March 2024

JE Dunn’s First Female Superintendent

Cheryl Luther is tough-as-nails, thick-skinned and uses colorful language. She’s a no-nonsense, tells-it-like-it-is woman who meets challenges head-on, and with the grit and determination of someone who had to fight for what she wants and deserves.

Not only did she fight, through tears and wins and everything in between, but she broke down barriers and paved the way for the next generation of women in construction to follow in her footsteps. It’s an accomplishment she doesn’t take lightly, and she credits JE Dunn for taking a chance on her at a time when women weren’t always supported in the industry.

While working at Commerce Bank, a lunch hour conversation with a construction superintendent changed the trajectory of her career. Luther began her construction career in 1985, as an apprentice carpenter.

“He asked me why the heck I wanted to do construction, and he told me that superintendents are usually carpenters,” Luther said. “I asked him what a superintendent did because I didn’t know, and he told me, then asked me what I wanted to do. I told him I wanted to be a carpenter because I wanted his job someday. Of course, he busted a gut and fell over laughing.”

Luther was serious, though, and after a few years learning the carpentry ropes, she joined JE Dunn Construction in 1987, as “part of an experiment” to put two women together on the same job.

Coming to work at JE Dunn, Luther said she constantly had to prove her worth. She worked hourly, not getting paid a vacation day or holiday, often working long hours, sometimes bringing her daughter to the jobsites. Her daughter would sleep on a lawn chair while she got things ready after hours for the next day’s work.

“There was no way I was going to fail,” she said.

She was promoted from carpenter foreman to assistant superintendent within six months of each other. Luther was the first female straight time carpenter foreman, first female assistant superintendent, superintendent, and senior superintendent, and eventually the first female general superintendent for JE Dunn, and for a lot of general contractors across the country. She was also JE Dunn’s first pregnant superintendent (four times).

Luther brings a different perspective on diversity to her jobsites. She believes that since she was given the chance back in 1985, she offers opportunities to those who may not otherwise be able to prove themselves in the industry.

It hasn’t been an easy road for Luther, though, as she has dealt with more than her share of discrimination, disappointment, and harassment. She oftentimes felt isolated because of her gender.

Despite the stigma she’s felt, she continues to hold her head high and do what she does best: delivering great projects on time, on budget, and without incident. She has bitten her tongue and learned to suppress her emotions, but has also let the tears fall after a hard day’s work.

“I’m still a woman,” she said. “I’m still somebody’s daughter.”

In the beginning, she cried every day on her way home, questioning her decision to make the construction leap. She was told she was keeping a man from feeding his family and that she wasn’t wanted.

“They took bets on whether or not I’d keep showing up, and I realized that it really ticked them off when I did, and that’s what got me up in the morning,” Luther said. “I don’t fit into that clique. I don’t fit into that cookie-cutter mold of what a general superintendent should look like or act like or be like.”

She said that all along, all she’s wanted out of her career is to be acknowledged for a job well done, and celebrated when warranted.

“I hope my legacy is that for every woman who comes up behind me, it’s better,” Luther said. “I believe I was put here because I had the shoulders to carry what might take others down and I had the strength get over that hump. I’m hoping that I can do something to make it better for somebody else.”