Background – 1970s

A Family History of Building

Since the early days of Homesteading on the American frontier, building has been in the Sargent Family’s blood. After farming for several years in Nebraska, the trials of the Dust Bowl of the 1930s forced Glenn and Grace Sargent to move their family to Missouri in 1941. Glenn worked on building the barracks at Fort Leonard Wood and then later opened a woodworking shop. He passed the value of working with his hands onto his son, Don.

Don Sargent

In addition to his skills in construction, Don loved classic cars. Here he is with the car he entered into the Great American Race, a cross-country competition.

Company Founder Don Sargent

After serving four years in the US Air Force, Don studied Civil Engineering at the University of Missouri Rolla (now known as University of Missouri Science and Technology). An iron worker by trade, Don gained experience working on large projects like the St. Louis Arch, Pea Ridge Mine, and Tom Sauk reservoir. Although the experience was invaluable, the frequent travel, sometimes as far away as Alaska, and lack of a central employer to be loyal towards left Don wanting more. He began to look into branching out into his own business. Armed with a lot of skill, dedication, and a new 21’ Allis Chalmers forklift, he founded Sargent Construction Company in 1973 by starting a franchise with Star Building Systems.

Despite a tough economy in the early ‘70s, Don had the foresight to see that pre-engineered metal buildings were a quicker and more affordable yet still reliable alternative to other styles of buildings. Understanding the needs of the Southeast Missouri community, Don saw that these metal buildings were just what local businesses were looking for, so he took to the streets to network and find businesses in need of construction. Don worked on all the early buildings himself, gaining a strong reputation as a skilled, tough, hands-on worker who got the job done but wasn’t too serious to tell jokes or orchestrate a prank or two. Well-liked in the community and by his employees, Don developed a culture of hard work, trustworthiness, and a vision of a bright future that still persists to this day at Sargent Construction.

Family Affair

In the early days of the company, Don’s wife, Barbara, wore all the hats of the office side of the business. A homemaker for most of her adult life, Barbara stepped outside her comfort zone to help support Don in his dream of running a construction business. In the early days, the business ran out of the basement of the family home, so the Sargent children got an early taste of all sides of the construction world. All three ended up inheriting the builder gene—son Barry is an engineer and involved in real estate, son Bob works for the company as a sales assistant and office worker, and daughter, Renee, is a civil engineer and company president.

A Working Style Established

Holiday Insurance was the first job completed by Sargent. The whole building cost $2,000—a pretty unbelievable number by today’s standards. But the affordability and quality of the work soon began to get around and the company started to grow. Sargent entered a fruitful partnership with Casey’s General Store that yielded 24 convenience stores over the course of 7 years between ‘78 and ‘85. The impressively efficient crew was eventually able to turnaround a whole store in just 30 days.

Due to the rural location of many customers, Sargent began a design-build work process before the term “design-build” even existed. Many customers had a set budget and the region didn’t always afford access to an array of architects or independent designers, so Sargent stepped in to fill that need. They were able to offer services and guidance from the start to finish of a building project, and the quality of the work couldn’t be argued with.