Campus Closeup: Gary Walimaa
It’s a good thing Gary Walimaa (Plant Operations) enjoys a change of scenery because his job as a carpenter takes him all over campus. He might shuttle from the president’s house one day to the PEIF pool the next, or from the top of the Superior Dome to the depths of an underground tunnel. Variety in the location and nature of his assignments has been the spice of his professional life for about 32 years at NMU.
“No two days are ever the same for me,” said Walimaa. “I’ve fixed broken doors, secured windows, done remodeling where we took walls down and put them back up, built showcases on John Voelker in the Dome and Glenn Seaborg in West Science, taken care of rubber roofs and built cabinet units at the Bookstore. What I do is really a melting pot of trades. There are a lot of little things you gotta know, along with the dos and don’ts. Some you learn on the job. I also spend a lot of time with my head in a magazine like Woodsmith or Professional Builder trying to learn new things.”
Walimaa was employed by a local contractor over a couple of summers while pursuing an associate degree in building technology from NMU. He also took advantage of a work-study position in the carpentry shop on campus during the academic year. That experience helped Walimaa earn a full-time position after graduation. He has been on the NMU payroll since the age of 21.
“It’s a very good job and the people I get to work with are a big part of that,” he said. “I like dealing with different personalities, interpreting what they want done and acting on it. It’s all about taking care of the customer. I prefer to handle things face to face because sometimes their vision and mine are different. Email doesn’t work for me; it can be misinterpreted.
“It can be a challenge trying to get everything done sometimes. The caseload is high and there isn’t enough time or enough people, but we take it one day at a time and try to accommodate everyone. The key is to line up jobs in advance, think ahead and order ahead so you can meet deadlines. For the most part, it’s not a stressful job. I can leave it at work.”
The job does follow Walimaa home in a positive way. He has a wood shop where he builds cabinets and furniture, often from scratch. He also does a lot of general handy work at his house and at his father’s camp.
Walimaa still manages to find time for other hobbies. The avid Green Bay Packers fan recently purchased a share of stock to become part-owner of the NFL team. His winters are filled with the four S’s: skiing (downhill and cross-country), snowshoeing, snowmobiling and saunas. He likes fishing and especially enjoys hunting and cooking grouse, whitetails and big game.
“A high school buddy and I just went moose hunting in Newfoundland with an outfitter and I got an 11-point bull moose. I’ve also gone elk hunting out West, near Gunnison, Colo. (pictured). We rode horses more than two hours to reach 11,000-foot elevation. The views were incredible. I prepared for that trip by walking up Sugar Loaf with a heavy backpack and I’m glad I did because it was challenging. Hunting is a passion passed down to me by my grandfather and father.”
Traveling also is a passion and something Walimaa looks forward to doing more in retirement. He is currently in the midst of a week-long Caribbean cruise with his wife, Julie, and daughters Abby, an NMU freshman, and April, a sophomore at Negaunee High School.