One of the most distinguished and hard-to-achieve awards in the home improvement industry, the Estwing Golden Hammer Award from Estwing Manufacturing Co. is awarded to retailers with 50 years of service. Two home improvement retailers—Dave Nordal and Gene Kelly—recently were honored with the award.
In November 2022, Gene Kelly from Kelly’s Ace Hardware in Chelan, Washington, received the Golden Hammer Award. Gene began his long and storied career in the hardware industry in 1958 when he joined his brother Wayne Kelly at Kelly’s Ace, which opened in 1925.
When Gene graduated from Eastern Washington University, known as Eastern Normal School at the time, there were no teaching or coaching jobs available in the areas Gene wanted to live. So he took a car sales position in Moses Lake, Washington, about two hours from where he called home.
“I was selling cars and quickly found out it was steak one week and tuna the next, on and off for months,” Gene says.
During this time, Wayne purchased the Chelan Hardware Company in Lake Chelan, Washington. He asked Gene if he would like to come back home and work in the store with him.
“I told him I didn’t know much about it but would give it a try. I returned home, and the rest is history,” Gene says. “I purchased stock from Wayne and spent the next 63 years of my life in the business.”
Gene says his favorite part of the industry is the satisfaction of knowing you have helped someone with a problem that might seem insignificant to you, but was a huge help to them. He also has loved working with so many great people over the years, including past employees, vendors and customers, many of whom became friends.
He’s also grateful for his brother. Wayne passed away in a warehouse accident in 1991 but has remained an inspiration to Gene personally and professionally to this day.
“Wayne was a true people person, and I don’t believe the man had an enemy anywhere. He enjoyed every day of his life, which was very evident in his attitude,” Gene says. “He was an inspiration to all who knew him. He has been gone 31 years now, and people still talk about him. He was my brother and my friend.”
Gene was humbled and surprised by the award.
“I never expected anything for what I have done in my life, I just always felt so lucky to have been able to have a career as rewarding as this has been,” he says. “We would not be here without all the support of our patrons and past employees that made Kelly’s Ace Hardware what it is today. We have been truly blessed to have had the quality of people that we have had.”
Dave Nordal from Regina Home Building Centre in Regina, Saskatchewan, earned the Golden Hammer distinction in December 2022. Dave says he started his journey in the home improvement industry working for a lumberyard when he was between jobs. He soon became the yard foreman and then moved on to work for a company that built prefabricated houses.
“One day, I saw an ad in our paper for an open yard foreman position at the local Home Building Centre,” Dave says. “That’s where I spent the next 45 years. I ran the yard for several years then moved inside and started selling to people.”
Dave partnered with four of his fellow employees to purchase two Home Building Centre locations in Regina and Moose Jaw. He welcomed his son and son-in-law into the company and sold the business to them and several other employees, assuring the business stays in the family for future generations.
In his long career, Dave says his favorite part has been working with his staff and the knowledge he gained from them over the years.
“I enjoy working with customers and helping them solve problems,” he says. “I’ve had families I’ve worked with for decades, some of these families into the fourth generation.”
Achieving the Golden Hammer status means a lot to Dave, and he says he appreciates Kevin Spagrud, a coworker of 20 years, who nominated him for the award.
“I’m thankful to all the staff I have had the pleasure of working with over the years and the customers who have played a big part in my journey,” he says. “Thank you to my family and all the friends I have made along the way. It’s been a great life.”