“I was running a bulldozer in 7th grade. After school and in the summers, I worked with my parents (Terry and Norma) in the family’s pool business. They taught me that if you want something, you have to work for it,” he said.
Tuffy embraced hard work, so much so that he considers it to be his only hobby. “It’s all I know,” he said.
While he didn’t like school work, he loved being a student of construction and surrounded himself with people who could teach him the trade. One of those people was a family friend who did municipal work.
“I spent a couple of summers helping him and that’s how I got into it,” he said. In 1991, just six years out of high school, Tuffy became owner and president of Shallenberger Construction, Inc. – a business spun off from his parent’s company, Shallenberger Pools.
His first big customer started out with one small job.
“We were hired by Nemacolin Woodlands Resort to replace an entry way. The Hardy’s (Joe and his daughter, Maggie Hardy-Magerko ) were demanding. They taught you to do things right, to meet a deadline, and to come early to meetings. If you weren’t 15 minutes early for a meeting, you were 15 minutes late,” he said.
And just like his parents taught him, Tuffy said, “They didn’t give us anything. We had to work for it and do it right. I’m thankful to the Hardy’s for that.”
Those applied lessons laid the foundation for work at the resort that would last for the next 13 years– and the steady growth of Shallenberger Construction, Inc. – a general contracting company employing more than 250 people.
While Tuffy was growing his business in western Pennsylvania in what is considered to be the Energy Capital of the East, he recognized the potential of servicing the natural gas industry. His company went to work preparing drilling sites and reclaiming the land.
But there was more he knew he could do. “It was a rainy day when I was in the pool shop and saw water trucks passing by on Route 119. I said, ‘We need to build a water treatment plant.’ After that, Appalachian Water Services, LLC, the first waste water treatment recycling facility in the area was formed.
While his companies have created employment opportunities for hundreds of people, Tuffy says it can be challenging finding those with the right skills. “We face a shortage of the trades, including stone masons and brick layers. These can be very high paying careers.”
His advice to people who have an interest in these specialty trades is to do as he did and learn from others. He acknowledged the importance of training grounds like the Connellsville Area Career and Technical Center and said, “You have to really want to do it. Take a job with a stone mason and spend time mixing cement. You might not get paid well at first, but you’ll learn the trade.”
Tuffy is not only providing opportunities for young people to live and work in the region, but also to play here too. He is the father of two sons, Skylar, age 12 and Dylan, age 5 who both play soccer with the Connellsville Soccer Club.
He commented, “They played against teams in Pittsburgh who had nice complexes and uniforms and I said, ‘Why not us?’
Tuffy knew what he could do. The Shallenberger Construction, Inc. crew developed 114 acres of land the club had purchased 10 years earlier. It had been the soccer club’s goal to make the land their home field. Today, hundreds of youth practice and play at Shallenberger SportsPlex, a lighted facility that houses a playground and concession stand.
When he attended a Pittsburgh Riverhounds (USL) Academy with his son Skylar at Highmark Stadium in Pittsburgh, Tuffy recognized another opportunity to make a difference.
“I saw what they were doing with youth and realized that soccer was a growing sport. I approached the Riverhounds to get involved,” he said. Tuffy is now the sole owner of the Riverhounds and Highmark Stadium.
Those “aha” moments seem to come naturally to Tuffy. He has a vision to make something better and then he makes it happen.
He housed “Harry Clark’s Indian Creek Valley Railroad Display”, a model railroad, at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. In 2012, when the resort was making way for its Lady Luck Casino, the display had to go and Tuffy knew just where to take it.
Through a partnership with the Fayette County Cultural Trust, Tuffy brought the 25 foot by 50 foot display to his hometown of Connellsville painstakingly by truck and built a building around it on a vacant lot.
The building known as the Connellsville Canteen is representative of the former B & O Railroad Station in Connellsville where more than a half million military service members were served refreshments by volunteers of the Connellsville Canteen during World War II. The Connellsville Canteen is used for events and houses not only the train, but a museum and coffee shop as well.
The Aaron’s Building
Last year, Tuffy was at a restaurant across from the Canteen and had another Connellsville building on his mind. It was the Aaron’s Building. Built in 1905, the former furniture store had been abandoned since closing nearly 30 years ago. Once a prominent fixture, it had deteriorated, becoming unsafe, and was targeted for demolition.
“Something just hit me. I left the Mexican restaurant and took a walk over to the building and said, ‘I think I’m going to try this,’ Tuffy said. By “try this” he meant “save this”.
“They (the city) were bidding on tearing it down. I said if they could acquire the adjacent lot I’d need for my equipment, I’d buy it,” he said.
The City of Connellsville accepted his offer and sold the property to Tuffy for exactly one dollar. As a result, more than $200,000 from the Redevelopment Authority of the City of Connellsville’s Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) that had been set aside to demolish it was freed up for other worthwhile projects.
Over the past year, Shallenberger Construction crews have been at the site on North Pittsburgh Street and the Aaron’s Building is coming back to life. When finished next month, it will house event space large enough to accommodate 300 people, as well as meeting rooms and apartment/condos.
Of all the projects Tuffy has done, he said it has been the restoration of the Aaron’s building that has given him the most energy. “To see something that was horrendous become what is now breathtaking. It is absolutely beautiful.
The neon lights of the original Aaron’s sign are now lighting up the night sky and Connellsville is being energized. The town is talking and expressing excitement for its upcoming opening on a Facebook page dedicated to the building, which has generated more than 1,600 “likes.
“Most people appreciate it. It makes me feel good – bringing people together and getting the community growing. If everyone starts to pitch in, this is going to be a nice town for the kids,” he said.
When Tuffy was a young teenager on a bulldozer, he loved moving dirt. He still loves moving dirt. But now, he’s also moving people and building hope in this place he calls home.
“I know God and He has been good to me. He put me here to do this,” Tuffy said.