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Kirby Nagelhout Remembered for Construction Acumen &  Philanthropy

The Central Oregon community has been united in mourning the passing of Kirby Nagelhout – one of its most influential yet unassuming stalwarts, who built both a formidable construction company and a sterling reputation for personal integrity.

Nagelhout formed part of the bedrock of the region’s evolution in more ways than one, having overseen an extensive list of projects that shaped the public and private commercial construction landscape in the last quarter of a century, while also providing inspiration in terms of community service.
Whether you work, eat, shop, study, worship or recreate in the high desert, chances are you may have come into a contact with a facility bearing the hallmark of Nagelhout’s leadership – a legacy that is being proudly carried on by his colleagues at Kirby Nagelhout Construction Company.

A brief history of such KNCC flagship projects covering the commercial spectrum, includes Mt Bachelor’s Pine Marten Lodge, Redmond Air Terminal, Central Oregon Community College buildings, Sisters, Summit and Crook County High Schools, Bend Memorial Clinic, Juniper Swim & Fitness, Westside Church, St Francis of Assisi Catholic Center, Bend Factory Outlets, Deschutes County Fairgrounds & Expo Center, Deschutes Brewery Restaurant, Bend Bulletin headquarters, Mill Point Business Campus, Franklin Crossing, Deschutes County Library Bend Branch and the Riverhouse Hotel Convention Center.

Born in Minnesota, Nagelhout landed in Oregon as a young lad less than a decade later, in 1965, and went on to graduate from Bend High School in 1974, before following in his father’s footsteps in the construction industry and joining Chambers Construction as a carpenter and project supervisor.

After nurturing a passion and talent for his chosen vocation, in 1986 he determined to strike out on his own and started Kirby Nagelhout Construction Company, initially from a home office.

He quickly developed a strong niche as a full service general contractor, and as construction stepped up in the region so did his company’s reach.
Within the ensuing 25 years, KNCC grew into the largest general contractor in Central Oregon and has completed a staggering 1,000-plus projects – from the largest and most complex in the region to the relatively small – with a total contract value of around $700 million and all handled with the same dedication to efficiency, expertise, creativity and friendly customer service.

Jeff Deswert, who first worked with Nagelhout in the Chambers Construction days, took over as KNCC president this year as a hand-picked successor committed to continuing an enduring legacy.

In their history together, he said from the outset it became clear Nagelhout “loved a challenge” and could often be found working when others were recreating because he enjoyed what he did to such a degree.

He was also an instinctively gifted estimator in his field, and bidding and winning projects was the culmination of his competitive drive.
While building iconic projects throughout the region, Nagelhout’s co-workers also recalled his generosity in always quietly giving back to the community and donating to many worthy causes.

He was heavily involved in community service, including the Boys and Girls Club of Central Oregon, the Deschutes Children’s Foundation and the COCC Foundation, among many other local charities.

Scott Steele, principal of Steele Associates Architects, echoed the sentiments of many in the wider business community who encountered Nagelhout and were impressed by his friendly demeanor and construction insight.

He said, “I first met Kirby in 1996 just after I had moved back to Bend. He dropped by one afternoon to introduce himself.

“He had his son Tyler (then 12) with him and I was immediately impressed by his easy going unassuming manner.

“Later as we began to work on projects like the Deschutes County Fair & Expo and Sisters High School, I found out how easy and accommodating he was to work with. Design and construction can be fulfilling but also demanding and sometimes stressful, and I was always happy to work with Kirby and his company because they were true team players you knew you could count on.

“I was also often amazed at Kirby’s uncanny ability to develop cost and value engineering figures in his head during meetings. He was a master estimator and his input on cost and construction options was invaluable to our mutual clients.”

Steele said Nagelhout sometimes joked about not being much of a talker or presenter, but it soon became evident the opposite was true, adding, “I know from experience watching him in many interviews over the years that he was in fact a great presenter…humble, believable, a strong presence and a great sense of humor and timing.

“One interview in particular comes to mind. When being pressed by the interview panel about KNCC ‘s ability to deliver their project on a very fast schedule Kirby said, ‘Do you know why Rome wasn’t built in a day?’ No, they replied. ‘Because they didn’t hire KNCC to build it’. Everyone busted out laughing and KNCC ended up winning the project.

“Everyone also knows that Kirby was a very generous person who contributed a great deal to this community.

“As just one example, many years ago when we wanted to help catalyze sustainable commercial design in Central Oregon I asked Kirby if he would co-sponsor the first LEED Workshop with us and he immediately said yes. That’s just the type of person he was – ‘what do you need, how can I help’?
“Like many who knew him, it makes me sad to realize that we won’t get to work with Kirby anymore, but it softens the blow to know that we will still be able to work with the great people at KNCC who will carry on his legacy and values.”

Veteran Bend developer Bill Smith added, “One thing that characterized Kirby was that he loved to solve problems.

“If you couldn’t figure something out on a project he would love to jump alongside you and prove how it could be done – for instance he was ingenious in regards to grading.

“Tom Walker always said there were two main ‘go-to’ guys in construction – and that was Kirby Nagelhout and Arland Keeton…
“Kirby was a natural talent, always willing to help, and an all-round good guy.”

As the legacy continues under new leadership KNCC is currently working on two Central Oregon Community College projects, the Science Building which will be ready for fall term 2012 and the Madras Education Center scheduled to open for classes on September 19.

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