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Steve Van Dam
President & Team Leader
Trained as a wooden boatbuilder in the early 1970’s with one of the pioneers of epoxy and wood boatbuilding, Steve is the Team Leader at Van Dam. He started Van Dam Custom Boats in 1977 and his energy and passion pervades every area of the business. While he has his hands in every project, he readily admits that it is the skill in the hands and minds of the whole team that makes Van Dam boats exceptional.
Steve’s forte is taking the teams’ skills and meshing them with the dreams and ideas that clients bring to the business, and turning that marriage into a beautiful, functional masterpiece. He is continually challenging himself and his team to excel. Constant improvement is a creed that Steve encourages in every member of the Van Dam Team, and it is a fundamental part of the Van Dam culture.
Steve is happily married to Jean since 1972, and they have two children—Ben, who works at Van Dam, and Brie, who is a scientist traveling the world. When not working, he takes great pleasure in helping his children with whatever projects they may have. He loves to race on his cross country skis in the winter and ride his bike in the summer with Jean, and can usually be found at the front of the starting line for a couple 10k foot races each year.
Jean Van Dam
Marketing Director & CFO
Growing up in northern Michigan, Jean taught sailing in the summer and skiing in the winters through high school and college. She graduated with a degree in education, but after marrying Steve (and not being able to teach him anything) she decided to pursue a career in the health field. After the birth of her and Steve’s two children, she made a decision to become more active in the business management of Van Dam Custom Boats. Balancing family life and managing a business has been a challenging and rewarding experience, as every working mother can attest.
Jean keeps all the finances on track and organized and is also responsible for greeting customers, fielding calls, and organizing the marketing efforts. She’s also the first person Steve goes to when he’s challenged by his computer.
Jean has volunteered her time for the local Women’s Resource Center, which offers assistance to women and children who need support. She has served on the board of the local Community Foundation and she currently serves on the board of Raven Hill Discovery Center, whose focus is exposing children and adults to the connections between science, history, and art.
After all that, she can still be seen with Steve riding her bike in the summer and cross country ski racing in the winter. She’s even won her age group in the prestigious American Birkebeiner cross country ski race. The only things she does better than skiing are making killer muffins and spoiling her kids.
Ben Van Dam
Vice President & Project Manager
From riding on his dad’s back as a small child, to building an 8’ One Day row boat with his dad at 5 years old, to sweeping up after school while in grade school, Ben was always around the Van Dam shop. This exposure as a child left lasting impressions as he observed skilled craftsmen pursue their trade. Thanks to this exposure to the older craftsmen, he had his first serious talk with his dad about the appropriateness of “shop talk” at a very young age. Ben “officially” started working at the business in his early teens, developing his skills as he grew. In high school, if he wasn’t playing hockey or sailing competitively, he was working in the shop.
Somewhere along the way he realized that boatbuilding was in his blood, and this led him to the University of Michigan and a degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering. While there he continued to sail competitively and worked in the Hydrodynamics laboratory tow tank, where he built several tow models and helped build test equipment for the tank. Between his junior and senior year he did an internship in a yacht design office in New Zealand, and in his senior year he and his two teammates won the International Workboat/Small Craft/Yacht Design Competition awarded by American Boat and Yacht Council (ABYC) and The Society of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers (SNAME). However, when he’s asked about the best part of his U of M experience, he declares it was meeting his wife Erika in their last year at school. After graduation, Ben spent his first few years at Van Dam working under several project managers until in 2008 he became a project manager himself. Ben’s formal education has added technical depth to his hands-on training, and he is a big contributor to Van Dam’s constant push for perfection in everything they do. In his spare time he enjoys spending time with his wife, working on the house they are building, or training in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu.
After college and a short stint in the auto industry, Michel decided to follow his true love – boats. He worked for several years at a large production boatbuilder in the design department, but when the company cut back in a tight economy, he was laid off. Not to be deterred from his passion, he spent a short time designing on his own until he was hired by Van Dam as a full-time designer in 1994.
