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From secretary to boss, one rung at a time

Gender rarely an issue for tough but nice manager

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As the daughter of two school teachers who grew up "in the middle of nowhere" in Kansas, Peggy Stettler had no idea what she wanted to do with her life after graduating from college.

Armed with a degree in business administration from Fort Hays State University, Stettler took a job as a secretary/receptionist with a construction company to earn some money and keep busy.

That was the start of a happy and rewarding career marked by lots of hard work, learning and promotions.

On July 1, Stettler was promoted to project manager at Big-D Construction, where she has worked in a variety of capacities for about 10 years. It's a big responsibility.

"As project manager, you're responsible for the schedule, costs, keeping it in budget, forecasting. You're responsible for the project overall, rather than just a piece of the pie," said Stettler from the Big-D trailer parked outside St. Mark's Hospital where work is under way on a new wing.

Although her job now involves supervising about 150 men, Stettler said her gender has rarely been an issue.

"People ask that a lot, but no, it hasn't really been a problem. You do have people who try to test the waters, but they back off pretty quickly," she said.

Greg Carlisle, Big-D's vice president of marketing agrees. "I was walking with her through a site one day and it was amazing the respect she commanded. She doesn't take anything from anybody, but she does it in a nice way."

The outgoing and upbeat Stettler does have at least one gaffe of her own on record.

The late Dee Livingood, who founded and owned Big-D Construction, came into the trailer on an Ogden job site one day, dressed casually with his shirttail hanging out, which was his style.

"We had a lot of people coming in looking for jobs a lot of the time. I didn't know who he was so I said, 'You can have a seat, and we'll be with you.' I thought he was a job applicant. He was meeting somebody that day and finally he did come up and tell me who he was," Stettler said. "I was so embarrassed I could have died."

Livingood took it in stride and Stettler, who said she "loved Dee dearly," is sad about his death from cancer five years ago. "He was a wonderful man."

After steadily moving up the career ladder at construction firms in Kansas City and Los Angeles, Stettler decided to move to Salt Lake City because she had a friend here and because it reminded her of New Zealand. She had visited there, found the place beautiful and wanted to live somewhere just as scenic.

She first worked at Big-D Construction as a temporary project assistant, which involved some secretarial work.

She then became a project engineer, and she's moved up from there.

Although she doesn't have formal training in engineering, she does have basic technical knowledge, the ability to read blueprints and plenty of experience.

That harks back to her earliest secretarial work: "I just read everything and asked a lot of questions."

She married her husband, Dean, who is a Big-D construction superintendent, five years ago. They worked together during construction of a new wing at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center. "It was great working with my husband, and there were lots of positive aspects to it. He got ribbed more than I did, though."

One benefit of working the same project: The couple got off at the same time and could take a leisurely two-month vacation to Alaska.

Now, technically, she'd be his boss on the job, but that isn't an issue for either one.

"He even said he wouldn't mind working with me again," Stettler said.

E-MAIL: lindat@desnews.com