Arlington, MA The WT Kenney Company is a family-owned paint contractor founded in 1939. The company, based in Arlington, MA, is led by President Tim Kenney (3rd generation) and Senior Vice President Brian Jurgens (4and generation). Not everyone in painting wants to own a business, and there are great career opportunities in supporting roles. It would be very difficult for a business to succeed without painters who value and feel valued in their work. In 2022, Kenney and Jurgens are celebrating great employees: men and women who have found rewarding careers and who, in turn, have grown the paint business at every level.
WT Kenney Co. has a page on its website about how it treats and values its employees, and company president Tim Kenney has the receipts to show that WTK has come this far. The company has painters who have dedicated more than 50 years of their life to the company. Even corporate headquarters has long-term players; office manager Carole Daniels arrived at work in 1978.
When Jerry Solomon first walked through the doors in 1965, he already had some history. “Jerry explained how as a child he was responsible for cutting lead and adding turpentine or linseed oil, as they often made their own paint,” Kenney said. “Times were hard and money was tight, so they put a dab of turpentine in the metal pots and held them over a bonfire to soften the lead.”
Then they chipped the charred paint off the pot and brushed a coat of shellac on the inside so they could salvage the pot for the next job. At that time, Kenney points out, no one knew the real danger of lead paint fumes.
Early in his tenure, Jerry Solomon was tasked with convincing fellow painters to put down their 6-inch brushes and pick up this next-gen invention – the paint roller. “At first it was seen as Eli Whitney’s cotton gin that required a lot less labor to perform the same tasks,” Kenney said. There was resistance; painters wanted to stick to what they knew, and early scrolls crumbled easily. Kenney refers to a core much like what you’ll find in a roll of paper towels, and oil paints would often separate the fibers and fabric from the core. Eventually, Jerry succeeded.
One of WT Kenney’s earliest business accounts dates to its opening year in 1939 – the renovation and restoration of historic properties at Harvard University. Jerry spent three decades as a senior foreman on these projects. Today, he’s a shop foreman, starting work at 5:30 a.m. six days a week for a company that completes an average of 50 projects at a time. “He distributes trucks, equipment and stock to the various teams and keeps our offices and store COVID-free,” Kenney said. “Jerry’s 56 years of dedication to WT Kenney is truly a labor of love.”
With 48 years under his belt, Tom Hayes is a relative newcomer. He gets to work early, Kenney says, which is no easy task since he drives an hour each way from New Hampshire. Not only that, but everyone knows when they’re ready to start. “Several times we had to remind him of the noise ordinances around Harvard Yard and that you can’t set off a boom at 5:50 in the morning!” said Kenny. Hayes is a down-to-earth, no-nonsense guy, and Kenney marvels at his prolific output. “He surpasses most painters half his age,” he said. Hayes isn’t afraid to get up there – he’s often been seen painting a church steeple, putting gold leaf on a weather vane or cutting 12 out of 12 windows on a pole. “Tom spent 15 years directing work in downtown Boston for clients including the Bank of New England, Cabot, Cabot & Forbes [a real estate management firm founded in 1897] and several major insurance companies. You could say he painted all of Boston twice during his nearly half-century dedication to our craft.
The door to success
The late Dave Downie retired in 2016 after a five-decade career with WT Kenney. Jurgens says: “Dave died suddenly last fall aged 86 from a stomach aneurysm. He painted with us for 53 years and I can only imagine how many gallons of paint he applied! Dave also went skydiving every Saturday until two years ago.
“Dave was a master dyer of paints and stains,” Kenney recalled. “His ability to blend stains and grain on intricate woodwork was amazing! Before the factories, Dave was responsible for field staining hundreds of doors each year. Visitors to New England landmarks have undoubtedly come across Downie’s work. He painted at Berklee College of Music, the Museum of Science, Boston College, a commendable number of churches and cathedrals, and even at the residence of Polaroid founder Edwin Land.
One way to tell if a business is a good place to work is by knowing how long a person stays at work. Carole, Tom, Dave and Jerry – thank you for over 200 years of service!