Sessler Wrecking: A Third-Generation Family Business Celebrating 60 Years of Service in the Finger Lakes

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by Krista Gleason, contributor to the LOCATE FINGER LAKES Business Journal

It all began when Vern Sessler Sr.’s grandmother bought him a backhoe.

“He used to drive the backhoe to school and on his way, if someone wanted a little bit of work done, he might not make it to school that day,” said Craig Sessler, Vern’s eldest son. “That’s what really started it.”

Through hard work and ingenuity, an idea launched with a dream and a simple piece of earth-moving equipment has grown into a premier business with diverse projects across the country. Yet the company has always maintained its roots in Waterloo, New York.

Vern and his wife, Barb, both worked full-time jobs while drumming up business for L.M. Sessler Excavating, the company they founded in 1958 when they were just 19 years old. They painted the backhoe pink to attract attention to their fledgling enterprise. Today, that backhoe is proudly displayed outside the company’s headquarters.

This year, the company celebrates its 60th anniversary. Now known as L.M. Sessler Excavating & Wrecking, or Sessler Wrecking for short, it is one of the top demolition companies in the Northeast United States.

Continuing a storied family legacy

Vern and Barb’s children – Jane Shaffer, and Craig and Vern Sessler Jr. – grew up in the business they now lead and own.

“We all grew up around the equipment and office, and were quite visible at job sites throughout middle and high school,” said Jane. “If a job was going on for a long time, my father was very intent on having us there and we would often camp out at a local campground.”

The company has evolved from its early days of installing septic tanks and waterlines, and digging cellars and swimming pools. Today, the majority of its business is bridge and industrial and commercial building demolition, followed closely by environmental and remediation services. It also offers site clearing and excavation, and recycling. Ninety percent of the debris from its demolition projects is repurposed and reused.

81 Site Work Asset Recovery

Craig noted that the company’s expansion into complementary markets, such as environmental services, was possible because of the next generation’s commitment to join and grow the family business.

Today, Sessler Wrecking spans three generations. Craig and Vern Jr.’s sons – Dan, Brian, Jeff, Kevin and Nick – work for the company. Jane’s husband, Chris Shaffer, is also part of the team.

Dan Sessler said joining the business was an easy decision.

“As I was growing up, it seemed like a very natural fit and it still does,” he said. “You started working in the shop. Then you worked your way through different positions in the field, doing every position in the company, eventually becoming management.”

The company employs about 100 people, which includes workers at its corporate headquarters in Waterloo, and those at satellite offices in Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse. Many of its core staff have been with the company for 20 years.

“Our employees are an integral part of our company and we value them,” said Jane.

Sessler Wrecking’s clients range from small municipalities to large corporations throughout the Northeast – from Vermont on down to Virginia. Well-known customers have included CSX, General Electric, Home Depot, ITT Goulds Pumps, Target, Wegmans and Xerox.

Over the years, the company has had a hand in several historic and high profile projects. When Hurricane Agnes hit New York’s Southern Tier in 1972, it was one of the first demolition companies to begin the clean-up process in the city of Corning. In 2009, it was responsible for the demolition and removal of the Lake Champlain Bridge, spanning New York and Vermont.

Sessler Wrecking was involved in multiple building demolitions for Eastman Kodak Company as it began the revitalization of Kodak Park in Rochester, New York. In New York City, the company has performed demolition work on the Tappan Zee and Triborough Bridges, and the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, which connects Brooklyn with Staten Island and is the largest suspension bridge in America.

Leading in technology, quality and safety

Sessler Wrecking Recovery Frozen River

Sessler Wrecking is recognized as an industry leader, often employing unique and innovative methods. The company holds two patents for products Craig and Vern Jr. invented that allow traffic to safely flow underneath a bridge during the demolition process.

The work is technical and complex, requiring a great deal of skill and precision.

“The perception of demolition is that it’s very crude and rudimentary,” said Vern Jr. “But in fact, we have six in-house engineers who design and prepare demolition plans for all the structures. It’s actually a very technical and sophisticated industry, contrary to popular belief.”

Added Jane, “Just as a building or bridge is engineered to be constructed, it needs to be engineered to be removed.”

The company’s safety record is one of the best in the industry. It has been ranked as one of the top 20 demolition firms in the United States and one of the top three specialty contractors in the Tri-State Area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.

Though 90 percent of the company’s revenue comes from projects outside the Finger Lakes region, the Sessler family is strongly committed to the area.

“It’s a beautiful region,” said Jane. “This is where our homes are and where the majority of our Sessler family lives.”

“And I think this area provides a quality workforce,” added Vern Jr.

The company buys the majority of its equipment and project materials locally, and continues its founders’ tradition of supporting the hometown community. The Sessler family has contributed both time and money to several nearby organizations, including the United Way of Seneca County, Red Cross, Boy Scouts, National Women’s Hall of Fame, Celebrate Commemorate Memorial Day, and local athletic programs.

Jane, Craig and Vern Jr. agree that their parents would be proud of the company today.

“One of the values they passed on to us is doing what’s right and making good things happen, which was our dad’s slogan,” said Vern Jr. “It’s not always about the money but about doing the right thing.”

“There are so many of our parents’ peers who say ‘your parents are looking down on you with pride’ and ‘look at where you’ve taken this company from that pink backhoe,’” said Jane.

Krista Gleason is a contributor to the LOCATE FINGER LAKES Business Journal. She is a freelance writer and owner of Gleason Writes in the beautiful Finger Lakes.

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