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Working together


Tom and LaDonna Gratias didn’t plan for their whole family to get into the home-building business, but that’s what’s happened. Tom owns Gratias Construction Inc., Village Classic Homes LC, Country Classic Homes LC and several development companies. LaDonna leads CLG Homes, where her son, Craig, is vice president. Their daughter, Jennifer Gratias Wille, is an Iowa Realty agent who sells the Gratias family’s product, and their son-in-law, Allan Wille, is a builder for Village Classic Homes and is a framing contractor.

“We didn’t really encourage our kids to get into the industry, but they grew up around it, cleaning job sites and doing manual labor,” LaDonna said. “Maybe the grandkids will get into it as well. We have six of them.”

Tom first got a taste of home building while attending Drake University. To help finance his education, he worked part time as a carpenter. He graduated with a business degree in 1968 and subsequently spent four years teaching high school in Johnston while building houses part time and during the summer. In 1972 his building company, Gratias Construction, became his full-time occupation.

“It’s a great job,” he said. “I get to create homes, developments and ponds and put in amenities to make a good habitat for people.”

LaDonna, who graduated from Hamilton Business College and, later, Mason City Junior College, worked for the Farm Bureau Federation and then Drake University as private secretary to the dean of the journalism school. She began doing bookkeeping for Gratias Construction in the early days of the company, and joined the company full time in the late ‘70s. She began decorating houses for the company, and in 1984 started CLG Homes, which stands for Custom Living by Gratias. CLG specializes in ranch houses.

“We’re building the American dream,” she said. “When you ask people what they want in life, a home is usually going to be number one.”

Running their various companies keeps Tom and LaDonna busy. They spend an average of 12 hours a day on the job. Their days are oftenso packed with meetings with salespeople and customers that they have to come in at night to get work done, or to meet with clients who are unavailable during business hours.

“I enjoy what I do, so to me it’s not work, it’s living,” Tom said. “And we work hard, but we play, too. We have a condo in Florida and spend about a week a month there.”

Tom and LaDonna say that in the coming years, they anticipate their offspring taking a little more responsibility for the company and them taking a little less. They do not anticipate retiring any time soon, however.

“I can’t imagine life without this,” Tom said.

Though Tom and LaDonna work in the same office, due to their busy schedules, it is not unusual for them to go an entire workday without conversation. They say they rarely fight about business matters.

“The pressure sometimes can be unbelievable,” LaDonna said. “Dealing with customers and subcontractors –– there’s so much you have to control. But both of us, if we have a problem, the other knows right away. We’re honest and forthright about it, and between the two of us, there’s a solution to every problem.”

The Gratiases credit their success working together to good communication and good senses of humor. Tom teases LaDonna about her tendency to forget her phone number, and she teases him about thinking he’s lost his keys when they’re still in his hand.

“I think our brains get fried in here,” LaDonna said. “Some days we’re all in tears because we’re laughing so hard.”

“You have to have a little humor,” Tom agreed. “You have to have a little fun.”

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