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. A company with such a rich history truly needs to have its story told from the beginning.
1905 Thorvald George (T.G.) Jensen, at the age of 30 started Kimballton Construction in Kimballton, Iowa after working in the trade for several years. He wanted to enter the emerging construction industry.
1912 T.G. expanded his existing construction company and founded Jensen Construction Company to build bridges for the rapidly expanding highway system. 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.
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.
A decade that 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.
1932 At the age of 58, T.G. retired from managing the day-to-day and becomes 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.
1937 Jensen Construction joins the Association of General Contractors of Iowa.
T.G.’s third son Bernhardt, joined the company in the early 1940’s and then world changes prompted Jensen to diversify again. 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. During World War II, Erling was left to run the family business with some help from older nephews. The younger three Jensen brothers, Evald, Bernhard, and Gerald all served in the war. 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.
1948 The venture between E.A. Kramme Company and Jensen Construction is dissolved and Jensen went back to building bridges.
With the Jensen brothers all working in the business other changes took place. Even after threats, a bombed crane, and the Des Moines office destroyed by a bomb, the workers stayed firm. Despite all the danger, Jensen workers didn’t want to join the union and the company was forever grateful for their employees’ loyalty.
1958 The Des Moines River Bridge was built, a significant project for Jensen, also marked the first pre-cast post-tensioned beam ever used in Iowa.
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.
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.
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.
1971 Jensen moved to their current location on NE 22nd Street just north of Des Moines.
1972 States Construction Company was formed as an overlay company of Jensen Construction and was later sold.
1976 Jensen set up a new office in Tulsa, OK to meet the construction needs in the southern states.
1977 With the geographical growth of the company, Jim Rasmussen started all-company management meetings.
"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.” - Kurt Rasmussen
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.
1985 States Construction Company was sold.
1988 Kurt officially joins the business and begins work as an estimator for a newly firmed company, Jensen Road, a bridge contractor for Iowa projects.
After building their business in the south during much of the 1980’s, Jensen Construction would return to its roots in Iowa.
1991 Jeff officially joins the business and immediately heads to fieldwork. Often traveling to southern jobs.
1992 Jensen Construction returns to its roots and builds the Cedar River Bridge in Cedar Falls, Iowa. 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 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. 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.
The bridges and roads built in the late 1950’s were now 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.
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.