Mentoring: My Path to Masonry

I was never supposed to be a mason. Through my high school years, I wanted to become an architect. I excelled in drafting classes and was accepted to the University of Florida through an architectural scholarship.

Halfway through my senior year in high school, I found myself with family problems at home and needed an afterschool and weekend job quickly.
That week, Mike and Tony Pinard, two brothers in one of my drafting classes, asked me if I would like to help their family by doing laboring work for the masons in their father’s company, All American Masonry. It was time for Mike and Tony to start laying brick and progress forward from mason tenders to masons. I agreed, and they gave me directions to the jobsite.
My first day on a construction jobsite ever was that weekend. I arrived at a brick house being built that was almost complete. I saw 600 bricks at the street, mortar and a wheelbarrow.

I also saw one mason with his tools, who said to me, “I guess they stuck me with the green laborer today to build this brick mailbox. Just my luck.”

A few minutes later, he was barking orders. I learned his name was Richard Shaffer. He was a union mason form up north who also was a building inspector for the city. He worked on the weekends for the Pinards, simply because he stilled enjoyed masonry work. Richard went on to introduce me to the world of masonry and become my mentor.

I was full of questions that day as I could not figure out – being from a drafting world – how someone could take 600 bricks and create this amazing mailbox with two planters and a round top, without ever seeing a set of blueprints.

I was inspired. I wanted to be able to do what Richard had just done that day. During the weeks and months that followed, he started advising me on the aspects of being a productive masonry tender. This required thinking ahead to determine how much more material the mason would need to finish a wall. It also meant learning the proper consistency of mortar and how it relates to productivity on the jobsite. I learned to start a little early to get ahead of the masons to make my job a little bit easier.

I was eager to absorb his knowledge quickly and soon realized that drawing circles and squares on a sheet of paper in an office all day was no longer of interest to me. Working outside, creating something with my hands, using the skills I had acquired through hard work, learning a trade, and then standing proud of what I’d created: That became the life for me.

The constructive guidance and positive reinforcements from my mentor, Richard, taught me to solve challenges and problems. I was able to advance quickly, gaining the skills to becoming a great mason and building a lifelong, successful career in masonry.

The high school in my area did not offer a masonry class in the early-‘80s. I learned, instead, from one mason who, stuck with me on a Saturday afternoon, noticed there was actually hope for me with some proper guidance.

I have found now that in life, it is rewarding to help others start in the masonry world by giving advice and sharing the skills I have learned. I encourage all masons to be mentors and make a difference through the world of masonry.

Jim Doane is mason contractor based in Sanford, Fla., who offers high-end, creative, custom masonry with a crew of fewer than five. He can be contacted at