The History of the Southwest Insulation Contractors Association (SWICA)

The Fifties on a Roll

Here we go!!  Back to the fifties again – the days of poodle skirts, bobby socks, pony tails, hair pomade, blue jeans, white tee shirts and duck tails!  Pink and gray were the really big colors – even down to the 1955 BelAir Chevrolet!  Things some of you remember or, at least, been told about by your parents.

The country was reeling into recovery from the Korean War, a subject not too often mentioned anymore.  Recovery was in the air – communications were improving – air and ground transportation were booming.  Area codes and zip codes were non-existent – television was just becoming the most desired luxury in the home – long distant calls were placed through an “operator” – there were no cell phones or iPods or Blackberrys.  In other words, big changes were developing.

Several years into the fifties, an organization called “INSULATION DISTRIBUTOR-CONTRACTORS NATIONAL ASSOCIATION” (IDCNA) was formed.  Some of you may not know that an insulation distributor contractor was one Company.  In Houston there were five primary industrial/commercial contractors, each of which was also an exclusive stocking distributor for a different major manufacturer of insulation.  This organization was dedicated to bring the contractors and manufacturers into a working knowledge of the present and future business and problems, such as projects on the board at E-P-C firms, shortage of production, shipping difficulties, and labor strikes as well as slumps in the projected growth of the industry.  All of this was beneficial to the contractors on a national level, but could do little for the unique problems that arose in different areas of the country.

Therefore, one day the primary industrial/commercial contractors decided to have a meeting to discuss their problems and come up with a solution –

YES – The Big Five met at the Shamrock Hotel (the symbol of the booming petro-chem industry happening all over the Southwest).  The founders were – Granville (Granny) Drowns, The Industrial Insulators, Inc. – W. M. (Bill) Murfin, B & B Insulation Company – Harold (Abe) Aber, The Aber Company – C. E. (Claude) Foster, Armstrong Cork Company – Butch Stransbury, Mundet Cork Corporation.

Negotiating power with the Union
Non-union labor usage in the fabrication shops.

At that time, the Thermal Insulation Society (primarily a source for research of new projects) and the Houston Contractors Association (primarily consisting of major construction firms) were the only negotiators with Local 22 (International Association of Heat and Frost Insulation and Asbestos Workers).  The insulation contractors felt they needed more unity on the local level to become an effective force in negotiations.  Their main concern at the time was the possibility of non-union contractors becoming a factor in the industrial/commercial marketplace.

One area that had to be addressed was the right to employ non-union workers in local fabrication shops.  At that time the Union demanded any material not manufactured in a “sole-purpose” factory must be fabricated with union employees (i.e. Foamglas pipe and fittings, calcium silicate fittings, urethane pipe and fittings, etc.)


THE 50’S AND 60’S


After the proposed set-up of the Southwest Division was presented to IDCNA, it was decided that other areas of the country had similar problems.  Therefore, the geographical divisions were organized.

Once again things settled down to a growth pattern in the Southwest – sky scrapers where coming out of the ground and the industrial sector looked promising. The right to use material fabricated in local warehouse facilities by non-union labor was negotiated with the union and became a cost savings factor in the Industry.


The Sixties decade was difficult to say the least –The Viet Nam War, the assassinations, the sit-ins, the downslide of the growth pattern, etc.  But, overall there was a feeling of huge changes to come – AND COME IT DID!

The repeal of 14(b) dictating compulsory unionism was passed in Congress and “The Right to Work” became a state issue.  Suddenly the construction labor market was hitting numbers like 60% non-union!  An energy crisis was looming ahead and projections in the industrial and commercial industry were out of sight.  Sky scraper office buildings were rising into the skyline, the ASTRODOME was ready and called the Eighth Wonder of the World, we were gearing up at READY and all set to go in the 70’s!

THE 70’S


Along with the 70’s came the GOOD, THE NEW, AND THE UGLY!

First – the GOOD!  The energy crisis arrived – business boomed – all systems on GO!

Second – the NEW!  Non-Union companies were forming more rapidly than you could count.  Small or large, residential, commercial or industrial, everyone needed a source of material – A NEW SUPPORT SYSTEM  IS FORMED – THE MATERIAL DISTRIBUTION CENTERS!

