Carpenters Retiree Turns Satisfying Career Into American Dream

Retired Local 1185 member John Wicklund aspired to see America. He figured that this itch to traverse the country began around 2000 and stayed with him until March 1, 2010, when he retired from the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters and set out to begin his long-held ambition. In 2011, after a summer of volunteering for the Kankakee State Park, Wicklund set out in earnest by volunteering in Oregon for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service (USFWS).

Retired Local 1185 member John Wicklund and wife, Sandi“Oregon has been one of my favorites,” Wicklund reminisces. “The weather was miserable, but overall it was wonderful. We went out there and I thought I was going to be a beach bum, but the water is 48 degrees, the wind is coming on hard, you’re standing in the wet sand for five hours a day and it was very cold. But the Oregon coast is a beautiful, beautiful place.”

Wicklund, his wife Sandi and their dog Auggy travel the country by towable RV, staying in campgrounds and volunteering through for USFWS, the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to name a few. Sometimes he leads tours and shares information on the history of the area, or a destination’s flora and fauna, often focusing on birds—a personal interest of Sandi who enjoys setting up spotting scopes for tourists to view nesting birds, eagles, owls and various water fowl.

In 1968 John Wicklund began his apprenticeship with the Chicago Regional Council of Carpenters, though it wasn’t his first consideration.

“At 17, my mother and sister said ‘Oh, ya gotta go to college, you’re going to get drafted,’ so I went to college for one semester and said, ‘This stinks.’” Friends suggested that he get into the trades. He was already good at working with his hands having built bird houses since he was 6 years old.

After leaving in 1977 for Kentucky to spend time with his family he returned to Illinois in 1986 to rejoin the Carpenters union. Wicklund recalls working for Martin Flooring as his career was winding down and work opportunities were tight due to the recession. In December 2009 he was informed by the company that it wouldn’t have any additional work until August the following year. This helped prompt him to call it a successful career in March 2010 and go out and buy a Ford 350 and begin looking for a trailer to pull.

When speaking with Wicklund for this story he was with his wife in Knoxville, Tennessee, upgrading from a 35-foot trailer to John Wicklund, Sandi, and dog posing by RVa 37-foot beauty that will still enable them to camp in their state parks of interest while on the road. The Wicklunds usually bid on three or four volunteer opportunities of interest through and take the first one that is offered. They’ll be in Louisiana this winter and already accepted a position in Texas for next winter.

Wicklund worked in the residential arena with A&D Tile for about 17 years before moving back to commercial work. He went through the INSTALL program and spoke highly of it, its warranty program and the training.

“I could go into these big box stores such as Target or Wal-Mart and straighten out anybody’s mess.”

INSTALL certified installers have completed a minimum of a four-year flooring apprenticeship and have been trained in residential, commercial and health industry installations.

Even retired with travels comprising a great deal of his and Sandi’s lives, Wicklund still tries to navigate his way to Local 1185 in Lisle, Illinois, while coming from or going to his next destination.

John and Sandi Wicklund visiting Alaska“We try to pass through at least once and sometimes twice a year on our way to summer and winter volunteer spots depending on the dates of the local meeting,” Wicklund said. “Many of the brothers I’ve worked with over the years also attend. So I get to check up on how they’re doing, their health, talk about their kids and grandkids…. It’s a good time.”

Wicklund’s career with the Carpenters has positioned him well for life after flooring for the union.

“We live rent free and can save for six months out of the year. We have an investment in the trailer and a pickup truck to haul it. We’re going to do this as long as we physically and mentally can. And we’ll have enough to eventually buy a small place in a suburb away from a big major city but close where we still have medical facilities. My (supplemental retirement fund) savings are sitting in there growing. Between my pension and Social Security I don’t need to touch it. In a couple of years maybe I’ll start taking it out but right now it’s just sitting in there growing.”

In striving for a comfortable retirement Wicklund made a commitment to himself, his employers and the end users while on the job.

“I’ve worked with a lot of guys over the years who didn’t want to work the overtime. They’d have an opportunity to work overtime but they’d say, ‘I ain’t working this weekend, it’s summertime.’ Time and a half. Double time. You’re crazy. Go ahead and take it. Put it in the bank.

“In my last few years I always took apprentices with me on jobs. You’ve got to give these kids something to do. Let them make mistakes. They’re not going to be big mistakes. A journeyman professional knows how to fix the mistakes. You still walk off the job knowing that it’s completed professionally.” On mentoring, Wicklund believes that “it’s the most important thing there is.” He learned a lot from some of the older guys.

“My mistakes as well as my successes got me where I am today, and I’m happy where I am today.”


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