Combined Expertise: ‘God-given’ resource management through family-style mentorship

By Lauren Jefferson | May 30th, 2019

WHEN THE FLATBED TRUCK pulled into Heacock Lumber carrying a gigantic 5-foot-wide red oak trunk, foreman Zach Grasse ’15 didn’t wave the driver away as he might have just a year ago. “Most sawmills wouldn’t know what to do with this log, but we’ll figure that out,” he explained. “I saw dollar signs in this.”

Heacock’s mill can handle up to 40-foot-long sections, and that capability is just one tool business owner Duval Denlinger ’91 and Grasse have at their disposal in efforts to diversify their offerings, which include rough-cut, air and kiln-dried lumber, railroad ties, firewood, mulch, sawdust and more.

“Instead of trying to increase our production, we’re trying to find the right products for our customers, from the person with a DIY project to contractors and those in the resale business,” Denlinger said. Live-edge wood slabs for custom table- and bar-tops is just one example of a hot commodity that customers are often willing to drive long distances to purchase.

Grasse – Denlinger calls him his “right-hand man” – started working at the sawmill in Plumsteadville the summer after he graduated from high school. At that point, all he knew was he loved to hunt and fish and wanted to work outside. As he continued to spend summers at Heacock working his way into positions with more responsibility, Grasse started to see a future in the family-owned business and added a business minor to his environmental sustainability degree. He was hired full-time after graduation.

Duval Denlinger ’91, owner of Heacock Lumber, talks with his foreman Zach Grasse ’15, who began working for the company as a high school student in the summers. Denlinger and his wife Tamara Hunsberger Denlinger ’90 took partownership in 1994 from her grandfather and are now full owners. Grasse is also married to an EMU graduate, nurse Brielle Hoch Grasse ’16.

“There was one day when Duval sat me down and said that he saw a lot of him in me and that I am a great fit for the company and have a lot of potential here at the mill,” Grasse recalled.

With Grasse in charge, Denlinger and his wife Tamara Hunsberger Denlinger ’90 have the freedom to travel, including visits south to Harrisonburg to see son Tyler ’17, a chemist at Merck, and daughter Mariah ’19.

Denlinger and Grasse also combine their efforts and expertise to weather the ups and downs of the business, which is affected by everything from international tariffs to increasing local regulations and devastating pestilential threats like the emerald ash borer and spotted lantern fly.

The family-style mentorship Denlinger has offered to Grasse carries on a tradition of the business, started in 1918 by the Heacock family. In 1974, Tamara’s grandfather Winfield Hunsburger purchased the lumberyard. In 1994, he offered Denlinger part-ownership, not long after he and Tamara returned to the area from two years of voluntary service in Birmingham, Alabama.

“It wasn’t what I envisioned doing after VS,” Denlinger said, adding that he had figured on starting his professional career as an accountant. “But the more I got into the work, the more I liked it.” Eventually he and his father-in-law bought in, and after some years of partnership, he and Tamara became full owners.

He finds the work gratifying, seeing how a “God-given resource” can be fully used without waste, helping landowners maintain their lots through select timbering, providing the community with an important and necessary product and with jobs, and giving back through community service.’

Denlinger, active at Blooming Glen Mennonite Church, is on the board of Bridges of Hope and Oxford Circle Christian Community Development Association, among other involvements. “Serving others takes on many forms and can look differently at different times in our lives. Whether it was working with Earthkeepers or the Big Brothers/ Big Sisters program while I was at EMU or in serving our customers, employees or residents in our community today, it’s energizing to do it for God’s honor and glory.”