Thiesse Plumbing, Inc. has always been a small, tight-knit family operation; that much hasn’t changed since its founding in 1946. But its current owner, Amy Thiesse Vobornik, is the first woman to run the business, and she steered the company in a slightly different direction when she applied for and received a Woman’s Business Enterprise (WBE) certification from Cook County’s government.
The WBE certification means that Thiesse Plumbing has a better chance of securing jobs with governmental agencies, organizations and companies that are either required to, or pledge to, contract a certain portion of their business out to minority-owned companies. It’s something she always urged her father, Peter, to do, to drum up more business, but he was set in his ways, she said, and never did. Now, Amy, the third-generation Thiesse to own the business, is doing things her way, which, actually, isn’t all that different from how her father and grandfather, Leonard, operated.
“We’ve never left the town, we’ve only been in three buildings,” said Amy, listing the addresses, “333 Circle Ave., then 7750 Monroe St., [and] we are currently at 1223 Circle Ave.”
“We’re still a union shop,” she added, noting “everybody’s gone non-union.”
“We’re Local 130,” Amy said, in reference to Thiesse Plumbing’s affiliation with the Chicago plumber’s union.
Amy explained that Thiesse Plumbing has always prided itself on friendly, personal and local service, and added that most of the work it has done has largely been in the village and in neighboring towns.
The theme is echoed in Amy’s recorded voice, which plays on Thiesse’s answering machine: “Thank you for calling Thiesse Plumbing, Forest Park’s local plumbing service.”
Thiesse does residential plumbing, but also does work for many of the village’s buildings, and other local governments such as Riverside, LaGrange, and River Forest. Furthermore, it has always made it a point to give back to the community, Amy noted.
She recalled a time last year when an elderly man went without hot water for six months because his hot-water heater was damaged during the previous summer’s flooding. He couldn’t afford to fix it, so he had cold water for a period during the winter. When Karen Dylewski, director of Forest Park’s community center, informed Amy of the situation, Amy said the company fixed the heater free of charge.
“I’m more than willing to gesture help for people that can afford a little bit of charity,” Amy said.
“Despite the fact that times are different, Amy knows the importance of building relationships by supporting the community and being actively involved,” Laurie Kokenes, president of the Forest Park Chamber of Commerce, emailed the Forest Park Review. “She’s good at what she does and that shows. The long-time family business continues to thrive under her management.”
And, with the WBE certification, Thiesse Plumbing should be able to branch out its business, Amy said.
“That’s the idea,” said Dan Thiesse, Amy’s brother. He has worked at Thiesse on and off for much of his life; he left briefly, in 1999, but returned in 2007, a year before his sister purchased the business from their father.
Amy, too, has spent the bulk of her professional life with the family business, filling a variety of roles that have spanned secretary to president and owner (she is currently pursuing a plumber’s apprenticeship, as well). Amy began working at Thiesse at 16, after dropping out of Proviso East High School; she was only allowed to do so because of an ultimatum her father gave her: get to work or go back to school.
So, she went to work for her father; but, soon after, returned to school, earned her G.E.D. and then received training to work as an X-Ray technician. She returned to Thiesse in 1996, and has been there ever since.
Like it was under her father and grandfather, the business remains small. It is only comprised of eight persons: Amy and Dan; Dawn, a longtime secretary; and five other plumbers. But they are all very close, Amy affirmed.
“We are truly like a little family,” Amy said. “I also make [employees] comfortable with coming to me at any type of level.”
“They may go home tired, but they don’t go home hating their jobs,” she said.