Third – the UGLY!   What was happening?  Our workers were getting sick and dying, lawsuits against manufactures and contractors were being filed by the thousands, and the insulation industry was the headline culprit – ASBESTOS!  Many of us lost close friends then and in the years to come.  Out of the ashes, a new need arose – ASBESTOS REMOVAL!  After many years of putting on insulation, we were now busy removing and disposing of the hazard.  Many of the manufacturers underwent tremendous changes, mergers, and closings due to the lawsuits.  Many of the Contracting companies closed, merged or formed companies operating open-shop.    One of the most important things we all learned as contractor members of SWICA was that our problems were the same and that our competitor was not necessarily our enemy but could be a good and valuable friend.

Through it all, the 70’s were up times for SWICA!  SWICA members worked hard – and played hard!  They let the steam out at the annual conferences.  Some of you probably remember the conference at Tamarron in Durango, Colorado – pictures of the train taking us down to Silverton to the silver mines and at the closing banquet and of the famous combo we all fell in love with are being shown – but – do you remember the power blackout?  Do you remember Bob Kerringan’s HOLE-IN-ONE?

THE 80’S


Through all the learning, fun and laughter, some of that strong competitive power in each of us still prevailed.

THUS WAS BORN THE SWICA OLYMPICS!!  We probably got the idea from watching Bob Kerrigan chairing the Ruidoso conference on crutches earned while playing volleyball with the girls.  We put together games like racing, touch football, volleyball, etc. and designated number of men, ladies and children on each team and how many times one person could play.  Well – when you put together a group like SWICA who compete against each other every day, you can guess what happened on this turf – broken collar bones, pulled backs, broken legs, bruises, bumps, scratches, etc.  Two annual events and it was over!

However, in the true SWICA spirit, another outlet for this huge competitive urge had to be found – SO – THE BIRTH OF THE AMATEUR GOLF TOURNAMENT OF CHAMPIONS!  Well, ladies that was the last time you could expect your hubby to join you on that great field trip especially arranged for SWICA – thus, this item on the agenda became the “Spouses’ Trip”.

SWICA rolled into the 80’s on a high wave – business was at an all-time peak – from Shale Oil extractions in Colorado to Solar Energy Recovery in the Mohave Desert to Geothermal Recovery Stations in Southern California to Recovery Units in West Texas – on we rolled!  We worked so hard and so fast that some of us even lost our hair!  Ron King still swears he once had hair, but, pictures don’t lie – one was the way he was in 1978 and the other is the way we see him here today!

Frankly, we have known Ron since the mid-seventies and do not remember him ever having much more hair (he must have been a beautiful baby).

In 1983, SWICA celebrated the 25th Anniversary in full style – A record-breaking attendance – estimated at 221 people – was one of the highlights of the conference held at South Padre Island.  Among many festivities and much after-hour gatherings for socializing, Doris recalled a very sage comment made by one of our dearest and greatest past presidents, Roy Coffer, Sr. As the hour grew late, a few of our most prominent members (Jack Lewis, Pittsburgh Corning and Bob Evans, Certainteed) were feeling rich, handsome and invisible and began wrestling on the floor of the bar.  Roy shook his head and leaned over, saying, “Doris, I think I’ve lived too long!”  Well, Roy, if you were looking down from Heaven in 2002 and happened to catch the late show of the SWICA conference, you would not have believed your eyes as the prominent male members dressed in tuxedos proceeded to wallow on the floor to the famous “Louisiana Gator Dance”.

Then the recession hit us.  The next 5 years were a fight for survival.  Finally, things began to look better and once again SWICA was looking to the future.  The first SWICA EXPO was held in Houston and focused on trade show exhibits and informative meetings presenting the problems and solutions of insulation and asbestos abatement.

THE 90’S


The 90s started with a bang celebrating at Snowmass, Colorado with a Fabulous Fifties Theme.  Business had finally taken an upward trend and attendance was great.

