Working as a family
As a fourth generation co-owner of Murphy Marble Co. in Chicago, IL, Susan Van Etten is deeply rooted in the stone industry. She and her three brothers, Tom Van Etten, Bernie Van Etten III and Michael Van Etten, also own Galloy & Van Etten, Inc., which was founded in 1899 by their great-grandfather, Abram Van Etten, as a fabricator of Indiana limestone. He later went on to purchase Murphy Marble, a fabrication and installation company specializing in custom stonework. Van Etten’s involvement in the stone industry began at a young age, when she assisted her family with the business.
“Working with my dad has been a wonderful experience, as he was my first mentor,” said Van Etten, when recalling some of her favorite moments of working in the stone business. “I liked going out to jobsites with him and watching him interact with the contractors and installers in the field — learning on the go. He trusted me and he taught me well — hard work and good relationships matter.”
Van Etten went on to explain that it was her grandfather that expanded the business into doing some marble projects and gave work to a small marble shop in the neighborhood owned by Bob Murphy. “When Bob died in the early 1950s, we purchased the company,” she said. “We kept the name Murphy Marble and expanded and grew the company over the years.”
With Galloy & Van Etten dating back more than 120 years, Van Etten said they have records and photos that go back to the early 1900s. “We have photos of horses and then when the train would come through,” she said. “Now so many things have changed. I remember pre cell phones and pre computers. I am a proud fourth generation. While many things have changed, some things are the same.”
Murphy Marble Co. specializes in and fabricates marble, granite, slate, soapstone and quartzite, and the company also provides installation services. “Our forte is custom work, commercial and high-end residential. We’ve been fortunate to have had a long-time shop foreman, and very skilled people in the shop and in the field. We still do a lot of work by hand.”
The fabrication shop is separated from Galloy & Van Etten’s by what used to be the train track and is now a bike trail. The companies share the same office. The facilities are equipped with machinery from Park Industries, including an Accu-Cut bridge saw, a dual turntable Jaguar Pro 3000 bridge saw, an automatic polisher and Infinity CNC stoneworking center. Additionally, the workers in the shop utilize a Marmo Meccanica HT-1 bridge saw, several saws from Sawing Systems and Tysaman saws, as well as five New Albany stone planers and a BM gangsaw to cut blocks of stone.
Between the two companies, there are 20 workers in the shop and five in the office. The number of installers in the field varies depending on the projects.
“We are original members of the Allied Stone Institute (ASI),” said Van Etten. “My grandfather started it with Mr. Halquist from Halquist Stone in Wisconsin. ASI just celebrated their 60th anniversary recently. We joined the Marble Institute of America (now the Natural Stone Institute) in 1983 and were company number 68.
“I started in the business pre kitchen countertop boom,” Van Etten went on to say. “Over the years, I have participated and attended many conventions and trade shows, such as StonExpo, TISE, Coverings, the Natural Stone Institute Study Tours and roundtable discussions. I have a great understanding of stone. I have an ability to identify different types of stone, and then the process of procuring the materials. I enjoy sourcing, matching and purchasing the materials for new and historic and renovation jobs.”
Among some of the most memorable projects that Van Etten recalls are the Illinois State Capitol Renovation, the Chicago White Sox Ballpark, the suites at the United Center, The Art Institute of Chicago, Field Museum, Shedd Aquarium, University of Chicago, the historic renovation of the Chicago Tribune Lobby and The Arts Club of Chicago, as well as some fun and interesting restaurant and retail projects. “We also had some special residences, which we have seen the stone from quarry to installation, and where I have some wonderful relationships with the homeowners,” she said. “We have stayed in touch and done maintenance and restoration on their lovely homes over the years.”
SW: Murphy Marble and Galloy & Van Etten have a long history. What would you attribute the companies’ success to?
SV: A real love and understanding of stone. I think it is in our blood. Hard work, dedication, pride, perseverance — we have survived the Great Depression, many recessions. Resilience, as there are so many ups and downs in the economy, the industry and in life. A family business can be difficult, but we all care, work hard and have the best wishes for the company and the family at heart.
SW: In addition to working with your dad, what are some other memorable moments you have had working in the stone industry?
SV: The travel and meeting people from all over the country and the world. And my true love of stone – nature’s building material. It is just so beautiful!
SW: What has your experience been working in the stone industry as a woman?
SV: My experience as a woman has been very interesting. I have been doing this so long now —almost 35 years. I started answering the phones in 1976, and I worked in the office all through high school and college. I started learning and taking on more responsibilities in the mid-80s when I came on board to help my dad as the business was growing. Early on, I started helping out with Cold Spring Granite as promoting and distributing their new tile line at the time.
I have felt respected even from my beginning. Since I grew up going to stone companies and stone conventions with my parents, we had many family friends in the stone business who owned quarries or fabrication shops, or who were suppliers of saw blades or tools, so I knew many people and I was familiar with the industry.
Also, I was fortunate to work with some wonderful architects, designers and contractors, and I think that there was a mutual respect. On some jobs, we figured things out together.
I really didn’t feel negativity or discrimination. Many times, I was the only woman at meetings or in the office or jobsites and that is still true today, although there are many more women involved now. Things have changed as the business has grown, and more women are involved now. It seems more accepting for women to be involved in the industry as times have changed and technology advances, etc.
SW: What advice would you give a young woman starting out today in the stone business?
SV: When I started, it was before cell phones and computers. We used to wait by the fax machine for the paper to come swirling out to see if we were awarded a project. While the industry is still primitive in some ways, it has grown and changed. There is so much opportunity to learn, meet people, build relationships, travel and to work with exciting products. There is always something to learn.
SW: I understand you are very involved in the Women in Stone (WIS) organization. What are some reasons you first joined?
SV: I joined at first for the support and camaraderie. I wanted to check it out and see what it was about, what they could offer. The women I have met are so amazing. We had our first annual retreat for the steering committee this past October, and I was really touched by the experience. We are all different ages and backgrounds, but it was so nice to build relationships and to learn from each other. We worked hard and we also had so much fun. I’m even more committed now after that experience.
SW: What has your experience been as a member of WIS?
SV: My experience has been very positive. I really love that I have connected with women from all over the country, and actually, the world since it is such a global economy and in our industry there is stone from all over the world. We offer some type of an event, a speaker or an educational experience and/or gathering at the stone shows. I always look forward to reconnecting with the tribe and meeting new people too. We’re continuing to look for new opportunities and ways to expand our message and mission.
SW: For someone considering joining WIS, what would you say would be some beneficial reasons why they should?
SV: Our vision: Provide resources and opportunities to recruit, retain and advance women in the stone industry. I enjoy the relationships, learning, bonding over stone and it is fun too!