History

Jensen Construction:

A Century of Family, Building & Dedication


1900 to 1919

Vision, determination and family are the core values of this 100-year-old business started by a man who wanted to create a better life for himself and his family. In the 100 years since Thorvald George (T.G.) Jensen started Jensen Construction Company in Kimballton, Iowa the industry has changed and new generations of family members have joined the company. “Roads have been a constant and where there are roads there are bridges,” says Kurt Rasmussen, President, Jensen Construction Company.

Today the company employs 350 people, works in 10 states and firmly believes in the family business just as T.G. did when he started the company in 1912. A company with such a rich history truly needs to have its story told from the beginning.

In 1905, Thorvald George (T.G.) Jensen, at the age of 30 started Kimballton Construction in Kimballton, Iowa after working in the trade for a number of years. He wanted to enter the emerging construction industry. In 1912, T.G. expanded his existing construction company and founded Jensen Construction Company to build bridges for the rapidly expanding highway system. The design and construction of bridges became a burgeoning industry in Iowa. Jensen joined in the work and many of the bridges built in Iowa during this decade are now considered historical and recognized for the importance these structures have played in laying the foundation for today’s infrastructure.


1920 to 1929

T.G. Jensen was a good businessman and was able to recognize opportunities and quickly adapt to the times. In the 1920’s he expanded his construction and concrete business of decorative columns, blocks, circular tiles and culverts into bridge building and the company began to see much success. Some of the significant projects Jensen completed were bridge & culverts on Highway 71 between Exira & Audubon, IA, a bridge in Shelby County, IA and the Indian Creek Bridge near Kimballton, IA.

During the 1920’s, T.G.’s children joined the business as well. T.G. and his wife Kirstine had eight children. The four boys in the household were encouraged as teens to work on the “bridge gang” during the summers. As bridges were being constructed throughout the state, employees and families moved to where the work was and set up temporary living conditions. Since most small towns lacked lodging and eating facilities, the Jensen boys also assisted as cooks and other miscellaneous help. As each son finished his formal education, he joined the company full time. The oldest, Erling Jensen, was the first to join, and began to keep the company books in 1928.


1930 to 1939

The 1930’s proved to be difficult across rural Iowa but Jensen held strong. To keep busy and find income, Jensen started looking farther outside of Iowa. Soon they began building bridge projects in Minnesota, Nebraska, Kansas and Texas. Two significant projects took place during this decade. The first was the South Center Street Viaduct in Marshalltown and the second big bridge project in Iowa was the Des Moines River Bridge near Eddyville.

Big changes also took place within the company during this time period. In 1932, at the age of 58, T.G. retired from managing the day-to-day operations of his company to become active in Iowa politics. He eventually ran for the House of Representatives and served the state as a Democrat from 1935 to 1936. The next generation was challenged to run the family business. T.G.’s son, Evald, joined his brother Erling and they managed the operations of Jensen Construction Company. More family members became involved in the company and they made the bold decision to move the company office from Kimballton to Des Moines for even more opportunities. The company also joined AGC of Iowa in 1937.


1940 to 1949

T.G.’s third son joined the company in the early 1940’s and then world changes prompted Jensen to diversify again following the attack on Pearl Harbor. With the start of World War II, highway construction was restricted. Jensen formed a joint venture with E.A. Kramme Company so they would be large enough for federal government work. Projects during this time ranged from airfield drainage systems, sewer and water systems, and electrical installations. Following the war they worked on highway departments, railroads, municipalities and public utilities. Work consisted of paving, bridges, grading, electrical transmission lines, and sewer and water systems. In 1948 the venture dissolved and Jensen went back to building bridges.

During World War II, Erling was left to run the family business with some help from older nephews. Evald, Bernhard and Gerald all served in the war overseas.

The Jensen men were veterans of war and honored for their contributions. T.G.’s youngest son, Gerald, joined the company after his return home.


1950 to 1959

With the Jensen brothers all working in the business other changes took place in the 1950’s. The company was under heavy pressure from the unions to join. Even after threats, a bombed crane, and the Des Moines office destroyed by a bomb in 1958 the workers stayed firm. In spite of all the danger, the Jensen workers didn’t want to join the union and the company was forever grateful for their employees’ loyalty. The Des Moines River Bridge was a significant project in 1958 for Jensen. It also marked the first pre-cast post-tensioned beam ever used in Iowa.


1960 to 1969

Jensen Construction Company was part of Iowa’s first urban freeway project in downtown Des Moines and won several contracts. The largest one included the I-235 Des Moines River Bridge. It was the first million-dollar bridge built by Jensen Construction and was contracted for just over $1.4 million in 1962.

Along with big projects, the 1960’s also brought additional family members into the business. Evald’s oldest daughter, Sandra, attended Grand View College in 1955 and met a young man from South Dakota named James Rasmussen. The relationship grew and they were married in 1960. They then moved to Chicago where Jim worked as an accountant with Glidden Paint.

