a Milwaukee fi rm for three years before becoming a partner in a small fi rm, Voss Hrdlicka Inc., now VJS Construction Services, in Pewaukee, Wis. Since 1976 that fi rm has grown from 20 employees to nearly 200. When his family’s construction business closed, Jorgensen hired his brother. He also brought two of his sons into the business.

Now Jorgensen is phasing into retirement and lives in Naples, Fla., four months a year. One of his sons is president of VJS, and another son is president of the fi rm’s development arm.

“I’m not ready to retire yet,” he says. “I’m having too much fun with my boys.”

Jorgensen and his wife, Cornell trustee Judy Hesler Jorgensen ’60, retired dean of academic support for Waukesha County Technical College, have two other children. Their oldest son is a doctor in Milwaukee, and their daughter teaches and conducts research at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine. They have 11 grandchildren.

VJS has a variety of specialties, including school buildings, churches, medical and senior care, high-rise housing, and just lately, airplane hangars. Jorgensen has served his profession by being active for 25 years on the board of Wisconsin’s largest construction industry trade association, the Associated General Contractors of Greater Milwaukee, and on the national board, Associated General Contractors of America.

Jorgensen says that, in addition to growing up in the family business, his Cornell class work prepared him well for the business.

“I liked being in a small college with small classes. We were invited to professors’ homes for class, and it was just great,” he says. Infl uential professors included Watson Davis in mathematics, Warren Martin in religion (who married the Jorgensens three weeks after graduation), Joseph Meade in business, and Chester Rich in accounting. The Rich and Meade classes “helped me tremendously in setting up a business, knowing the economics of a business, creating a business plan, and making it work,” he says.

Like many students today, Jorgensen was deeply involved in campus life. He was on the golf team, in choir, a KRNL-FM DJ, the senior class president, and an AXE. He and Judy—who are co-class agents for the Class of 1960—met during a “Freshman Week” dance. Today they are major supporters of the college, both fi nancially and through Judy’s involvement on the board.

“We established our life together through Cornell. We feel really fortunate. Our careers were established through Cornell, and that’s why we’ve been so supportive of Cornell,” he says. “It’s just a special place.”