“We’re contributing to quality of life for a lot of people. We affect everybody_” – Bradford Oneglia, vice president of asphalt paving, O&G Industries
TORRINGTON – Working on a railroad in Argentina gave Italian-born chauffeur Andrew Oneglia the opportunity to repair a broken railroad car on a job site ran by his boss, Joseph Massetti, during World War 1.
That success led to him being named second-in-command in Massetti’s Torrington machine shop, where he worked with Flaviano Gervasini. Oneglia and Gervasini would eventually start what today is known as O&G Industries, celebrating its 100th anniversary this year.
Thursday, the company marked its centennial year with the unveiling of a monument outside its corporate offices dedicated to the first two generations of leadership and another dedicated to the workers who have helped the company thrive.
On highways, bridges and buildings statewide, and across the country, O&G work stands across generations.
The company opened its doors in 1923 as Oneglia and Gervasini. In 1975, the business was rebranded O&G.
Four generations since it began, Andrew’s third- and fourth-generation descendants run the company, and O&G has worked in at least a piece of projects in 80% of the 169 cities and towns in the state, said Raymond R. Oneglia, the company’s vice chairman and Andrew’s grandson.
Raymond’s cousin, Gregory, is also vice chairman. Raymond’s brother David is president.
Cousin Robert died in 2012.
The company has built more than 300 of Connecticut’s schools, Gregory Oneglia said.
Recently, it constructed the first two net zero schools in Connecticut, Manchester’s Buckley Elementary and Bowers School. They use no power from the grid.
The company also has built every major bridge in the state, said Christina Oneglia Rossi, vice president of business development and Gregory’s daughter.
The Eisenhower Interstate Highway System was the beginning of a great expansion for the operation, which worked on all the major highways in Connecticut, including I-95, I-84 and Route 9.
Until 1960, the company was a road building business with a quarry and concrete plant. In 1960, it got into the construction business and expanded, acquiring other companies with quarries, and built its first asphalt plant. The company has aggregate quarries in Burrville, Southbury, Woodbury, Prospect, New Milford and Hudson, N.Y.
It has completed work in other states as well, including constructing a $170 million cogeneration power plant at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, a one-of-a-kind system that powers the entire campus, Gregory Oneglia said.
The company worked with Tutor-Perini Corporation in California to build a tunnel in Chicago, the Lock & Dam in Louisiana, and did some work together in the Alameda Quarter in Los Angeles
“Some of these are billion plus dollar jobs,” Raymond Oneglia said.
“We’re contributing to quality of life for a lot of people,” Raymond’s son Bradford Oneglia, who is vice president of asphalt paving, said. “We affect everybody_”
It built the road to Mohegan Sun, Terminal B at Bradley International Airport and did work at the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
The company has also built hospitals and has done smaller projects, such as supplying building materials for doctors’ offices and residential properties.
“We supplied the beautiful marble steps on the Waterbury City Hall,” said Robert’s daughter, Kara Oneglia, vice president of the company’s Mason Division, adding that the company also supplied stone for the United States Military Academy West Point.
Raymond Oneglia said to this day when he drives over the 16-miles of roads at Woodridge Lake in Goshen, he recalls constructing them and putting in the sewers and dam there. “It’s sort of a treasure,” he said.
There have been some mistakes along the way too. Gregory shared a tale of working on I-84 during the summer when he was in college. When it rained and the road flooded, he put a coal patch over it and, at about 11:30 at night, left, assuring a state trooper that it would be OK.
After a tractor-trailer drove over the section and the road sunk about a foot into the mud, the trooper called Greg’s father, who was waiting for him when he came home wet and tired from his long day. “‘Don’t you ever leave an O&G job the way you left that job’!” his father ordered and subsequently called employees out of bed to fix the mess.
Going into the family business was not a given, the family said. There are family members who have taken other paths and those who wanted to be in the company had to prove their worth, put in hours and abide the company’s strong work ethic.
“Our fathers made us work hard for it,” Kara Oneglia said.
Before joining the family business, Gregory Oneglia was a lawyer in Hartford. His son, TJ, was a pilot for the U.S. Navy for nine years before coming on board. Christina was in politics for a time and made lifelong friends whom she connect with on a personal and professional level.
For some of them, however, the company was the only work they considered.
“We were blessed that we were all given the opportunity to have an education. Everybody in this room went to prep school and on to college,” Ray Oneglia said. “In my case, I never really had any other ideas.”
The 75-year old has no plans for retirement. He cracked a joke when Bradford Oneglia asked when he would retire, saying when he’s buried, “then you know I’m thinking about it.”
Over the years, international, national, state and local events have had their effect on the operation, usually – but not always – creating opportunities.
When the U.S. government started the Make Work Projects during the Great Depression, the company built roads and bridges in New Hampshire and in New York around Lake Placid.
In World War II, Andrew Oneglia “sort of mothballed” the company, said Gregory Oneglia, but after the war, when soldiers returned to work and started families, it started installing sewers, basements and concrete for people’s houses.
Then the Flood of 1955 wiped out the Naugatuck Valley and the company started building flood control dams.
The family credits the business’s longevity with loyal employees, many of whom have not only worked there for decades but have brought along other family members.
“I say that it’s the workmen who made our company,” Greg said. “They were excellent, excellent and hard workers.”
Ken Merz, company secretary, has worked there for 53 years. He also went to college with the Oneglia clan. Raymond called him “the outsider on the inside” and said he was part of the family.
An engineer when he took a job in the company’s data processing plant, over the years Merz has received his CPA, a law degree and was two courses short of a master’s degree in computers.
“I’ve never found anything I’d rather do,” he said when asked why he stayed with the company so long. “Even now, I’m 76 years old and there still isn’t anything I’d rather do.”