Glenn Cummings

Well Grounded

Following in his father’s footsteps, Glenn Cummings continues to influence lives

by Rosalyn Graham

Glenn Cummings, the owner of Cummings Electric in South Burlington, says he became an electrician “by default.” True or not, he certainly has carried the community service influence learned from his father into his own life.

When Glenn Cummings began his electrical contracting business in 1996, he had a secret weapon. In addition to his master electrician certification and 15 years’ experience in the field, he had a name that instantly won him the confidence and friendship of lots of potential customers.

“When I first went into business I’d introduce myself and 50 percent of people would ask if I was related to Bernie Cummings. I’d say, ‘Yes, he was my father,’ and they’d tell me how Bernie Cummings had influenced their lives,” he says with pride.

Cummings’ father was a co-founder of the Burlington Boys’ Club and its director for 40 years. A mentor to thousands of boys — and girls after he observed that girls came to wait for the boys who were playing sports or doing projects at the club and invited them to belong to the club, too — he was the state boxing commissioner and the man who brought Little League to Burlington. The family lived in Winooski, and Cummings was the seventh of eight children.

Today Cummings is the owner of Cummings Electric PC, an electrical contracting service with 10 employees, two of them in the office and the rest in the field doing new construction and rehabilitation projects for residential, commercial and industrial customers. “I have guys who can go out on little jobs,” says Cummings. “I have a soft heart when people call and ask us to do a little job, but we do anything from putting in an air conditioning outlet to wiring multi-family dwellings and 48-unit commercial buildings.”

Clients include Citizens Bank, Neville Companies and Arrowhead Maintenance, but there is a specialty in the midst of this diverse business: dental offices. “That’s one area we specialize in,” Cummings says. “Dental offices use a lot of specialized equipment and we’re very familiar with it, so if someone is building a dental office, they call us.”

Cummings claims he got into the electrical business “by default.” He tells the story about a neighborhood friend, Mike Muir, who was a year older and in the building trades program at Burlington High School. “Mike said, ‘Hey, this is great. I go to school half a day and work half a day and I get paid.’” Cummings decided to try it. “Basically I did it to get out of school half a day,” he confesses, “but as time went on I liked it and stayed with it.”

Jennifer Martin and Ronalyn CummingsJennifer Martin (left), the administrative assistant, and Ronalyn Cummings are the only two of the company’s 10 employees who work in the office. Glenn Cummings and the remaining eight employees do field work.

The benefits of working in the trades were underscored when he was 16 and found a summer job with a neighbor, Clement Soutiere, who was an electrician. “I got paid $3.50 an hour in 1978,” he says, “and that was $1 above minimum wage.” Add to the financial enticement the fact that Hudson Valley Community College in Troy, N.Y., had a football team, and Cummings’ next step was to sign up to play football while earning a degree in electrical construction and maintenance.

Back in Vermont, Cummings continued to work for Soutiere Electric, his summer employer. “The first five years I was working, all I did was rewiring old houses and old apartment houses,” Cummings says with a laugh. “I was the rewiring king.” He calls rewiring old houses an art form, much harder than wiring a new building. “Anyone can drill holes through wood framing and put a box in and put in outlets, but cutting boxes and fishing wires up — they don’t teach that in schools.”

In 1996, 15 years after his first summer job with an electrician, Cummings launched his own business. “I started slowly, in business by myself, with an open-back pickup truck and a box I built myself for the tools and electrical fittings and wiring. People heard I was on my own and found my number. I didn’t have the budget to advertise; we just worked through word-of-mouth.”

Glenn Cummings and wife RonalynAlthough Cummings Electric handles jobs of all sizes, a specialty of sorts has emerged in the form of dental offices, which use a wide array of special equipment. Pictured are Glenn Cummings and his wife, Ronalyn, the office manager, whom he calls his best employee.

The headquarters was in the Cummingses’ home in Colchester. Cummings’ wife, Ronalyn, handled the office work, their daughter was 6 months old, and Ronalyn was also working in a law office.

“She used to do everything in the office until about two years ago,” Cummings says of Ronalyn. “She’s my best employee. The business revolves around her.” In their office and warehouse on Ethan Allen Drive in South Burlington, where they have been since 2001, Ronalyn’s desk is across the room from her husband’s, and each has a key role in the business. She works as human relations manager, and he meets the customers, talks to them about their expectations and educates them about the new equipment and technologies that can make their homes or offices or warehouses better functioning, more efficient places.

Cummings does the estimating, so that when any questions arise about a project, he has a thorough understanding of what needs to be done. “Every job has been run through my head,” he says.

He continues studying new technology, attending seminars and courses so that he can advise customers on the best equipment and systems. “Most people don’t understand electrical,” he says. “They are often afraid of it. I love interacting, meeting people, and explaining in layman’s terms.”

“We’re user-friendly,” Cummings says. “We do design-build work; we can lay out the house, the office building, the multi-use building from start to finish. We sit down with the owners and see what their specific needs are, and often we ask questions about things they didn’t think of. We think it is important to educate contractors, business owners and homeowners. There’s so much technology out there that they don’t know about.”

Dixie O’Connor, project manager at Great Northern Construction, admires that commitment to educating customers that is part of Cummings’ special skill. “Cummings Electric does nearly all of our projects, and they are very easy to work with,” she says. Glenn is such a personable guy he puts customers at ease, and they follow through with what they say they will do.”

Last year Cummings Electric was part of the Great Northern team that won two Gold awards from the Home Builders and Remodelers Association of Northern Vermont, one for a whole-house renovation and one for a bathroom.”

O’Connor is also the president of Rebuilding Together Greater Burlington, a local affiliate of the national organization that uses an old-fashioned barn-raising model to tackle renovation and construction projects designed to keep people safe, warm and independent. She speaks with great admiration of Cummings’ generous community spirit, coming with his 20-year-old son Evan, a sophomore at Endicott College, to work on an extensive kitchen and bathroom wiring project on North Avenue and a home repair project in Essex, where he donated whatever supplies and equipment were not on hand. “It’s fabulous that he’s willing to donate his energy,” she says. “He put on his tool belt and jumped right in there.”

Nicole Zarrillo, office manager for Spectrum Youth Services, has also worked with Cummings on many projects, most recently when he did the electrical work to make one of Spectrum’s residential homes — a residence for young boys on Murray Street — more energy-efficient and improve the lighting. “Glenn helped so much with the project, and he is so knowledgeable about energy efficiency and programs like the rebate program from Burlington Electric. I know nothing about it, and he really educated me so we were able to make good decisions.

“He’s a great supporter of our agency and our work with homeless and runaway youths who are disconnected from their families,” Zarrillo says. “When we did our yearly fund-raiser event, he was a corporate sponsor. And when we have a problem at one of our four properties, he sends someone right over.”

That same commitment to community is seen in Cummings’ work with youth programs in Colchester, a passion he says he obviously gets from his father. He coaches youth football and baseball and a Little League team. “I recruit 24/7,” he says. “If I see a kid who is getting left out of the social life of school and community, I try to get them involved in a team to energize their mind and their body and have a better sense of self-esteem.”

He and Ronalyn are busy with the sporting activities of their younger children, Sierra, 11, who’s involved in ice hockey, softball and the school drama club, and Grant, 9, who plays youth football, baseball and basketball. Cummings is eager for his children to share his own love of hunting and fishing. “I fish and I’m an avid duck hunter and deer hunter,” he says. “I’ve hunted my whole life — in Vermont, out of state and with a bunch of friends who go every year to Anticosti Island in Quebec. My father taught me, and eventually I’ll bring my kids there. It’s a time-honored tradition.” •