John and Mary Garvelink believe they are "one of the world's happiest and most blessed couples."
They met at Ferris State on June 17, 1970, in Professor Bob Knox's psychology class. John (ET '71) was working toward his associate degree in Heating, Ventilation, Air Conditioning and Refrigeration Technology, and Mary (EHS '72) was studying secondary education.
"I knew immediately I was going to marry him," Mary said.
The ceremony was held two years later, just after graduation.
They lived in Colorado Springs, Colo., where John was serving in the U.S. Army and working evenings and days off for a local mechanical contractor. Mary found a teaching position. But in 1975, they were given the opportunity to start their own mechanical contracting business.
"We invested our life savings — $4,000," Mary said.
Today, Commercial Design Engineering has 90 employees and additional offices in Grand Junction, Colo., and Cheyenne, Wyo. Mary serves as president, and John is executive vice president.
Their reputation in the industry resulted in John’s election to national president of the Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors Association and to chairman of NATE, the industry's national service technician certification program, both in 1997. In 2004, Mary was the first woman elected president of PHCC. She also served on the World Plumbing Council in 2006.
Both are members of the PHCC Educational Foundation.
The Garvelinks attribute their success to a few factors. Just weeks after they were married, Mary began to experience the early symptoms of multiple sclerosis. She wasn't formally diagnosed until 1976, but her health necessitated work in a controlled environment, and they never had children. The couple buried themselves in their business, and it grew.
"We were given a bump in the road, but through many people's prayers and God's grace, we have lived fuller, more active and love-filled lives than either of us ever could have dreamed," Mary said. "One of the best things about being business partners is that we have been able to work together. We have always had a strong work ethic and sense of responsibility."
They treasure their employees — many of whom have worked for CDE for more than 20 years — and their customers. The company’s motto is "The only reason we are in business is to create a happy customer."
"My grandfather posted the saying in his sheet metal shop," John said. "My family also taught me (to) always follow the dream that God has placed in your heart and mind."
That dream originated when John was a student at Ferris.
"The Ferris experience was one of confidencebuilding as a result of the dedicated professors and the HVAC labs equipped with the most model equipment," he said. "The technology department, commingled with the many other academic disciplines in one campus setting, was witness that each of us has a part to play, and when we work together, all things are possible."
One of his HVAC professors, Dick Shaw, was influential in the Garvelinks' lives.
"He planted the seed in John's mind of what John could do with his degree," Mary said. "Dick also was the person who introduced The Ferris Foundation to us."
Mary serves on the Foundation's board of directors, along with Shaw. The Foundation's mission to provide opportunities for students is why the Garvelinks chose to create an endowment to support capital projects and scholarships for the university's HVACR program.
"Our industry is responsible for clean water, sanitation and the comfortable environment that is enjoyed in the U.S.," Mary said. "It's been said our industry is responsible for saving more lives than modern medicine.
"Ferris is in a unique position to help meet the need for these positions. The university will be viewed as the 'go-to' education facility for qualified and highly skilled employees. We have always loved the joy of learning. We want to help young people to develop their God-given skills to the greatest extent possible."