Before buying his own plumbing business, Cesar Gonzales grew up with his hands in Pueblo, Mexico.
After the school day, the young man accompanied his father, who continued the family legacy
worked in the truck driving business. Gonzales was a natural. He understood the responsibilities of the transport service; from changing the oil to sweeping the bus islands to wiping down the seats.
He might have considered staying in the family business, but at 16, life had a different plan.
The teenager fell in love and wanted to get married. Unfortunately, his parents weren’t so keen on the doe-eyed romance.
“My parents didn’t support me for that,” Gonzales recalls. “That makes me want to emigrate to the United States to work and save some money, and then that way I can get married.”
It wasn’t an easy decision, but a brave one. Gonzales packed his bags and embarked on a new journey, hoping to eventually return home with his earrings. But things didn’t go according to plan.
“It didn’t work that way,” he explained. “I just came here and planted my seeds, you have family, you have children. I have five children and that became my home.”
When Gonzeles came to the United States, he thought he would use some of the manual skills he had learned to help out in his father’s business.
He heard about MF Plumbing, a Seaside-based company founded in 1979 by Mike Miller and Frank Kemmerer.
Gonzales still laughs when he thinks back to that first interaction with his boss, Mike Miller.
Miller was very direct with him. “Are you a thief? Are you a liar?” he asked Gonzales. Gonzales shook his head. And just like that, his new boss looked him in the eye: “Well, if it’s not you, you can work with me. I need really honest people.”
Miller took advantage of the young, inexperienced immigrant and offered him an apprenticeship or on-the-job internship.
It didn’t take long for him to learn the ins and outs of plumbing. He had to memorize the inventory, learn how to use various tools, dig trenches and make repairs. He quickly realized that the physical demands of the job were quite strenuous.
“As a plumber, it’s not easy going under the crawl space with dead rats. If you’re claustrophobic, I don’t know how you do it. You have to squeeze between the pipes. Most people know they don’t want that. That it’s hard,” Gonzalez admitted.
Shortly after landing his full-time position at the company, he decided he’d had enough.
“I figured out how plumbing works, I didn’t want anything to do with it,” he confessed. He had something else in mind. “I wanted to build”
His desire to build a house came just after he learned that a colleague, Steve Winters, was planning to open a construction company. The timing worked out perfectly.
Over the next twelve years, Gonzales pursued his next dream of building houses from the ground up.
Luckily, many of the skills he learned during his apprenticeship were transferrable, making him a huge success. He had the opportunity to help build over 20 houses.
But the construction didn’t last forever. Eventually the company was sold to a larger group. Gonzales missed the dynamic of being part of a small, close-knit team and wanted to feel that his work was valued. It quickly became clear that he was needed elsewhere.
Gonzales gave a very simple answer when asked why he became a plumber again. “The necessity,” he said.
He remembers one late winter night when he got a call from an elderly woman who heard water bubbling in her crawl space. She told him that her husband had recently passed away and that she was too old to take care of the situation herself.
Gonzales wasn’t sure he could solve the problem, but at least he was able to turn off the water. “That’s where it hit me, I need to get back into the program so I can help these people,” he said.
The handyman worked for various plumbing companies for a number of years before learning that his first employer, MF Plumbing, was struggling financially. The current owner, Derek Miller, no longer wanted to run the business.
Gonzales had fond memories of the company that launched his career. He explained that many of the owners of plumbing and heating contractors in the Seaside and Cannon Beach areas have also started training with MF Plumbers.
When he learned that Miller wanted to sell the company, he stepped in.
“I didn’t need an MF installation,” explained Gonzales. “But I didn’t want it to die, it was sentimental for me, it taught me a lot. That’s when I bought it, I added my name out of respect for my mentors.”
Since purchasing the company, now renamed Cesar MF Plumbing, Gonzales has invested time and effort to expand.
When he worked for the company, it typically employed between five and eight workers. Now, Gonzales manages a crew of 16 and continues to recruit more trainees.
“I want to teach another generation and that’s the best legacy, a name can last another 100 years,” he said.
According to Gonzles, the highlight of his job was taking his son Mayron under his wing.
“I couldn’t wish for a better son, he understands business, he understands what is important, that you have to be the first and the last, he relieves me of a lot of responsibility,” said the proud father.
“Within five years he will probably take over. That is the plan.”
Gonzales hopes more people will consider a career in retail.
“I’m kind of sad that the new generation always wants to look for a computer job or an office job. Not many people are interested in electrical jobs or mechanical jobs like heating or plumbing, but I think machines can never replace real work.”
Gonzales is right that trade programs have been overlooked in the United States.
However, the demand is certainly there and the data suggests that the education usually pays off.
Research shows that completing an education yields nearly $250,000 in additional lifetime income. The Department of Education also reports that apprentices are generally much more positive about their experience than college graduates.
Gonzales acknowledged that no immigrant has had the same experience, but he’s grateful to have been welcomed by a strong community in the Cannon Beach area.
“Seaside is multicultural and Cannon Beach, Manzanita, they’re very open to immigrants,” he added.
He still misses Mexico and occasionally feels torn between his two identities, one Mexican and one American. However, he is proud of where he is and encourages other young immigrants to do the hard work.
“Tomorrow it may not pay off, but somehow you will see a door open for you. You just have to be ready.”