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Retired ironworker admires quality of Bangor Arena work

Posted May 10, 2012, at 8:34 a.m.
Last modified May 10, 2012, at 4:20 p.m.
Jerry Mundy is a retired ironworker who has watched the Bangor Arena construction with great interest. He helped erect steel for paper mills in Fairfield and Jay and for the Prudential Building in Boston.
Jerry Mundy is a retired ironworker who has watched the Bangor Arena construction with great interest. He helped erect steel for paper mills in Fairfield and Jay and for the Prudential Building in Boston.

The ironworkers assembling steel for the new Bangor Arena “are doing a fabulous job,” says Brewer resident Jerry Mundy.

He should know: A retired ironworker himself, Mundy once helped construct the Prudential Building in Boston, the SAPPI paper mill in Fairfield, and even the Veterans Remembrance Bridge spanning the Penobscot River between Bangor and Brewer.

Today, whenever he’s not greeting American troops at Bangor International Airport, Mundy parks at the Bangor Daily News on weekdays and watches ironworkers deftly assemble the Arena’s steel beams. He expects the ironworkers “will be out of here by the middle of the month.

“They’ve done themselves proud here,” Mundy says, referring to the unionized ironworkers who will handle 2,500 tons of structural steel before leaving the construction site. “I’m partial to the ironworkers. There’s a lot of camaraderie among the ironworkers; it’s a hard job.”

The surname Mundy was familiar name in Brewer a generation or two ago in Brewer. Jerry hails from South Brewer; his father, Bill Mundy, worked at Eastern Fine Paper. Other Mundys lived on Chamberlain Street in the 1960s.

“I left home when I was 14 or so” to work on an East Corinth farm, where Jerry Mundy earned $2 a week, plus room and board, in return for working from “4 in the morning … until dark. I learned a little about work on that job.”

He joined the Marines in the early 1950s, “got as far as Japan” before “the [Korean] hostilities ended,” and hitchhiked across the United States to Maine after his discharge. Mundy earned his GED at South Portland High School before working as a route salesman for Coca-Cola and Humpty Dumpty.

He also took classes in welding and other construction-related techniques at Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. Then Mundy’s stepfather, Paul McKeague, “got me a job” helping to paint and rig a 1,619-foot TV tower being erected in Raymond.

“As the apprentice, I got to put the lightning rod on top,” Mundy says. A twinkle in his eye, he comments that while working on the TV tower, “I had a good grip. Go up there [today], you can still see my fingerprints.”

High above northern Cumberland County, Mundy “liked the beauty of the countryside, all of the lakes,” so he soon purchased a lakefront home in Casco. “You could actually see the light of the [TV] tower from our bedroom. Never thought that would happen,” he recalls.

A member of Iron Workers International Local 496, Mundy worked many years as an ironworker before retiring in 1990. He helped build paper mills in Fairfield and Jay, walked the steel girders that became the Prudential Building — “there were a lot of Maine men on that project,” he says — and descended into Penobscot River cofferdams for the Veterans Remembrance Bridge piers.

“We would be down below the water level, putting in reinforcing steel,” Mundy recalls. “Every time a boat went by, the water came squirting in there.”

After retiring from Local 496, Mundy worked as a maintenance person for Dirigo Management, which managed “high-end type” apartment complexes in the Portland area. “It was fun working there,” he says. “I learned a lot of stuff I didn’t know,” such as replacing a leaky water heater.

Mundy later moved to Brewer. He now owns a camp at Brewer Lake and has a sailboat that he likes to take onto the lake or on the Penobscot River. He also belongs to the Maine Troop Greeters.

As Bangor Arena construction started in August 2011, Mundy kept an eye on the steel. Seated in his truck, he would “glass” the construction site with his binoculars.

The ironworkers soon noticed Mundy perusing their work. “I’ve been a pain in the ass to these people,” he chuckles, his eyes again twinkling. “Some of these guys kept an eye on me, thinking I was from OSHA. I finally I had to tell them I’m just a sidewalk super[intendent].”

Mundy discovered that he “had worked with three or four of these guys. They’re getting ready to retire. I can’t believe where the years have gone.”

One construction worker “says I was his first foreman when he started as an ironworker,” Mundy comments. “He told me I was a tough S.O.B.

“I was an S.O.B. about safety, because I know what it means,” Mundy says, his features turning serious. He discusses the day that his ironworker brother, Bill, plummeted to his death at a construction site where Jerry was the ironworkers’ foreman. Bill lived to talk briefly with Jerry, who will never forget the ambulance ride to a nearby hospital.

“You don’t want to mess up, ’cause it’s a long way to the street. Spoil your day,” Jerry quietly says.

Glancing across Buck Street at the Arena, he comments that “erecting the steel, putting up the trusses was fun to watch. They had two rigs (cranes) to put them up. You see them (ironworkers) walking on a beam a little bit.”

Mundy watched as Dysart’s trucks delivered bar joists, trusses, and other steel components to the Arena site. Each truck backed onto the site from Buck Street; “it was amazing seeing them guys back those loads in there,” he says.

“Watching things being built, there’s a lot of satisfaction when you got done on a project,” Mundy says.

Basing his estimation on how much steel has already been erected at the Arena site, he believes that the ironworkers will finish their work by mid-May, except “for a few guys staying behind to tighten things up.” Mundy looks forward to walking through the Bangor Arena after its scheduled September 2013 opening.

“I’ll make sure everything’s okay,” he laughs.

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