While growing up, Sandra took an interest in the construction industry and would often talk with her father and Uncle Erling about the business. Jim had been a laborer at Jensen Construction for two summers as a college student and had made a good impression as a hard worker. When an opportunity was presented to Jim to be transferred for Glidden Paint, Evald stepped in. He persuaded them to consider moving back to Des Moines to help with the family business. Jim wasn’t exactly trained to be a bridge builder but Evald and Erling liked the idea of having an accountant they could trust in the family business. In 1962, Jim and Sandra moved to Des Moines and began working at Jensen Construction Company. Jim served as vice president and Sandra kept busy with their growing household. Their first son, Scott, had been born in Chicago in 1961 and two more boys would join the family in the mid-sixties: Kurt and Jeff.

Unfortunately Evald passed away at the age of 52 in 1963. Later in 1968, Bernhard Jensen would pass away which left Erling at the helm. The Jensen brothers never had any sons to become involved in the company, but now there were sons-in-law that could help keep the construction legacy alive.

Jim’s willingness to adapt to change and keep an open mind helped the company take a giant step in the late 1960’s that would change the company’s future. Jim and Erling entered the challenging work of building bridges over large waterways. After purchasing used tugboats and a barge large enough to hold a crane, the first project was the Spring Street Structure for I-80 in Nebraska.


1970 to 1979

Water-based bridgework continued and proved very successful for Jensen Construction Company and with a growing company they needed more space to house new equipment. In 1971, Jensen moved to their current location on NE 22nd Street just north of the city. In 1972, States Construction Company was formed as an overlay company of Jensen Construction and was later sold in 1985. Jensen also set up a new office in Tulsa, OK in 1976 to meet the construction needs in the southern states.

“With the geographical growth of the company, Jim Rasmussen started all-company management meetings in 1977. Every other year since then, employees have met to discuss various business activities, review safety measures, celebrate accomplishments and build camaraderie. Meeting in places such as the Lake of the Ozarks help to create a family environment in which to build a team approach. Employees have fun and interact together and reminisce in a family reunion setting. This mission is still very important today to the Jensen management team,” says Kurt.


1980 to 1989

With all the divisions and individual companies that existed within Jensen, it was decided in 1988 to consolidate many of their common business functions. As a result, the Rasmussen Group, Inc. was formed. One of the main goals of this consolidation was to retain the strengths of each company while streamlining costs.

More family members joined the business. T.G. Jensen’s great grandsons, Kurt and Jeff Rasmussen had lived and breathed bridge construction while growing up and like many construction families they had worked in the office throughout high school and college. Both boys graduated from Grand View College and joined the company, Kurt joined in 1988 and Jeff in 1991.


1990 and beyond

After building their business in the south during much of the 1980’s, Jensen Construction would return to its roots and build the Cedar River Bridge in Cedar Falls, Iowa in 1992. Unfortunately the project got hit by one of the state’s largest natural disasters, the Flood of ’93, and work was flooded out for six months. The bridge was eventually completed in 1994.

More help was needed in Iowa to work on projects so Jim Rasmussen asked Dan Timmons, who was a project manager and estimator in Tulsa, to relocate to Des Moines in 1992 to lead Jensen Road Company. The company saw rapid growth and today Dan is the vice president of Jensen Construction Company.

The 1990’s saw the loss and retirement of the last Jensen men. In 1995, Erling Jensen passed away at the age of 89. Gerald Jensen retired in 1995 and moved to the Elk Horn/Kimballton area. He passed away at the age of 82 in 2010.

New technology and changes have once again proven successful for Jensen Construction Company in the new millennium. The bridges and roads built in the late 1950’s were in need of refurbishing. Jensen played a pivotal role in these projects building numerous bridges from 2002-2007, with the largest being the widening of the Des Moines River Bridge. During this time Jensen also was awarded its largest project to date. The $92.9 million Lewisville Lake Toll Bridge in Texas, which opened in 2009.

The new millennium also brought sad news as Jim Rasmussen was diagnosed with cancer in 2000. He was given six months to a year to live but he proved them wrong. He battled the disease, showing up for work despite his condition until he passed away in October 2003 at the age of 66. Jim was a hard-working man with a brilliant business mind and was well respected in the industry. In 2002, he received the Hall of Fame Award from the AGC of Iowa, and AGC of Iowa awarded Jim a special Lifetime Achievement Award in 2003.

Kurt Rasmussen became the president of Jensen Construction Company and The Rasmussen Group in 2003. Kurt’s wife, Lynette, also works at The Rasmussen Group as General Counsel. Jeff Rasmussen is vice president of Jensen Construction Company and is married to Brenda.

Jensen has always been known for giving back to the community. Starting with T.G. Jensen in 1924 giving back to the community by building a swimming pool and thus the tradition has continued. Jim and Sandra have been good corporate citizens as well. Jim became the Chairman of the Racing Association of Central Iowa (RACI) non-profit board in 1993 and continued to serve until just shortly before his death. In 2008, Grand View College named the Rasmussen Center for Community Advancement Professions in honor of Jim and Sandra. Kurt is involved in Anawim Housing, United Way of Central Iowa, YMCA Camp, Mosaic and Stoddard Cancer Center. The Rasmussen Group has also founded the Rasmussen Group Foundation and Endowment.

Kurt and Jeff are the fourth generation to proudly run Jensen Construction Company and they know the company would not have sustained challenges without the hardworking dedicated employees. Kurt says, “My dad always told me, you are only as good as the people who work with you and your company can only have success if you have good people.” The employees have helped make the company successful over the years and we wish Jensen Construction the best for 100 more years of bridge building.