The weather was beautiful so off we all went to enjoy White Water River Rafting – all, including Barbara Wasik who is deathly afraid of water!  Laughing and paddling, we went merrily down the river UNTIL – we hit a rough water swirl rocking the boat and throwing Randy Wasik out who grabbed Barbara on the way out pulling her into the water also!  Screaming and scrambling we quickly pulled Barbara out – but – then realized – NO RANDY.  He was stuck under the boat and couldn’t work his way out in the rough water.  Thank goodness the guides quickly dove in and rescued him!  Boy, talk about a close call – we all said a very thankful prayer!

However, that is not all – Saturday morning the Hough family took off on an early sunrise balloon ride.  Everything was breathtakingly beautiful for a while – then wind currents caught the balloon and brought them down for a bumpy landing, tipping over the basket and dumping them on the ground – breathtaking but not beautiful.  All suffered bumps and bruises, but poor Jean broke her leg and spent the rest of the time in a wheel chair!

However, that is not all – The Sunday departure commuter flight to Denver was packed with tired and happy SWICA members, most of whom were napping, even during the bumpy ride over the mountain pass.  Doris was sitting by the window a few seats in front of the left wing happy to be landing and on the way home.  She looked out just as the plane was about to hit ground and saw another plane right below us.  A quick thinking, fantastic pilot shot the “pedal to the metal”, rising upward and banking sharply to the left as we rose, barely missing the plane on the ground!  I don’t think anyone else in our group saw what she did – everyone was screaming “what happened?”  Again, we said a very grateful prayer!

GOOD NEWS!  July 15, 1991, the SWICA management officially moved to a centrally located Houston office under the direction of the newly appointed Executive Secretary, LINDA TRACEY.

That year OSHA reaffirmed hazard warnings for fibrous glass and identified it as a potential carcinogen.  This re-kindled the importance of NICA and dedicated members to continue our fight for a voice in congress for accurate and financial support for the industry.

The first invitational SWICA ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT was held in 1990 in Clear Lake and included a dinner and reception on the lawn at the Hilton Hotel on the lake.  Members invited customers and vendors to join the tournament, which made this a landmark on the SWICA calendar.

The second invitational SWICA ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT was held at Columbia Lakes on September 20, 1991, and included awards, $10,000 check for Hole-in-One, door prices, hole sponsors, a Texas feast, drink carts, etc. These tournaments are now an important date on the SWICA calendar both for fun, companionship, food and drink, and the financial budget.

In 1993, we welcomed back some great old friends – Jenny Ferrell and Bobby Ferrell returning as Coastal Plains Insulation.  We all recognize the great asset Jenny has been to the association.

In 1993, SWICA celebrated the 35th Anniversary Conference Program at the Marriott Rivercenter Hotel in San Antonio, Texas. The conference was dedicated to our past presidents with Ken Dixon heading off the program and Ron King introducing new products and services available from NICA.

The 1994 conference was held at the Lakeway Inn in Austin, Texas, and focused on “Education – the Weapon of the ‘90’s.”

1995 saw the EXPO moved to February, which was a tremendous success. NICA changed its name to NIA.  The annual conference was held at Camelback Inn in Scottsdale, Arizona.  Skills Assessment and Craft Training became important issues.   The ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT returned to Columbia Lakes.

The 1996 conference was held at the Worthington Hotel in Fort Worth, Texas, and SWICA ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT returned to Columbia Lakes.

1997 opened with the SWICA EXPO held in February at the Holiday Inn Hobby Airport.  The annual conference was a roaring success at the New Orleans Hilton Riverside.  The Annual Golf Tournament returned to Columbia Lakes.

During all the ‘90’s the focus rested in the direction of safety, worker training, drug and alcohol use in the workplace and on the jobsite and the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions.  Each of these became highly important to the insulation industry both as a cost issue and as a future for use of insulation for reduction of emissions.  Toby Landry emerged as a valuable contributor to SWICA serving as risk manager and controller during this critical decade.

Excitement was in the air – 1998 – SWICA’S first conference out of the United States – Cancun, Mexico!  Stories were told for months about the wonderful business meetings – Sorry, meant to say – after business meetings. Then suddenly the 21st Century was upon us.  Little did we realize the changes that would occur in the future…

THE 2000’S


“Millennium Magic” started with a large conference held at Beau Rivage Resort & Casino, Biloxi, Mississippi.  Through all the meetings, fun and games, the industry seemed well on its way to another good decade.

