Contracts for three new aircraft hangars to be built at Marine Corps Air Station Yuma recently were awarded to a construction company based in San Diego, but it's one with deep roots in Yuma.
So deep, said Ron Harper, who founded Harper Construction Co. in 1974, that he and wife, Karen Kaye, still consider themselves “Yuman.” They both grew up in the Yuma area, where their parents moved in 1948, and still have close ties to the community through family, friends, lots of good memories and their loyalty as Yuma High “Criminals.”
Ron's father worked for Morrison- Knudsen Co. for many years developing the Wellton-Mohawk canal and irrigation system. Ron also worked there many summers while attending Yuma High School and the University of Arizona.
Ron was raised in the Bard area, attended Yuma High School, where he served as class president, and graduated from UA in 1959 with a degree in mechanical engineering.
Kaye's parents, Favil and Virginia West, homesteaded 180 acres on the Yuma Mesa after her veteran father won a land lottery. The Wests lived there until their deaths. West remained in the farming business until he retired, while his wife owned and operated the Mar-Kay dress shop (named for Kaye and her twin sister) in Yuma for more than 25 years.
Kaye was raised in Yuma and attended 4th Avenue Elementary School, Yuma High School, where she was homecoming queen, and UA.
The couple married in 1959 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Yuma and began to raise a family and start a career in construction. They now have four married children and 13 grandchildren.
Today, their son, Jeff, owns the company his father founded.
The Harpers' long-time connections to Yuma continue to this day with family and close friends. Ron's sister, Roberta Cypert, lived in Yuma for many years with her husband Ted Cypert, a former Yuma policeman and an Arizona Highway patrolman. Ron's niece, the Honorable Jenny Umpress, is currently a municipal judge in Yuma. Her daughters, Tammy Porter and Sandy Escalante, reside in Yuma with their families.
Gaynell Cosby, Kaye's aunt, has resided in Yuma for more than 25 years.
The company also has employees with roots in Yuma. Desiree Gallagher (the former Desiree Struck), a 1998 Kofa High graduate, received her master of architecture degree and currently serves as design manager for Harper Construction in the San Diego office.
The recently deceased Greg Ricker, a Harper Construction employee for more than 30 years, lived in Yuma with his wife, Candy.
Ron and Kaye have kept close ties with Yuma High School. In 2005, the Harper Family University of Arizona Scholarship was established, awarding $5,000 each year to a Yuma High graduate who is attending UA. The couple also regularly attend their respective “Yuma Criminals” reunions.
Along with personal ties that span more than 60 years, Harper Construction Company has completed more than a dozen major projects at both MCAS and Yuma Proving Ground in recent years. They include new barracks and family housing, an aircraft hangar built in 2006, the replacement MCAS air traffic control tower and several ordinance storage units located across the street from where the Wests homesteaded — a source of various family jokes, Ron said.
Harper Construction was recently awarded a $28 million dollar contract to construct a new F-35 Joint Strike Fighter aircraft hangar at MCAS. This follows two other contracts awarded to the company in March of this year at MCAS for two hangars, one for the F-35 and the second for joint use. All three contracts, totaling approximately $100 million dollars are scheduled to be completed in 2014.
The company will hold a meet and greet from 4 to 6 p.m. Nov. 14 at the Holiday Inn Express Hotel to seek subcontractors and suppliers for the projects as well as build long-term business relationships with all types of small businesses. If planning to attend, businesses are asked to call Karianne Tyler at 1-619-233-7900.
Basically a government contractor, Harper Construction is listed in the Engineering News Record as No. 281 in the Top 400 list of the largest contractors in the U.S., with revenues of approximately $200 million annually. It's also received a number of honors, but the awards Ron is most proud of are the ones for its safety policies and record.
“Every project is a sense of pride,” Ron said. “It was my father's business. He would have loved to see what we're doing now. He loved Yuma. He used to say that everyone who got a drink of Colorado River water always came back.”
As for Ron and his wife, they may have a California address now, but “we still consider ourselves Yuman.”
Joyce Lobeck can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 539-6853. Find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/YSJoyceLobeck or on Twitter at @YSJoyceLobeck.