Dubuque County business survives nearly 70 years by changing

CASCADE, Iowa (AP) — For nearly 70 years, a Dubuque County company has maintained its original purpose while expanding into manufacturing and information technology, while maintaining family ties that span four generations.

The late Ray Noonan Sr. founded Cascade Lumber Co. with his late wife, Mary, in May 1953. He was new to the lumberyard business, but knew acutely that construction needs would skyrocket as a result of the Second World War.

He also knew how to maintain and grow his fledgling lumber yard, said his son, John Noonan, vice president of the company’s retail unit.

“The secret is diversification,” John Noonan told the Dubuque Telegraph Herald. “He hated losing a sale.”

This drive led to the evolution of the company, now better known as the Cascade Manufacturing Co., first becoming a more comprehensive building materials retailer, then expanding into roof truss manufacturing and floors that form the framework of a variety of buildings, such as agricultural structures, senior centers, military installations and homes.

Born in 1917 in Chicago, Ray Noonan Sr. visited a family farm in the Cascade area as a child. He graduated from St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Iowa, in 1939, and served in the United States Navy during World War II.

He worked in Manchester and Monticello before deciding to go into the timber business in Cascade.

“He wanted to make money doing practical things,” said John Noonan. “He always said there were three basic needs – food, shelter and clothing.”

Ray Noonan Sr. had sold turkeys earlier in his life and had no interest in selling clothes, so he focused on needing shelter. He and Mary opened a lumber yard on the east side of Cascade.

“At the time, he didn’t necessarily have all the knowledge and all the answers, so he surrounded himself with people who had them,” said Tim Noonan, grandson of Ray Sr. and current president of the ‘company.

Among the company’s first employees were people with experience in the business, including Harry Thomas, Denny Leib, Ray Menge and Bob Takes.

“In 1953 when we opened, the lumberyards were selling lumber, coal, cement, yarn,” Tim Noonan said. “The hardware store was selling nails and bolts. It made no sense (to Ray Sr.) that if he sold the wood to a comrade, he couldn’t sell him the materials to put it together.

This philosophy led the company to begin selling a variety of building materials.

Eventually, company employees began manufacturing feed carts, portable livestock buildings, and other items to increase the company’s profitability.

“Dad had a vision for diversification, and he was taking someone else’s idea and making it better,” John Noonan said.

Ray Noonan Sr. belonged to a series of retail and other associations.

“Dad learned from other people,” John Noonan said. “He took a lot of their ideas.”

The company eventually ventured into manufacturing.

“Before, we sold complete sets of buildings. We sold the roof trusses, we would sell the steel cladding, the whole kit and the caboodle,” said Tim Noonan. “Other lumberyards started needing the trusses because they were selling everything except the trusses. Rather than compete with these lumberyards, the decision was made to create a manufacturing division that would sell trusses for distribution through other lumberyards. This pattern continues today.

This manufacturing unit became much larger than the retail side of the business, Cascade Lumber Co., which continues to operate a store in Cascade.

“About 35 years after timber trusses began to be manufactured, an alternative product emerged called cold forming steel trusses – a lightweight, all-steel product that is a non-combustible alternative to wood,” said Tim Noonan.

The company makes and sells both types, although it faced a challenge 25 years ago that could have halted the company’s progress.

A fire on January 5, 1997 destroyed a 30,000 square foot truss manufacturing complex that had been built in 1979. An 8,500 square foot office building was also a total loss. The company’s management quickly turned to rebuilding while maintaining production as much as possible.

“One of the keys was that we had good insurance and a lot of good networks across the industry,” Tim Noonan said. “We were able to have other truss manufacturers take orders for us so that we could still meet customer needs during the rebuilding process. We were also working out of what was then a cocoon farm factory in Eldridge, Iowa.

The Cascade company also received help from a truss factory in Maquoketa. This factory produced its trusses during the day, while Cascade produced its trusses at night.

“When we emerged with the rebuilt factory, we were a two-factory operation with Cascade and Eldridge,” said Tim Noonan. “We ran a two-plant operation until 2005 when we opened (a plant) in Pleasantville, Iowa, about 30 minutes southeast of Des Moines.”

The company manufactures Cascade products; Pleasantville; and Tyler, Texas.

“Our market today is the Central Time Zone and the Southeast (US) down to Florida,” said Tim Noonan. “We have shipped to 46 of the 48 continental US states and eight countries in our steel truss lineup.”

The company also operates a retail outlet as well as a wholly-owned information technology subsidiary in Monticello.

Ray Noonan Sr. died in 2008 at the age of 90, but the business remains rooted in the Noonan family.

“Ray Noonan Sr. has worked with the company for 55 years. He stopped coming here a few months before he died,” said John Noonan.

Generations continue to guide the company founded by Ray Noonan Sr.

“After Ray Sr., there were five siblings (his children),” said Tim Noonan, who is the son of one of those siblings, Ray Noonan Jr. second generation people employed by the company – John Noonan and John Althoff There are currently seven third generation employees, and we have three fourth generation family members working as seasonal employees at the trusses factory this summer .

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