The ANNUAL MEMBER/GUEST GOLF TOURNAMENT was held at Bentwater Resort in Montgomery, Texas, our first rainout delay – What a storm!

The year 2001 started with excitement – In an effort to perpetuate our craft training program, Byron Sadler spear-headed the SWICA “CRAFT OLYMPICS” competition.  This was a successful and growing addition to the EXPO.  It got the field forces involved and rewarded and it has served as a very good learning tool for visiting customers.

June 2001 saw SWICA members leaving for Las Vegas during heavy rain storms. Thursday morning CNN was showing pictures of 18 wheelers floating on I-10 in Houston and by Friday people were paddling canoes in Covington, LA.  Tropical storm “Allison” pretty much swallowed up the SWICA region.  First, airports closed, then reports came about flooded cars and homes.  SWICA attendees experienced this first hand for the first time.

Other firsts at this convention – Lee McSpadden shot a Hole-in-one – there was a little practice round before the board meeting and #17 became his pride and joy.

First Vegas drive through wedding – Ernie and Sue Sanders! First conference Kenny Freeman did not “alligator” on the floor with Byron Sadler.  Byron did fly solo. THEN 9/11 – NEED WE SAY MORE – THE NATION WAS IN SHOCK – OUR INDUSTRY WAS AT A STANDSTILL!

Things began to change – instead of being a “Specialty Contractor”, the “All Service Contractor” emerged, combining insulation, abatement, fireproofing, scaffolding, painting, steam and electrical tracing, mold and mildew removal, ground and building maintenance, etc.  We had grown into a huge and viable force in energy conservation, plant efficiency, emission control, and workplace safety.  Along with this change came the attraction of investment brokers who foresaw the future of merging companies offering specialty services into one driving force.

We had grown up – BUT – as we gathered at conferences and expos and golf tournaments, we still were able to maintain the wonderful feeling of closeness we enjoyed so many years.

The 2001 ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT was held at Del Lago Golf Resort, in Montgomery, TX.

The year 2002 brought an expanded CRAFT OLYMPICS competition held at Lyondell-Citgo Recreation Center. This has certainly instilled a strong sense of accomplishment in our craftsmen.

SWICA’s 44th Annual Conference was held in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with the theme “Making the Most of Difficult Situations”.  I’m sure this was directed at the many companies and individuals affected by the unchartered times the industry was experiencing.

SWICA MEMBER/GUEST FALL GOLF TOURNAMENT was held at the Del Lago Resort and once again was a success – no rain!

As we entered 2003, new ideas were put to work – SWICA EXPO now included Technical Papers, Trade Exhibits, and an expanded Craft Competition to include the manufacturing of Removable Blankets.

SWICA planned the 2003 Annual Conference to be held in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.  The United States was now at war in Iraq and Mexico had taken a strong opposition to our stand on terrorism.   The SWICA Board of Directors took a unanimous vote to relocate from Cabo San Lucas to La Cantera in San Antonio.  Somehow we muddled through the disappointment and enjoyed the wonderful conference, even with San Antonio playing the finals in the NBA.  We enjoyed our own PGA final when VICKY GETGOOD hit that illusive HOLE-IN-ONE!  Another one of the highlights was SHAMU performing the famous “Louisiana Gator” dance for us at the opening reception. (Kenny – eat your heart out).

Fall rolled around to see the ANNUAL GOLF TOURNAMENT at the Del Lago Golf Resort. No Hole-In-One this time, but everyone had a great time.

THE 2000’S – PART 2

2004 began with the announcement of one of the leading forces in the insulation industry, Ron King, announcing his plans to retire from Specialty Products & Insulation Co after a distinguished career spanning more than 40 years in the insulation and architectural distribution, contracting and manufacturing segments of the construction industry.  We, of course, did not believe for one moment that Ron would desert our “cause” and indeed he has not.  His continued service in the promotion of the industry through NIA is recognized and applauded by all.

