Vince Doran began at Steel Fabricators in 1964. “After awhile I retired. Richard and Janet (Faulkner) bought the business in 1988,” and renamed it Steelfab. “They called me up and asked me if I’d like to come back.” The rest, as they say, is history.
“I couldn’t retire. I can’t imagine not working; I love every minute of it,” said Doran.
When asked if he’d be in the office on his birthday, June 13, he said he’d be around. He was surprised that people take the day off, adding that he’d never heard of such a thing.
“I guess you learn something new everyday.”
Doran initially came to Alaska in 1941. He came up for a job in construction and joined the military when he arrived. Soon afterward he was flying four-engine bombers from England to Germany in World War II.
On the wall in his office Doran has an artist’s rendering of the plane he flew during the war, a B-17 bomber. Next to it is a list of the 32 locations he’d successfully bombed. Right next to that’s a certificate he and his fellow fliers received when they finished their tour – reserved for members of the Lucky Bastard Club. And rounding out the war memorabilia is a rare photo taken by a fellow pilot. The image captured is of Doran in flight, just as his bombs were being released. In the background enemy aircraft are closing in, and you’re able to just make out enemy fire.
After the war Doran went back to his home-state of Washington, enrolling at Gonzaga University to receive his undergraduate degree. After graduation he got into flying again, operating a service out of the Grand Coulee Dam, the largest concrete dam in North America, for nearly three years.
During this time Doran married his wife Jean, and soon after, the Air Force sent them to live in Tripoli for a year. Once the couple returned stateside Doran began working for Morrison-Knudsen, a “great construction company,” he says. “But when they found out I had lived in Alaska before the war they immediately had me moved up here. They couldn’t get anybody to go to Alaska.”
But family is what’s kept Doran in Alaska all these years. “I was in construction for many years, and back then especially, you had to go where the jobs were.” Doran remembers coming home when his kids were very young, after he’d been on a job, and they wouldn’t know who he was. So he agreed to get out of construction in the lower 48 and come to Alaska, where jobs and family resided in the same place.
Eventually Doran found a home at Steelfab. As a manager he worked 50 hour weeks for decades. His first sewage treatment plant led to over a hundred more. It’s his specialty, and he’s designed every single one Steelfab has produced.
The secret to their success? “We’re low-tech,” he says, “I’ve found that customers who buy our plants just want them to work. We keep it very simple. And that works for us and for our customers.”
Very simply put, Doran sticks to using microbes and bacteria. “Microorganisms don’t need a lot of technology,” he says, “they need a good environment and then they need to be left alone more or less.”
This no frills approach has done well for Doran and he’s confident in his design. It’s no wonder he has a bumper sticker on his car that reads “Sewage feeds my family.” When an honorary patent was mentioned in jest his modest nature came out, laughing it off as just another day at the office, not about the recognition. So it’s no surprise Doran’s approach to his work is as refreshingly simple — he likes to see things built.
Currently the company produces about three treatment plants a year, so Doran keeps busy by doing pressure vessel work and prepping for the company’s certification inspections.
In 2001 he took a trip on an icebreaker around northern Canadian islands and above Greenland. “Once we hit ice we couldn’t sail through, we all got off, drank some champagne, and then boarded again.”
Checking his super-human status, we discussed weekend work, and he conceded that he’s only Monday through Friday. But on those days he wakes up and drives from the Pioneer Home to exercise at the Senior Center, gets to Steelfab around 10 a.m. and works until midafternoon.
As for the weekends, “I’ve got other things to do.”
Doran writes a newsletter for the Pioneer Home, is a reader at his church and an active participant in a weekly poetry hour where he recites some of his favorite works. And Doran still has all four kids and five grandchildren in Alaska.
So does he have any insider tips on living such a full life? Doran recommends always doing a good days work. He believes people are made to be active. “We’re not made to lie around. Do something you love. If you don’t like what you’re doing, go do something else.”
As we were finishing there was a party being set up in Steelfab’s shop; a barbeque in Doran’s honor complete with a cake-replica of one of his plants.
But before I let him go I had to ask whether or not he ever considered writing his memoirs; he modestly replied that he had “never thought of such a thing.” I guaranteed him people would be interested.