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Sessler Wrecking Hosts Celebration for 50th Anniversary

Thu December 04, 2008 - Northeast Edition
DOris Wolf

On July 12, more than 1,000 guests gathered at Sessler company headquarters on Route 96, Waterloo, N.Y., to celebrate the company’s 50th anniversary.

Customers, employees and their families, political leaders and community members listened to music, enjoyed a buffet meal, viewed the countryside from a manlift, tried their hand at the excavator rodeo and marveled at the closing fireworks display.

Evergreen Contracting, one of the company’s clients, flew in on its private helicopter and provided rides to the guests. Decked out in their anniversary gold shirts, employees and Sessler family members led tours of the company’s fleet of demolition equipment and its new 7,500-sq.-ft. office building.

Guests chatted at the tables set up in the new nine-bay maintenance building where the walls were lined with poster-size photographs showing some of the company’s projects. It was an opportunity for the Sessler family to reflect on how far the family business has come. To date, Sessler Wrecking has demolished more than 2,500 buildings and 400 bridges throughout the Northeast.

It all began with a pink backhoe and a dream.

Sessler Wrecking was formed in 1958 by Vern and Barb Sessler, both 19 years old, as L.M. Sessler Excavating Contractors and built on the principles of quality, fairness and honesty.

A used 1952 Ford 8-N tractor with a loader and backhoe was the only equipment owned by Vern and Barb. To draw attention to the new business, the unit was painted pink with black lettering. To help subsidize the newly formed business, Vern and Barb both held full time outside jobs.

Today, the Sessler family continues to “make good things happen.” Sessler Wrecking is one of the top demolition companies in the northeast, owned and operated by the second and third generation of the company’s founders.

“Our parents’ business principles have served us well,” said Vern Jr. “They taught us about quality and service < Do the job right. Never cut corners and always do your best.”

The main function of the business through the mid-1960s was installing septic tanks, leach fields, sewers, waterlines, and digging cellars, swimming pools, etc. By the end of the ’60s, the company employed about five men and had started to focus on building demolition. It started small, demolishing garages and houses, then commercial and industrial buildings.

Federally funded urban renewal projects (demolishing old downtowns) kept the company busy in Newark, Geneva, Penn Yan, Rochester, Syracuse and other communities.

In 1970, Sessler relocated from Virginia Street to Sessler Industrial Park, which included the company offices and shop on the Waterloo-Geneva Road, now Seneca-Cayuga ARC. In 1972 a flood caused by Hurricane Agnes devastated the Southern Tier, and Sessler was one of the first demolition companies to start clean up in Corning, N.Y. Another large project during that period was demolishing the Franklin Motor Car Factory in Syracuse. This building was imploded by CDI. In 1975, the company was incorporated as L.M. Sessler Excavating & Wrecking Inc. Sessler Trucking (1975) and Sessler Metal

Fabricators (1976) also were formed and became part of the Sessler companies.

The late 1970s and early ’80s saw a change in the structure of the company as all of Barb and Vern’s children, Jane, Craig, Vern Jr. and Jane’s husband, Chris Shaffer, joined the company. The demolition business continued to expand and diversify. The company was proud to have corporations such as Corning Glass, Kodak, Bristol Myers, NYSEG, Goulds Pumps, P&C, Wegman’s and others as its regular clients. The American LaFrance Fire Engine Factory demolition (1981) was one of the largest projects during that period.

The ’80s saw Sessler Wrecking continuing to grow. Always willing to take on unique and challenging projects that some other companies shied away from, Sessler Wrecking stayed on the leading edge of technology. With the purchase of one of the largest excavator mounted shears in Upstate New York, it focused primarily on bridge and large industrial demolition projects. In 1986, Sessler Wrecking built a new headquarters complex on Route 96, Waterloo, N.Y., which included its offices and maintenance facilities.

In 1989 and 1991, Sessler Wrecking was listed as one of the Top 20 demolition companies in the United States by “Engineering News Record.” And in 1989, the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce honored Sessler Companies as “Business of the Year.”

The Sesslers continued to “think outside the box.” In the late 1980s and early 90s, a new development division of Sessler Companies, Sessler Development Corp., was formed, tackling such new enterprises as Vern’s Dog House, a string of hot dog franchises; Sessler’s Exit 42 Truck Stop, America’s Best 18, a miniature golf course in Florida as well as the Main Street Shop Centre in downtown Waterloo.

