TU Alum Looks for New Construction Projects

Contributing Editor

SEASONED BUILDER: Don Kirberger has been in the house building business for almost 40 years. He and his wife Clevanne graduated from the University of Tulsa and are strong supporters of the Golden Hurricane Club as well as other civic activities.

DAVID JONES for GTR Newspapers

For the last 38 years, Don Kirberger has had all the work he can handle. The veteran Tulsa-area homebuilder, a longtime associate in one way or another with the University of Tulsa athletic programs, has been able to tap his TU connections for projects to keep him busy.

But Kirberger, now 78 and still anxious to work, says he has found to be true what a number of people who work well into their later years have found: there just might come a time when your clientele is no longer active.

“I’ve never had to advertise,” says Kirberger. “I don’t use real estate agents. Except for the beginning when I built some homes to get started, all of my houses have been custom homes. I build in the $500,000 range although I have built a few homes worth more than $1 million.

“All my projects have come from referrals. People would come to me for a new house when they were upsizing or downsizing. I have a number of clients I’ve built two or three houses for, depending on their needs of the moment. Now many of them are in their final home with no plans to move again. That cuts off the supply of new business.”

Kirberger has used his TU connections to good advantage. He has earned them. As a basketball player in 1946 he found himself helping a team that the school apparently didn’t take seriously.

“Our coach was a football assistant coach that got an extra $500 from the school to coach basketball. Most of our players were football players using the basketball team as a way to stay in shape. Needless to say our won-loss record was pretty pathetic.”
It was so bad it had its comical side.

“One day we went to Kentucky, which at the time was about the best basketball team in the country and got whipped something like 80-20.

“The Kentucky players were good and whipped the ball around with great skill, so much so that we were reduced to chasing after it. In doing so one of our players ran into one of their players and injured him.

“While the Kentucky trainers were tending their player, we had a huddle and in the middle of it a Kentucky player stuck his head in and said, ‘if you guys can’t keep up with us at least stay out of our way.’

“After the game the young Kentucky coach who was later to become a legend, Adolph Rupp, came over to the Tulsa coach and gave him a book Rupp had written. It was about how to play basketball. I’m sure Rupp meant it kindly.”

The change in TU’s fortunes, says Kirberger, came in 1950 when TU decided to get serious about its basketball program. Oklahoma A&M had a dynamic young coach by the name of Hank Iba so TU hired his brother, Clarence.

“I remember his first practice. We had the usual group of walk-ons and football players and we were tossing the ball around the Armory, where we played in those days, and we heard a voice say, ‘what the hell do you think you’re doing?’ It was Iba, and he took over that first practice and practiced us so hard that by the time the second practice came around enough players had quit that we couldn’t have a scrimmage.”

Among those who saw the improvement was a baton twirler named Clevanne McGhee, who also noticed Don Kirberger;
They have been married for more than 50 years.

After four years in the Navy, the Kirbergers moved back to Tulsa where Don started selling paint. Almost immediately they joined the Hurricane Club, which supports University of Tulsa athletics, and Clevanne eventually worked for 20 years for the club helping to arrange all sorts of social functions and travel itineraries. They made a huge number of friends, some of which turned to Kirberger when he left the paint business to concentrate on home building.

The problem with the referral business, Kirberger ruefully admits, is that as his friends drift out of the house-buying age the business dries up.

“My referrals are getting fewer and fewer.”

He is working on a couple of major projects now but has nothing lined up for the future.

His situation is not unusual in an era where people are not only living longer but also want to continue being productive longer. Not everyone wants to retire to a chaise lounge and a high-definition TV.

“As long as I’m healthy and able to satisfy the customer I want to continue to work.”

Don Kirberger can be reached at (918) 625-2883.

Updated 04-08-2008

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