I’d like to say this is my summer job that I never left.”
That’s how Kilah Engelke describes her role at the Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Local 599, which she has been a part of since 2001. A cement mason by trade, Engelke is the business agent and recording secretary for OPCMIA Local 599, concentrating on Waukesha and Washington counties.
Engelke got her start in the industry from her stepfather, who worked for the road builder James Cape & Sons.
“He put me and my little brother on a crew as laborers to make money to pay for college,” she said. “A few seasons went by and I grew to enjoy the work, the environment and the money, so I decided to take a year off of school, work the whole season and then go spend the winter in the mountains snowboarding.
“That year that I took off led me into an apprenticeship with the Cement Masons and a career that I am extremely proud of.”
Engelke had help along the way. One of the mentors she credits is Ron Montgomery. Beyond teaching her about the job, Montgomery has provided Engelke with an example of someone who always strives to do the right thing. He was a great teacher, leader and friend, she said.
“I would often ask myself — ‘What would Ron do?’ — when faced with options or a critical decision,” she said. “He inspired me and continues to, though he’s now retired and I don’t work in the field anymore either. But it’s because of people like him that I have such a great respect for and desire to fight for all of the members like him through representing them as their business agent.”
Bart Swearingen, business agent at Operative Plasterers’ and Cement Masons’ Union Local 599, which operates in Milwaukee and Ozaukee counties, said Engelke’s love for her craft and union is evident in everything she does.
“She is fiercely committed to recruiting the next generation of women cement masons, to reaching the day when having women on the jobsite is routine, and to ensuring that women have a seat at the table when decisions are made in this ever evolving and dynamic industry,” Swearingen said.