Michel enjoys the challenges that come with custom one-off design work, and the fact that no two clients have exactly the same needs or tastes. He feels that naval architecture is an ever-evolving art and science, and requires an open mind and continuous training. Being part of a project from the conceptual sketch to a magnificent mahogany masterpiece is very gratifying to him, but ask him if he sleeps the night before a first launch!
On any day you can hear Michel and Steve “discussing” the merits of this way or that way of doing something.
Michel’s passion for boats extends to the mechanical systems that drive them. He researches, collects, and reads anything he can about the developmental history of automotive, marine, and aviation engines. He also enjoys restoring antique outboards, boating, photography, reading, and cooking. He’s engaged to Marga and has two children: a son Patrick, who is studying Aeronautical Engineering at the University of Michigan, and a daughter Arianne, still in high school.
Chad came to Van Dam in 1994 as a 14-year-old high schooler, and his is an inspiring tale of dedication and determination. Throughout high school and some college he worked summers and after school at Van Dams, and finally decided he was ready for a career in boatbuilding. In 2003 he became the first person to complete our formal apprenticeship program. In his time here he has worked in every facet of building boats and maintaining boats. Chad is a highly skilled woodworker, but he is also very comfortable with the electrical, mechanical, and electronics installations that are a vital part of the custom boats at here at Van Dams. Chad became the Shop Manager in early 2011, and is responsible for keeping everything running smoothly and efficiently on the shop floor. In addition he is also a project manager overseeing the construction of an individual boat.
Chad is the “go to” man whenever a problem needs solving. The constant shift through the various stages of building and accomplishing new things every day are some of the reasons he chose this line of work. Although he felt bad for the owner, he enjoyed repairing a Van Dam boat that went up on the rocks and learning up close how well it held up to the impact.
Chad is an avid hunter and enjoys all outdoor activities from sailing to skiing to fishing. He and his wife Amanda have two young sons, Porter and Weston, and in whatever free time they have left, are in the process of completing a home building project.
Paint Shop Foreman and Do-Everything Guy
Trevor’s experience in the boat building industry began in high school, when he worked for a local boatbuilder during the summer. After high school he worked for a marina and boat repair facility for 6 years, finally coming to Van Dam in 1993. Trevor has been an integral part of each Van Dam boat ever since, producing the mirror finishes that the company is known for. Trevor‘s ability in the paint shop is unsurpassed, but he also fills in wherever the need arises whether it be electrical, mechanical, or fitting planks on a new boat. One of Trevor’s most memorable experiences at the shop has been watching Chad James grow from a 14-year-old kid working in the shop during the summers to a project manager with multiple builds under his belt; and no doubt, Trevor has been very influential in Chad’s journey. Trevor grew up near the water, fishing and hunting ducks. Currently he is enjoying teaching his daughter to fly fish and tie flies. Trevor lives in Boyne City with his wife Carla and daughter Kyra.
Craftsman and Philosopher
Thor completed the Landing School course in 2002 and then came to Van Dam shortly after. Thor is another person that wears many hats in the shop; his abilities include all facets of woodworking, electrical and mechanical installations, and some metal shop capabilities. Thor’s electrical work, in particular, is very impressive—his wire runs and layouts are remarkable to say the least. Thor grew up on Washington Island, Wisconsin. His family owns the ferry line that runs to the main land. His favorite part of building boats at Van Dam is the attention to detail, obvious to anyone looking at his work. When asked if he has any fun stories, Thor says there are none suitable for publication, but he would like everyone to know he is a Pisces…. Always smiling, Thor’s humor is enjoyed by customers and co-workers alike. He is another key person in the Van Dam team.
