Oak Harbor’s Bob Johnson lands state’s top builder honor

Bob Johnson has owned Oak Harbor-based Ward-Johnson Masonry and Tile since 1982. Last month

Bob Johnson takes pride in building things that last.

He built a reputation as a leader and decorated veteran with 38 years of military service.

He and his wife Tobie have built a strong marriage that is approaching 44 years.

Yet, around Oak Harbor, Bob Johnson is known mostly for what he builds with his bare hands.

In 1982, he started a masonry business that has spanned more than three decades and remained sturdy through rocky times in the homebuilding industry.

Stability and structure hold lasting appeal to Bob Johnson.

“I do still get out and use my trowel,” said Johnson, owner of Ward-Johnson Masonry and Tile. “But not as much as I’d like to.”

Johnson recently was recognized as Builder of the Year by the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW).

It’s a hefty honor for a general contractor whose company specializes in brick and rock work, building block walls and laying tile.

Yet, it’s no surprise for those who know him, considering his long track record of accomplishments and active leadership in both business and the military.

Johnson is driven by getting involved, trying to make a difference and championing a cause, which is why he became interested in a leadership roles with both the local Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association (SICBA) and more recently the parent state association.

In 2014, he was named president of the Building Industry Association of Washington and spent much of the year traveling the state to promote the association’s benefits as well as lobbying in Olympia on behalf of the state’s homebuilders.

Part of the association’s mission is to unite builders and work on their behalf to try to limit taxes and regulations and make housing affordable.

“I wanted to be part of the solution,” Johnson said.

Johnson is fervent about the BIAW and what it offers to builders. That includes programs and services such as liability, industrial and health insurance, legal help, education and incentives for a good safety record.

A past president of the SICBA, he’s set a goal to visit each of the state’s 14 local builders associations and has almost reached that goal.

“Part of my military background does reflect in my leadership style,” said Johnson, a retired Army colonel who served two tours in Vietnam. “I brought to the table a different modus operandi than some of my predecessors.”

His aim has been to communicate why the Building Industry Association of Washington is important. His primary focus has been to retain a membership base that has dipped to just over 7,600 members from a peak of about 11,000 when the economy and homebuilding industry was stronger.

By paying to join a local builders group, a member also becomes part of the state and national associations and is eligible for their benefits.

The BIAW is the nation’s third largest state builders association in the country, Johnson said.

“We have strength in numbers,” he said.

Still, no matter how thorough a job Johnson has performed presiding over the state association, the honor he earned last month was still a surprise.

He was one of nine nominees for Builder of the Year, which seemed to him to be an awfully big honor for a “small remodeler” like him, he said.

“I’m just a little guy.”

Still, if you look across the rooftops, exterior landscapes and at cement structures around North and Central Whidbey Island, including several historic buildings, ultimately you’ll see examples of where Johnson and his company have left a mark.

From the support buildings at the Cliffside RV Park on Whidbey Island Naval Air Station to restored chimneys in former officers quarters at Camp Casey Conference Center, Johnson and his team of five masons have performed their craft.

He credits his employees and his wife for keeping the company going while he’s tackled other obligations, including his military tenure that ended seven years ago.

Building things to last is satisfying for Johnson, who stays busy these days going from site to site, managing projects and supplying equipment while also scheduling new work.

He said work has picked up this year with the company currently juggling various projects in the central and northern parts of the island, including custom residential tile work he plans to tackle himself.

“I still get out there and lay block with the others,” he said.