As Redwood and Hardimans part, legacy remains FEATURE MARCH 26, 2017 ISSUE
By Maxime Kawawa-Beaudan
Some days, they’re everywhere: black and orange hoodies dotting the halls, worn by seniors, juniors and sophomores alike: a new fashion statement. A visitor to Redwood on some days could be forgiven for imagining that they promote a school program, like Honors Biomedical Science sweaters. But they don’t. In orange text, they read, “Trenchless Titan.” They serve as advertisements for the company by the same name, and the Redwood family that founded it, the Hardimans. Most students at Redwood know the name Hardiman. Perhaps they know any one of the six children, Sean, Kevin, Brendan, Eilish, Liam or Declan, from school. Perhaps they’ve played rugby with the local team, the Marin Highlanders, for which Liam, Brendan and Declan played and their parents, Melissa and Gerry, are board members. Or, above all, perhaps they’ve worked with the company the family founded, Hardiman Construction., whose Trenchless Titan hoodies often appear in the halls of Redwood. What’s certain is that the Hardimans and Redwood have, for many years, been inextricably intertwined, ever since Melissa attended the school herself. The Hardiman story started in the bogs of County Galway, Ireland, wetlands where dead grass decays into compressed, clay-like soil called peat. In a little town called Attymon, Gerry Hardiman worked alongside his father, who maintained the machines used by a government-owned company, Bord na Móna, to dig up peat and shape it into briquettes that could be burned to run power plants and heat homes. From a young age, Gerry learned to work amid the enormous engines of his father’s trade: the baggers, bulldozers, locomotives, wagon-loaders and turf-cutters. He drove locomotives, cleaned drains, picked up railroad tracks and put them down so vehicles could move from to different areas of the bog. It was wet and cold, except for in the summers, when it was dusty. It was dirty work. But it wasn’t even the only work Gerry did. He also toiled on the nearby farms. And later, as a teenager, he moved into construction. In his free time, he played a game called hurling, the national sport of Ireland and an old Gaelic game dating back at least to 1200 BC. It’s an intensely physical sport―and one at which Gerry excelled. He was playing well―so well, in fact, that he was recruited by a hurling team in America, the San Francisco Gaels. He arrived in San Francisco in 1986, a young immigrant with nothing but an invitation from a regional sports club. Melissa Ross was a California girl who’d lived in the same Larkspur house all her life. Eventually, she’d raise her own kids in that house. But long before that, when she was thirteen, she started her first job. She requested a work permit from her school and began working with her mother, who owned an answering service. She attended Redwood, graduating in 1982 and going on to City College of San Francisco, to study in the two-year hotel management program. In 1986, Melissa and Gerry met. After finishing the sports career that had brought him to the United States initially, Gerry had been working for a contractor who installed large sewer pipes, storm drains, and water lines for cities and municipalities. He was operating heavy equipment and driving trucks. In 1988, Gerry got his own contractor’s license, and set up his own company. That same year, Melissa and Gerry married. Since then, the Hardimans have built their enterprise and a family of six children. They’ve juggled two sets of roles: parents versus business owners. The outside of the Hardiman house speaks volumes about this balancing act, and how the two spheres overlap.
FATHER AND SON Gerry and Brendan Hardiman discuss how best to proceed at a job site in Sausalito; Brendan holds a running power saw in his right hand.
HOLDING A SPINNING power saw, Brendan Hardiman prepares to cut open the r- oad.
BRENDAN HARDIMAN AND a fellow worker get to work on the concrete above a pipe in a shallow trench.
Parked on the curb outside of the suburban Larkspur home are three heavy-duty pickup trucks piled with traffic cones, steel beams, PVC piping, helmets, buckets and shovels. In the backyard, power tools lie where a play structure once stood. The backyard separates the main house from a stand-alone, one-room office where Melissa and Gerry base their operations. The office is piled high with files, stacks of papers and branded T-shirts. The desks are covered in Post-it notes. Of course, the home didn’t always double as such a busy workplace. It didn’t need to when the company began, in the late ‘80s. The back office housed just two desks: one for Gerry, one for Melissa. They filled their time with huge, multi-million dollar projects, mainly on public works for cities and municipalities that took them to from Santa Cruz to Windsor, from Watsonville to Sacramento. The work site was miles away, and the kids had their playground. “Our backyard was very self-sufficient. In the olden days it didn’t look like a work yard. This was the neighborhood house. The kids would come here and play. They would crawl all over, and I had toys and Johnny Jump Ups,” Melissa said. What’s more, the big jobs simplified things. They removed the need for filing cabinets and complex record books. “For the jobs that took six months or a year, you just did the submittals and a little bit of paperwork. Now we’re doing 10 to 15 jobs a week, so you’ve got permits and papers. It’s constant,” Gerry said. While the formative years of the company were largely free of forms, the job left little time for leisure. The Hardimans were working long hours, day after day, all the while balancing their multitude of roles: crew chief, boss, husband, wife, father, mother. “I worked between the hours of 9 and 2, and when the kids were off of school I was their mom, and they went to bed at 8 and I came out here and we’d work,” Melissa said. The pair ran their company at night, surrounded by baby monitors that reported the activities of their six children. And even then, with their growing family, they were living in Marin, an expensive environment by any standard. Hardiman Construction started growing. The company took all sorts of construction jobs in order to put food on the table: they fixed pipelines, built foundations, erected houses, shored up retaining walls and put in storm drains. And one day, the Hardimans decided enough was enough. “We were working too hard. We needed to take our kids to soccer practice, to soccer games,” Melissa said. They shifted their focus to more local jobs, so that Melissa and Gerry could stay closer to home. They became more of a self-described ‘mom-and-pop shop.’ By this time, the kids had grown. The eldest Hardiman son, Sean, had just graduated from high school. Sean joined the construction team, and was soon running a crew of his own. In a natural progression, family and company became further intertwined.
THREE PICKUP TRUCKS sit outside of the Hardiman house in Larkspur, filled with construction equipment.
BRENDAN HARDIMAN WORKS the excavator under Gerry's instruction.
WORKERS WITH SEAN and Brendan's crews at job sites in Sausalito, sweeping away debris and shoveling asphalt. ﷯

The Hardiman family's construction company at work at job sites in Sausalito.

SEAN HARDIMAN TAKES a brief break from packing loose asphalt into solid road to pose for a photo.