Machine Shop Specialist
Jesse started working at Van Dam in 2003, after completing the 1-year boatbuilding course at the Landing School of Boatbuilding and Design. He very quickly developed an aptitude for metal working, honing his skills on the lathe and mill, as well as developing the impressive ability of being able to TIG weld with either hand. Jesse now does the majority of the metal work that you see on a Van Dam, including the extraordinary cutwaters. One customer, a surgeon, commented on Jesse’s ability in the machine shop, saying “…there are more people that can remove an appendix than can do the work that he does.” Jesse’s talent is not confined to the machine shop though—one of his interests is vegetable oil powered diesel engines, on which he works regularly. Jesse gained some of his artistic ability from his parents, who are both artists in western Michigan. When asked, Jesse says that the blend of artistry and problem solving is what he enjoys most about work at Van Dam.
Jeff Fiel started building things at a young age, helping his father in the family custom homebuilding business. While he learned many of the various trades in building custom homes his interest focused on finish carpentry. Jeff was drawn to boat building at Van Dams because of his interest in woodworking and because of our attention to detail. The variety of the work was an added bonus in Jeff’s mind. Having grown up doing custom work he likes the fact that Van Dam does it all in-house, and that he is involved in all aspects of the work.
Jeff has a son in elementary school and a daughter in college. He is an active outdoor person, and in his spare time he snowboards in the winter and bicycles and runs in the summer with some weight lifting thrown in all year round.
Dave’s tenure and roots with Van Dam is worthy of mention, as Dave began building boats as a professional with Steve Van Dam back in 1987. In fact, Dave was the youngest employee of Van Dam Custom Boats at the time.
Self taught in woodworking, Dave remained with Van Dam from 1987 through 1993, when he decided to take a sabbatical from his responsibilities at Van Dam. The career path Dave chose at the time was to transfer his skills of handcrafted woodworking to homeowners, whose refined tastes for custom, high-end woodworking Dave could fulfill, a skill Dave continues to this day.
Dave returned to Van Dam Custom Boats in 2013 and is fond of saying, “When I first started in 1987 I was the youngest member and when I returned in 2013, I was the oldest!”
As if Dave’s woodworking skills and demands are not enough to occupy his time, Dave has been involved in the rescue of abandoned Doberman Pinchers for the past 36 years. In addition, Dave and his wife Cheryl volunteer their time with the Exceptional Riders Program, a human service organization for the mentally and physically challenged person of all ages.
A graduate of the University of Michigan-Flint, Dave earned his B.A. while majoring in Physics with a minor in math.
Justin grew up in central Michigan, studied Archeology at Central Michigan University, and continued these studies at Harvard. After working in his field for some time he was yearning for more adventures, so he and his wife bought their first boat. Living aboard and fixing it up, Justin found great satisfaction in accomplishing a job well-done. He feels the problems boats present are always teaching him something new, and after 6 years of living aboard and working on boats he decided it was time to make it a vocation as well as a passion. About the same time that revelation came to him, he and his wife also learned that she was pregnant with their second child. They realized with the growth of their own family that they wanted to be closer to their extended families too. They moved back to Michigan at the same time that Van Dam was advertising for an apprentice, and everything came together like it was meant to be. Justin is fully immersed in the Van Dam apprenticeship program, but has many outside interests as well. He’s a musician with one professionally released album and plans for more to come. He also loves hiking and camping with his family.
While growing up in South Bend, Indiana, Chad’s admiration for the University of Notre Dame knows no bounds; but don’t get him talking about the Chicago Black Hawks, as Chad’s passion runs deep for both institutions.
After completing a year with the Great Lakes Boat Building School, Chad joined the apprentice program at Van Dam Custom Boats in the fall of 2013. Originally drawn to Van Dam due largely to the reputation of the apprentice program, Chad’s love of the water and appreciation for woodworking allows him to assist in the sculpting of beautiful custom boats-boats that make dreams come true. Chad likes to say that one of the more important aspects of working at Van Dam is the opportunity to learn and to work on a variety of projects.
When not sculpting priceless memories, Chad divides his time between exploring the wilderness areas of Northern Michigan and his family.
In 2002 Chad met Angie and were married in July of 2010. Not content to share their home alone, Chad and Angie welcomed their amazing son Andros into their family in June of 2011.
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