Reunion In Print

June 5, 2024
A look at the people who have made this publication possible since 1944.

We have just completed the 955th issue of the publication you know as Contracting Business. Our name has changed a few times since 1944, to signify our expanding HVACR industry coverage. We will resume our look at each decade of the magazine in the July issue, with HVACR in the 1980s.

As we officially mark our 80th Anniversary issue, I’d like to recognize those who have made this publication possible since 1944. 

I call this column a “reunion,” because I believe journalists for “the trades” feel connected to their predecessors. It’s nothing mystical, just a way of thinking. I truly wish I had met many of them. When I joined the staff in 2005, then editor-in-chief Mike Weil often spoke of the wit, wisdom and dedication of people like “Doc” Rusk and Jeff Forker, and some of the legendary contractors who helped take HVACR and CB to greater heights of excellence and awareness. But soon enough, I was speaking with and meeting some of the greats from the ’70s, ’80s and ’90s.

The first staff to produce The Refrigeration Industry in 1944 was editor T.T. Quinn and associate editor H.K. Smith, Jr. H.S. McCloud and Warren Farr were editorial advisors. They concentrated on wartime support and refrigeration systems used on the homefront, primarily in what would become “supermarket” settings. Irving B. Hexter was publisher/president. The publication’s covers usually featured impressive photos of industrial refrigeration equipment or food processing and industrial settings.

“We have a special message to deliver to you and no special ax to grind. We are going to try to give you an interesting, timely and informative magazine that will bring you answers to some of your problems,” wrote Mr. Hexter in his welcoming editorial. He referred to the magazine’s leading circulation of 16,000. We still lead the industry, going to more than 38,000 print subscribers who request the publication.  

By 1950, Jim McCallum, Jr. was lead editor, assisted by T.T. Quinn as managing editor. Joining McCallum at various times in the 1960s were Gordon Anderson, Warren Stevens, Earl Swaney, Scholer Banks and Henry Lefer. McCallum and Anderson were awarded multiple times for editorial excellence by the Merchandising, Trade & Export Press.

Sam Milnark served as editor in the early 1970s, with Joseph Hoffman, Jr. as publisher. Jeff Forker joined us in the 1970s, first as a managing director and later as editor and publisher. As publisher, Forker grew the publication’s sales base immensely. Others who joined in the mid- to late-1970s were Robert Mader, Bob Schwed, Dennis Orange and Don Carter.

James P. McDermott was publisher and editorial director through the 1980s. Editors progressed through different titles during this decade, including Bob Schwed, Joseph Miller, Jim Wheeler, Michael S. Weil, Dominick Guarino, Charles Reinhart, George Fodor, John Lawn, Lisa Murton and Reva Zaretsky. Notable publishers were Alex Carney and Joseph Fristik.

Bob Schwed, Joseph Miller, Jim Wheeler, Dominick Guarino, Mike Murphy and Michael S. Weil would eventually serve as editors-in-chief: Schwed in the early 1980s; Miller from the mid-1980s to March 1988; Wheeler from April 1988 to 1992; Guarino from September 1992 to 1998; Murphy from 1998 to November 2004, and Weil from December 2004 to September 2014. In their monthly commentaries, lead editors Wheeler, Guarino, Murphy and Weil were very adept at addressing industry issues related to business management, trade show attendance, government regulations, system performance standards, peer group networking and more. Wheeler received a Neil Award for Outstanding Journalism for a series of articles he wrote in 1990 about the then-upcoming phaseout of CFC refrigerants.

Following Mike Weil’s departure in late 2014 to join National Comfort Institute, Robert Mader served as editorial director, while also serving as editor-in-chief of Chicago-based CONTRACTOR, until his sudden death in February of 2021. Mike Eby,  a veteran industry editor covering the electrical industry, succeeded Mader as editorial director of Contracting Business, CONTRACTOR and HPAC Engineering. He continues in that role today.

A Merry Band 

Mike Weil and the editors who served under him make up my fondest CB memories. Mike hired me in 2005. Thank you, Mike! I came on board to work with Ron Rajecki, Valerie Stakes, Kate Kelly, Pete Grasso and our fantastic graphics designer Connie Conklin. By the way, other designers through the years were Lori Lipton; Carolyn Steinbicker; Jack Tetalman; Ashley Doles; Susan Lakin and Julie Whitty.

Gwen Hostnik, Marge Dietrich, Andrea Begany-Garsed and Steve Palmison were our fantastic administrative, marketing and Comfortech show support team.
We editors were close in age and had fun. Publisher Joe Fristik managed to put up with our occasional antics, probably because he knew we would get down to business when necessary. Joe joined Rheem in 2011, and passed away unexpectedly in March of 2015. As publisher, Joe was a master at developing and maintaining relationships with advertisers.

From Day 1 in 1944, this publication’s editors knew the value of contractor writers who had industry experience and could share it with others. One of the best from the 1960s was Art Bogen, who brought what were simple but novel ideas to the fore. Chief among them all was Thomas “Doc” Rusk, a successful HVAC contractor from Covington, KY, who believed in sharing and teaching. He was one of the first to share his accounting books during seminars to show other contractors the importance of profit and loss, overhead, inventory cycling, and so on. Rusk’s annual contractor seminars were sponsored by Honeywell.

In the more HVAC-focused decades, our best contributors have included the legendary Ron Smith, founder of Modern Air Conditioning; Tom McCart, a Smith employee and the first million-dollar HVAC salesman; Charlie Greer, a protege of McCart who wrote for us for 30 years; marketing expert Adams Hudson; consultant Vicki Laplant —“Sweetheart of the HVAC Rodeo”— who remains active as a consultant with her husband John. Charlie, John and Vicki are in our HVAC Hall of Fame, as is Matt Michel, who, like John and Vicki, was an ex-Lennox employee-turned-consultant who co-founded Service Roundtable. Tom Piscitelli shared articles on T.R.U.S.T. selling. Earlier, Tom was a Honeywell employee who helped organize Doc Rusk’s annual road shows. Earl King provided columns on commercial HVAC sales, and Dominick Guarino became our “Last Word” columnist following his move to start National Comfort Institute with Rob “Doc” Falke, who provided us with regular columns related to home performance. Marc Sandofsky was a contributing editor on commercial refrigeration from 2000 to 2004.

ACCA Chairman Jim Norris was a special friend to whom we gave a forum as he worked to increase ACCA membership and promote the HVAC industry. Contractor commentators like Thomas “Doc” Rusk, “Skip” Snyder, Bryce Johnson, Buck St. Cyr, Jon Pierce, Robert Owens, Wallace Lee and Lee Rosenberg helped steady the ship with excellent commentaries on business development. Contractor advisors in the 1990s included John Owens, Vince DiFilippo, Alan Barnes, Steve Saunders, Larry Taylor, Ray Isaac, Lee Rosenberg, Barbara Keil, Andy Stack and at least a dozen more, and we continued to rely on contractor advisors into the 2000s under Murphy’s and Weil’s editorships.

Our “Contractor of the Year”, Design/Build Awards and Quality Home Comfort Awards all served to help revolutionize and uplift HVAC contracting by trumpeting the business and technical achievements of residential and commercial contractors. 

Our “Woman of the Year” series  brought more women into the conversation as business leaders. Groups such as Women in HVACR, which we provided with a space at HVAC Comfortech, have taken the baton and brought women’s achievements into the forefront of this industry. Watch our upcoming issues as I bring you more memorable highlights from this publication that you have been instrumental in supporting.