O&G to host reunion for retired workers

Photo courtesy of Esteban Hernandez of the Register Citizen
July 7, 2014

Inside a small first-floor conference room, Raymond R. Oneglia flicked his iPhone and started playing a song that made his eyes water.

The vice chairman of one of the city’s biggest businesses, O&G Industries, is planning on playing the song — “Like a Rock” by Bob Seger — after he makes some remarks during a special company reunion this Sunday. It’s a rock song released in the 1980s; a breezy, easygoing anthem, but the lyrics talking about strength and persistence get to him.

Oneglia was 16 when he assisted building Route 8 for the company his father, Ray, helped establish. Now 66, Oneglia said he chose the song because portions of it characterize the vision many of the workers had when they first started out at the company.

“This is the typical young construction worker; they’re like a rock, standing arrow straight,” Oneglia said Wednesday, quoting the song.

The reunion, which is helping bring together retired employees of the company, will take place at Elk’s Pond on Guerdat Road in Torrington.

Past and present employees have kept the company going, Oneglia said, and the picnic is a celebration for them, not necessarily the company.

“This business wouldn’t be here without the hard work, dedication and loyalty of our employees,” Oneglia said.

Tracy McKeon, of Torrington, worked at O&G for 30 years in the records department of the depot on South Main Street. She has helped organize the event, and along with a few former employees, she helped create the invitations sent to a little more than 200 former employees. Most of them live in the state, but a few invitations were dispatched to New York and Vermont and at least three sent to Florida, she said. Organizers are hoping the event turns into an annual fixture, she said.

The event will serve as an opportunity to see old friends. McKeon said her husband, Gene, regularly stays in touch with some former employees, meeting up once a month for breakfast.

“Gene loves it when he gets back together with the guys,” McKeon said.

Gene worked at the company as well, starting out at 18, and retired after 50 years of work on construction sites with heavy equipment, like bulldozers and cranes.

One of Gene McKeon’s most memorable jobs was helping handle the cranes that built the Torrington Towers. Within a few months of their respective retirements in late 2003 and early 2004, the two were married.

The idea behind the reunion came after a discussion with a former employee at, of all places, a wake. McKeon said a discussion broke out about seeing each other at more joyful events.

“We are trying to make it a very special occasion for people who worked her for many years,” Oneglia said. “This is about the people who made the company what it is.”

McKeon said people there thought of one another as family; this was especially true for those working on site, since hazardous conditions made them keep an eye on one another. Working that closely, inevitably constructs friendships, McKeon said.

“They were an excellent company to work for,” McKeon said. “They’re a family company.”

Today the company employs close to 900 people statewide, Oneglia said, and its construction footprint stretches across the Nutmeg State. It provides construction services and building material supplies, with at least a quarter of the workers laboring in Torrington and the surrounding areas.

The company is one of the cornerstones of the business community and one of the earliest examples of the contributions of Italian-American immigrants in the city. It was founded in 1923 by Andrew Oneglia—Raymond R. Oneglia’s grandfather—and his partner, Flaviano Gervasin.

The two men started out with only two dump trucks and a steamroller, eventually beginning to bid for road construction projects several years after opening. Gervasin didn’t live to see the company he co-founded flourish; he died after a vehicle he was operating was struck by a train.

Daniel Carey, director of human resources at the company, said the two men started out by building roads before opening a network of quarries, concrete and asphalt plants throughout the state and in New York. The two men opened their first quarry in Woodbury in the last 1930s.

“Their promise to customers was to deliver the highest possible quality at the lowest possible price,” Carey said.

The business is still privately owned by the same family who helped found it. Oneglia made sure three of his six children continued his work. Francis, George and Ray Oneglia were later affectionately known as the “founding brothers” and helped develop the company after the serving in World War II.

In 1956, the brothers were instrumental in helping their father secure one of the company’s first major projects: A $4 million Army Corps of Engineers job to build a dam in Thomaston. The company completed its first building project in 1960, Carey said. The company also had larger, out-of-state projects like helping build a bridge in Chicago and most recently, renovating air strips at the Los Angeles International Airport.

When Andrew Oneglia died in 1961, Francis was named president and Ray was named chairman.

Ray’s son is Raymond R. Oneglia, and family legacy continues, which is now in its fourth generation: Raymond R. Oneglia’s brother, David, works for the company and Raymond R. Oneglia’s son, Brad, also works for the company; Francis Oneglia’s son Greg works there, as do three of his children—Christina Rossi, Matt and T.J.; George Oneglia’s son, Robert, who died in 2012, was survived by several family members, including his daughter, Kara Oneglia, who now works for the company.

Oneglia has already told his family when he plans to retire.

“When you see me inside a box with flowers on it, know I’m only thinking about it,” Oneglia said.

The plan for the event, which starts at 11 a.m. Sunday and will most likely delve into the evening, is mostly informal. There’s a few speeches like Oneglia’s planned, as well as a group photo. Nothing else is planned but the food, which is being catered for the more than 200 guests expected.

“Hopefully the chef can handle it,” McKeon said.

Read the original story on the Register Citizen website.