Profiles

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It’s Good to Be the Queen

Pam Jewell set to receive the royal treatment as 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

Jeanne Nagle | Profiles | October 5, 2021

Asked to share a few words she might use to describe herself, Pam Jewell ’14 comes up with a number of strong options: Exacting. Enthusiastic. Daring. Hard-working. There’s one descriptor, however, that tops them all and seems to sum up Jewell accordingly—“the Queen.”

Jewell has willingly embraced that royal moniker since the early days of Blenker Construction, the Amherst-based custom-home business she co-owns with her husband, Peter Blenker. Her coronation took place following one of several  build-site visits, where she had been overseeing the design aspects of a new home. Her assured and commanding presence on-site had not escaped the notice of the construction crew.

“Our electrical contractor and friend, Wayne (Bushman), one day said, ‘Well, you’re just the Queen Bee here, aren’t you?’” Jewell recalls. “And that started it all.”

Her reign as the Queen at Blenker began some 47-years ago. Yet unlike the traditional path taken by royals, where titles are inherited, Jewell earned hers. The hard way.

She enrolled as a clothing construction major at Wisconsin State University-Stevens Point in the spring of 1970 after hearing then-Chancellor Lee Sherman Dreyfus speak at her high school Honor Society dinner in Wisconsin Rapids. “He was so charismatic,” she says.

Another pertinent factor in her decision to enroll was affordability. Jewell felt she could attend classes but still work a part-time job, which would allow her to pay for her education. Unfortunately, the financials didn’t pan out as hoped, and Jewell was forced to withdraw after one semester.

Soon after she transitioned to Mid-State Tech, where she earned her LPN certification. She worked at Wisconsin Veterans Home at King for five years while Peter got Blenker Construction up and running. “He started with an old telephone truck, a hammer and himself,” she says admiringly of her husband.

Once the construction business was established, Jewell decided she wanted to continue her studies and log more credits toward her degree. There was never any doubt in her mind where she would enroll. She’d been missing Point ever since there was a pause in her education.

“I loved being at the university,” she says, “and couldn’t wait to earn enough money so I could come back.”

And come back she did. Jewell took classes, on and off, as a nontraditional student from Fall 1975 to Spring 1981. Over the course of that time frame, the school had changed names, from Wisconsin State to University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. Her major followed suit, metamorphosing from clothing construction to interior design, to interior architecture. She was awarded her associate degree in 2014.

The ebb and flow of her enrollment at UWSP afforded Jewell a different, and uniquely enriching, perspective on her education.

“I was an older student, and so I had a lot in common with instructors,” she said during a March 2020 episode of Coffee With Alumni and Friends. “So I got to be friends with them and do other things with them.” For example, she remembers travelling to Ohio with Shirley Randall and Lynn Johnson to take a quilting class. “I would never have done that when I first went to school.”

She also notes that returning as a nontraditional student paid other dividends. “When I went back again, I was more eager to learn and pay attention,” she admits.

Clearly, she has learned quite a bit over the years. That vast knowledge base has been crucial in her quest to adeptly navigate the various roles she has taken on at Blenker.

“When I started, I wore many hats—sales, architectural design, interior design, product selection, site meetings and client interactions,” Jewell recalls. She also took on the role of human resources supervisor for the fledgling firm.

But that’s not all.

Throughout the 1980s and the start of the ’90s, Jewell took the bull by the horns and created several businesses while serving as Blenker’s president, as well as raising a family that includes sons Justin, Jason and Kristifer. She successfully ran first a quilting studio, then a craft/gift enterprise. The latter, Kinderbrunnen Cottage Industries, had a bricks and mortar presence in downtown Amherst, but also operated as a mail order and catalog business. For a brief time she and her husband also owned the now defunct Journey’s End Bed & Breakfast, which operated out of Amherst’s historic L.A. Pomeroy House.

During that same period, in whatever spare time she could afford from all her business ventures, she was active in the Tomorrow River Community Theater, the Amherst Parent Teacher Organization and a local quilting group.

The art of multitasking is something Jewell apparently comes by naturally.

“I am of the belief that we all have the same amount of time, so it is just a matter of what you do with it,” she says. “I am apparently a problem solver and a do-er, so if I see something, I do something. Or as my husband says, I can’t decide what I want to be when I grow up so I just keep trying new things.”

Jewell’s inquisitiveness, perseverance and hard work have paid off in the long run. Among her favorite accomplishments is being named the 2018 Builder of the Year by the Wisconsin Builders Association, the trade organization for which she also has served as state president. Her UWSP accolades include being named an Outstanding Alumnus by the Division of Interior Architecture and winning the Alumni Association’s 2021 Lifetime Achievement Award. She also served on the UWSP Foundation board of directors, including a stint as President.

On the personal side, she says, “My boys are definitely my all-time favorite accomplishments. They have all turned out to be men of integrity and worth. What more could I ask for?”

If Jewell is the Queen, then her sons must be the crown princes at the Blenker Companies, which over the years had grown to include a building systems division, in addition to the construction arm. Jason had been the president of Blenker Building Solutions before the business merged with Drexel Building Supply in 2020; he is now offsite construction solutions leader at Drexel. Justin has taken over the reins at Blenker Construction.

“I am now basically an employee,” says Jewell, “and help with design, training, etcetera, as needed. So I am almost retired.”

Actually, Jewell did retire from the family business in 2016—briefly.

“I tried to stay away,” she says. “Then, maybe two years ago, I was asked to come back and help train my replacement and work on some architectural drafting.”

So why did she agree to return? “It is really hard to leave a job you love,” she declares.

Long live the Queen!

 

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