Through the ’90s the company became the largest volume bridge demolition contractor in New York State.

“The core of our business continues to be the wrecking business,” said Craig Sessler. “Being in a specialty business, we looked for opportunities and went where they were, expanding our business throughout the Northeast.”

In the 1990s, the company worked with the NYSDOT to pilot test methods to address lead issues in demolition. The effort led to changes in state regulations for lead.

Accepting new challenges sometimes called for innovative solutions. In 1999, Craig and Vern Jr. invented wing trailers and overhang brackets, allowing traffic to flow smoothly and safely underneath while overhead bridges were demolished.

The millennium found the company strong in all aspects — building, bridge and industrial demolition — and owning more than 100 pieces of major equipment (excavators, dozers, loaders, trucks, trailers, barges, etc.)

“Much of our success is due in a large measure to our highly skilled and trained employees,” Jane Sessler Shaffer said. Many employees have been with the company for more than 20 years.

The millennium also saw the third generation, Craig’s sons Daniel, Brian, and Jeff Sessler, join the family business.

Employees gather regularly in the company’s training room for instruction that allows them to keep on the cutting edge of industry developments. They are haz-woper, asbestos, lead and OSHA trained. Sessler Wrecking has received many awards for safety and quality from major corporations as customers show their appreciation for the company’s attention to detail.

“We provide a turn-key solution, from engineering, environmental cleanup, demolition, grading and seeding, to final cleanup, leaving the site in pristine condition,” Vern Jr. explained.

The company, known for its blue and yellow colors, is continuing to “go green.” Careful stewards of the environment; the company recycles 90 percent of the debris from its demolition projects, diverting thousands of tons from area landfills. Concrete is crushed for sub base material for new construction and metals are recovered and reprocessed.

Along with growing their business, from the outset Vern and Barb instilled in their children a strong sense of pride in their community. The Sesslers have always been active in their community, serving on boards and foundations, donating to community fundraising activities and organizations, and taking active roles in Waterloo youth programs and Waterloo service clubs.

“While less than 5 percent of our company’s revenue comes from Seneca County, more than 90 percent of the charitable contributions we make support our local communities,” Verne Jr. said.

In addition, the Sesslers have been involved in preserving local history. In 1989, Sessler Development Corp. purchased three buildings at the east end of the Main Street business district and renovated them into the Waterloo Main Street Shop Centre with more than 30 retail store spaces, sparking a revitalization of the village’s commercial district that continues today. In 1992, Sesslers purchased the historic Waterloo firehouse at 22 E. Main Street and restructured it for a commercial store. The Sessler family also refurbished the historic Windmill Landmark, located at the Seneca County Chamber of Commerce into a visitor information center.

One of the company’s more unusual projects began in the late 1990s when the bridge demolition company was asked to help save an historic bridge. On a frigid January day, Vern Sr., his sons and grandsons, pulled the collapsed Aldrich Change Bridge from icy creek waters in Macedon, Wayne County, starting what was called “the most significant bridge restoration project in the country” at the time.

As town justice, supervisor and chairman of the county board of supervisors, Vern Sr. initiated many improvements to make local government function more efficiently.

Vern Sr.’s love of history and his community inspired him to give one final gift to the community he loved: Six years after he began the project, and several months after his death, “A History of Waterloo: 1948-2000” was published, preserving the story of his hometown for future generations.

In 2001, Jane, Craig and Vern Jr. formed Three S Development LLC and partnered with Thruway Travel Center LLC to construct the Petro Stopping Center at Exit 41, Waterloo, N.Y., which opened in 2004. Also in 2004, Jane, Craig and Vern Jr. formed 3S Gateway LLC, a real estate development company, which recently sold property in the Border City area for the construction of a new Lowes Home Improvement Store. In 2006, the Sessler Company built its new corporate office on Route 96 and in 2008, its new nine-bay maintenance facility.

“As we look forward to the next half century, we will continually strive to be best that we can be and to be the demolition firm of choice,” said Jane. With a fourth generation now growing, the Sesslers are confident that their company will continue to be family owned and operated.

“While working together as a family has its challenges,” Craig said, “the rewards far outweigh them and strengthen the business. We look forward, as a family and as a company, to continuing to ’Make Good Things Happen.’”

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