The 46th conference with held in Fort Worth, Texas – boots, hats, line dancing and all at the world famous BILLY BOB’S in Cowtown USA!  We offered a heartfelt thanks to Lloyd Baker for his service to SWICA as he announced his retirement from Dow Chemical Company.  Dow has been a big supporter of SWICA and offered up Wayne Lynn as the next representative.  From the picture, you will note that Wayne was welcomed in grand style by a bevy of SWICA BEAUTIES!  Must have scared him a little as next meeting he showed up with his new bride!

The summer headlines read “gasoline prices topped $2 a gallon in May, a dramatic increase from $1.20 in early 2002.  Too bad we can’t roll the clock back on that one!

October saw the Annual Golf Tournament back at Columbia Lakes.   Not only did it rain the day before, it was called the “Monsoon” of the century – early the morning of the tournament, water was puddled 6” deep everywhere you looked – but the game must go on!  Our days were clouded with concern for good friend Ed Tracey undergoing surgery and our beloved Linda by his side.  Good news came later in the day and happily, Linda was able to join us after the tournament!

2005 started with the Craft Education Committee Rallying for Competition Success.  And success it was – Great Expo – White Papers – Craft Competition again!

The Annual conference in San Destin Florida created Great Memories – beautiful resort – great golf courses – outstanding programs from Gerard’s Cookery and Cajun Market to ceramic Paint’n Place to deep sea fishing.  One sad note – Mike Wilson announced retirement from Thorpe Corporation and SWICA Board of Directors.  We all miss his smiling face and beautiful wife, Pam!

Then – the hurricanes hit – the entire Gulf Coast suffered damage beyond belief.  Our industry hurried to respond to clean and repair the industrial, commercial and residential sector from Texas to Louisiana to Mississippi to Alabama and to this day are still greatly involved in repairs.

October brought the Annual SWICA Golf Tournament to THE OAKS AT THE WOODLANDS.  Everyone needed a break from the hurricanes.

The look-ahead into 2006 estimates oil demand to be up and prices to hit an all-time high of above $60/bbl in response to the hurricanes.  High activity levels were straining service/supply capabilities and some project costs rose 20%. Manpower concerns were paramount with shortages of trained crews appearing.

The 2006 conference found us back at the Inn of the Mountain Gods in New Mexico.  Many attendees recalled fond memories of our first visit.  October found the Annual Golf Tournament back at The Woodlands Resort & Conference Center.  The SWICA ladies set up competition at the watering holes and had a great time.  The weather for the tournament was perfect and the storm held off until after the dinner.  Many of us drove home in torrential rains and winds.

Once again, the EXPO committee was hard at work striving to put together the best of shows – mailings went out – billboards went up – text messages flew back and forth.  The effort was made – the EXPO was built and the people came!  A great success!

49th conference met at Harrah’s Lake Tahoe Casino, one of the most beautiful settings in the United States.  The buzz was – what, where and when will the 50th Anniversary be held?  Planning had already begun and you could feel the excitement in the air – FIFTY YEARS! WOW!

Of course, this could not fore shadow the Annual Golf Tournament held at the Magnolia Creek Links Course in League City, Texas – A new and totally different course laid out in Scottish Tradition.  You had to be there to experience!

So – here we are – 2008 – our year!  Fifty years of friendship, fellowship, working together, playing together, planning for the future together!  Gas is over $3.70 gallon – oil is over $127 bbl – America is in a recession – energy is at a premium – we do not know what the future holds – BUT – AS THE SONG SAY “WE WILL SURVIVE”!  So, my friends, ask not what SWICA can do for you, BUT, what you can do for SWICA!

2008 – 2018


Mellanie Askew took the reins over in San Juan and now passed them to Daniel King in 2018.  This conference has a special note that SWICA past president Ron King will present his son the presidents’ gavel.  This is a historic moment for our association and industry honoring a family that has served this association throughout these many years!

September 8, 2008 the Gulf Coast and all our businesses and homes were hit by Hurricane Ike.  The repairs and refinery damages unbelievable…if the business could be a silver lining.  Then all hell broke loose and the market tanked.

Life went on rebuilding and the 2009 Expo expanded.  We were off to the Ginn Hammock Resort in Palm Coast Florida for the 2009 Conference and got to walk around the Daytona race track and a year later life seemed normal with the Golf Tournament at the Woodlands at full capacity.

