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Orchid Gems



Building on His Accomplishments -- Bob Lusnak

By: Pamela Jean Horter-Moore

OSWP is pleased to welcome Bob Lusnak to the board of directors and to congratulate him on his first blue ribbon at the recent OSWP 2024 Orchid Show. A retired member of Sheet Metal Workers Union Local 12, Bob is proof that an eager mind and manual aptitude can prevail even when hard times put obstacles on the path.

Bob spent 37 years in the building construction industry as a sheet metal draftsman, working through the union for a variety of clients and helping to change the skyscape of Pittsburgh and other communities in western Pennsylvania along the way.

A native of Lincoln Place and a graduate of Alderdice High School, Bob was one of many young people facing limited prospects in 1982, a time of economic hardship for Pittsburgh. Steel mills were closing and there was wide-spread unemployment. During such uncertainty, adaptability was a strong asset.

Bob’s early ambition was to graduate from college with a degree in engineering, but economic factors were not in his favor. Nonetheless, he had a 4.0 grade average in physics and science while going to community college, indicating that he had the wherewithal for a technical career.

Fate stepped in when his elder brother persuaded him to take the sheet metal apprentice aptitude test. Bob faced stiff competition against 1,000 contenders, and when he passed the test, he realized that this was an opportunity he couldn’t turn down.

Unions have a history that dates back to the guilds of antiquity and medieval times when tradesmen set the standards for their craft and sought to protect their interests. The dedication to standards exists today, with each union having its own apprenticeship and schools.

The Sheet Metal Workers’ Union offers classes in blue-print reading, welding, safety, technical drawing, heating and air conditioning, project management, and many other disciplines. A tradesperson must still serve as an apprentice and learn the rigors of the trade before becoming a craftsperson, and the opportunity to learn never ends.

The public seldom considers the details involved in the construction of a building, although everyone takes it for granted that buildings are safe and well-constructed.

“We make what we install,” Bob comments. “The union covers a project from drafting to installation. A person gets to see a building like PNC Tower come together.”

Although the union offers members training and support, each person is responsible for his own job and for building a reputation for himself. The union provides the construction industry with quick access to qualified help. All it takes is a phone call to be in touch with professionals who can be quickly dispatched to the scene or to a project site, such as the recent collapse of the bridge in Baltimore.

While sheet-metal drafting wasn’t the first choice of many apprentices, Bob grabbed the opportunity early and made a career of it. Not only is he well-versed in traditional mechanical drafting methods, which continue to be favored by many, but he is familiar with computer software design applications like CAD and Navisworks, and Trimble, a GPS system that tells construction workers where to place joist hangers between floors.

Because each project is different, a sheet metal draftsperson must be prepared to respond to all situations. Bob has stepped into many roles, even acting as purchasing agent, ordering equipment to meet specifications. It is an all-encompassing job where attention to detail is vital and where documentation is a necessary discipline. For those who find satisfaction in building something from the ground up, the work is never tedious, and each project is a new experience.

Bob lives in Gibsonia with his wife Patty, who was recently promoted to office manager at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Union Local 5. They have two adult children. Their son is a project manager who works from his home in Plum Boro, and their daughter is a paralegal in Nashville, Tennessee.

Patty is a native of Bloomfield. She and Bob met through mutual friends and have been married since 1990. “We built this house shortly after we were married, and I did the interior,” Bob comments.

Adept with his hands, Bob is a self-taught woodworker. His hobby began when he received a woodworking kit at eight years old, and his home displays his handicraft. The kitchen cabinets, end tables, night stand, and the bedroom suite are his creations. “When we looked for a house, the stipulation was that half of the basement would be my workshop,” Bob jokes.

Like many OSWP members, Bob is a gardener. He picked up the hobby by taking over his father’s garden when he became too ill to tend it. During my visit to Bob’s home for this interview, I understood how serious a vegetable gardener he was when I saw row after row of young plantings already a couple of inches high growing in the basement. “Patty doesn’t garden, but she does help me with the canning,” Bob comments.

Since retirement, Bob has been able to devote more time to his orchids. He has 40 plants growing throughout the house, wherever sunlight and conditions can accommodate them. His blooming orchids are sometimes on display on his kitchen table, which catches a lot of light.

Bob’s interest in orchids was piqued when his aunt visited Costa Rica in the 1970s and came home describing the orchids she saw. After some study and deliberation, Bob made his first purchase from Arcadia Gardens in 1982 – a lovely Cattlianthe Jewel Box. He has since divided it, and both plants are flowering. I was amazed to see forty-year old plants in bloom and looking beautiful.

Bob confesses, “It didn’t flower for 25 years, but I kept it until I found its happy spot.”

Like all orchid growers, Bob has had his disappointments, but he is proud to say that he received his first blue ribbon for Miltoniopsis Arthur Cobbledick 'Springtime' at the OSWP 2024 Orchid Show. He also won a stunning Cattleya donated by Nancy Kline for the raffle.

Bob has orchids of several varieties, but his favorites are Paphiopedilum, especially green slippers, and Oncidiinae Miltoniopsis, the pansy orchid. The orchids were delightfully fragrant during my visit.

Bob urges new growers not to give up. “Don’t be discouraged by failures. Try new things, and you will find an orchid that works for you. Remember: ‘Location, location, location!’ You have to find the plant’s happy spot by giving it the right light and medium that it needs to thrive.“

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