The elder Condee was recuperating from knee replacement surgery a couple of weeks ago, but overall was doing fine. The Condee Company actually goes back to Illinois. Some of their employees came down here when they began operations in Collier County. "One of those who came down with us was George Hess, a service tech," said Condee Jr., who noted that Hess lost his life in a motorcycle crash in 1998. "I think we're the longest operating business on Marco Island under the same ownership," Condee said proudly. "The only one that's close is Island Drug." Condee Jr. was in high school in Illinois when he began working for the company, first started by his grandfather.
"My grandfather had a gas business and my dad did refrigeration and electrical," he added. "My grandfather moved to Fort Myers in like 1960 or 1962, then my dad ran everything in (Mt. Sterling) Illinois - electrical, gas and refrigeration."
Condee Cooling & Electric has over 50 employees. But Condee Jr. will admit that the business isn't always fun. "It's like anything. If you didn't like it, you would do something else," he said. "There's a lot of satisfaction to it. My sister (Charlotte Husted) is one of the secretaries up front and her husband (Harry Husted) is my purchase agent. I went to grade school with Harry in Illinois. We have a lot of people who have been here long term.
There are several other close relatives associated with the business and Condee believes that gives the company its' strength. "They're people you can trust and they've been here a long time," he said emphatically. Among other things, Condee Cooling & Electric specializes in unusual jobs. "We do a lot of Aaon work for different companies," he said. "Aaon is a semi-custom air conditioning manufacturer that makes air conditioning equipment that's beyond the normal condition equipment. A typical place on Marco that has it is Progressive Auto Storage, a unique storage building for automobiles. That's Aaon equipment."
Condee also pointed out that the man who created the Aaon system gave it an unusual spelling - with two As at the beginning - so that it would appear first at trade shows and in trade magazines. "We also manufacture a unit that is not real widely built," he noted. "It's expensive, but it does specific things that other equipment can't do." These specialty items have taken the younger Condee to numerous faraway locales because of the uniqueness of the machinery. "I've been to the Cayman Islands working for Marriott," he added. "I trained the people locally to work on them so that they knew how to troubleshoot them. Soon, I'll be going to a pharmaceutical company in Miami to start up another unit."
Don II helped launch the Aaon unit at the Moffitt Center up in Tampa as well. "They put them in their labs, where they do their cancer research. So those units are pretty critical as far as temperature and humidity," he said. "Yes, other companies could work on these machines, but they're probably going to be lost for a little while. It's a niche market." Condee agrees that doing the Aaon work makes his job a little more interesting. "It can become monotonous when you do the same thing, day after day," he said. "So yes, this adds a little bit of spice to what we're doing. It's a little bit different, a little more creative." His company also works on the cooling towers, part of the cooling systems you might see on the top of high-rise buildings. "So obviously, you try to keep your guys from doing the same thing every day," he added.
Condee Cooling & Electric now has over 40 trucks in service. Condee and his wife, Donna, will celebrate their 30th anniversary this fall. Donna is a teacher at Tommie Barfield Elementary School. Don and Donna have three children. Erik is the operations manager of the company. Jennifer - like her mother - is a teacher in the Collier County School System. Their youngest, Adam, is a recent college graduate and lives in the Tampa area. "Donna is just a real great gal and has always been so supportive," Don said about his wife. "She's always been there for me and helps all the time. I'm not sure what I would do without her, really." To stay fresh, Don and Donna like to get away two or three times a year, either road trips or cruises. But Don, though he is the vice president of the company, is quick to point out that he does not run the business on his own.
"I don't run every bit of the business, so please don't get that idea," he added. "We have supervisors who oversee groups of people. My job is more 'special projects' and overseeing what happens in different areas. The company is not just myself. It's everyone. It's Rene and Ed in air conditioning, Greg in the electrical. Without all those people my job would be impossible." He also pointed out the talents of another long-time employee, Bruce Barnett. "He takes care of our fleet and is our primary mechanic," said Condee. "I'd have to call him an artist. He always has things looking neat and tidy." Condee was reluctant to talk about the company for fear it would appear he ran the whole show. "If I didn't have a dozen good people underneath me that I can delegate authority and wishes and let them carry out what we're trying to do, it wouldn't work," he said. "I don't want people to think it's all me because it's not."
Condee Cooling & Electric can be reached by calling 394-5121.