Choosing to stay close to home, Barton Creek in Austin hosted the 2010 conference. The 2011 Expo moved to the Intercontinental hotel in the middle of the Galleria attracting engineers.  Then off to Reno, NV for 2011 conference with a visit to the Antique Car Museum that was a true treat.  The Askews were cleaning up the gambling tables!  And the market was beginning to move and the light appeared at the end of the tunnel.

2012 returned the Annual Conference to La Cantera in San Antonio. Sandra and Byron Sadler invited all to their Two Dot Ranch for a day of food, fun and exotic animals. It was awesome.  David Gottlich and David Patrick served up breakfast Mary’s on the bus and we pull up a hay wagon to carry Donna Patrick up to the house with a broken foot.  Patrick initiated the first “SWICA Legacy Award” at the gala recognizing Byron Sadler for his many contributions to SWICA’s history and success.

Kenny Freeman proposed that the Craft Competitions be branded “The Byron Sadler Craft Competitions” as now known. Charleston, South Carolina hosted our 2013 Conference and we dodged a tropical storm for most events but got through!  Alice Feehery pouted because we ran her off from the registration table not knowing that everyone had been saving wine corks to build a new BBQ table out of our love and sharing and having to drink all that wine to sneak in bowls full of corks for a gala presentation.  We also had the historical photography walk and awarded best photography!

2014 Conference we went back to Barton Creek in Austin and moved our fall golf tournament to Black Horse and expanded to 2 courses and over 200 players.  Austin is BBQ and golf and we had that covered.  President Feehery awarded the second SWICA Legacy Award to Jenny Ferrell.  Unbeknownst to her, son Bobby had arranged the whole family to sneak in back door for presentation and dinner.

2015 the Expo landed at the Marriott Westchase and vocational students attended.  SWICA rolled out the Mechanical Insulation video and bought two tents for recruitment.  Then off to Innisbrook, Palm Coast FL Conference and we found we had to recycle David Patrick as president in spite of his apparel choices. The fall golf remains at BlackHorse but we added raffles and games to raise funds for Combat Marine Outdoors. Feehery and Askew battled it our for the CMO Flag at conference auctions.

2016, imagine, in President Patrick’s’ backyard at the Golden Nugget in Lake Charles, LA with a full Cajun theme and Mardis Gras Gala, including hats and bead throwing.  Patrick awarded Mike Feehery a special award for his support.  Mike set out to aggressively win the auction bid for the CMO flag and walked across the hall and presented it to Patrick.  The ‘bromance’ continues.  Patrick also awarded the third “SWICA Legacy Award” to David Gottlich with a slide presentation and David’s kids sent videos of congratulation!   It was a touching evening and the gavel was passed to Ashley Bridges.

First up for 2017 was the addition of the NEW Cryogenic Competition at the Pittsburgh Corning training facility.  Bridges ran the event and for many the last time we got to be with him.  February 12, 2017 Ashley passed away and left a hole in our hearts and leadership.  The March 14th Expo was a great success under the leadership of Daniel King, Bay Insulation. The Cryo competition was shown on video. Two weeks later the board had a weekend retreat to sort through our 1958 bylaws revisions  and officer succession.  Per advice of counsel we were to recycle a president and Mellanie Askew stepped up to filled the position until now.  David Gottlich resigned from the SWICA board and thus from the SWICA representation on the NIA board although agreed to remain on our advisory board.   We sort through like challenges when a board member leaves his company.  Bryan Rymer, Performandce Contracting, Inc. and Jeff Murphy, Distribution International filled the two open board positions.

The 2017 Conference was at the new Henderson Resort in Destin Fl.  Guests were the Bridges Family and the Combat Marine Outdoors representatives.  We held our first auction for Combat Marine Outdoors and they provided a full color guard for our opening ceremony.  Alice Feehery took charge of the auction and items. Companies provide donated auction items and we had a silent and live auction raising $16,250 for CMO. Golf was back at Black Horse for 2017 after recouping, as most of Houston, from the devastation of Hurricane Harvey.  The Astros brought home the World Series to heal the hearts, wounds and spirit of the city.