She speaks softly and carries a big stick – No, I mean, she carries a big crowbar. But just how did Salvage Service supervisor Michelle Elmquist turn into such a powerhouse deconstructionist? Let’s take it back to her college days. It really wasn’t that far back, you know, that Michelle graduated from the University of Washington where she studied political science and sociology. But she felt she hadn’t learned all that much. Now what?
“I was only 21,” Michelle says, “I didn’t know anything.”
It was at a woodworking class at the community college that things began to click.
“I really felt like I was actually learning some skills and knowledge –and that was just an intro course!” Michelle exclaims.
After that, Michelle became an AmeriCorps volunteer working on construction sites building houses in Snoqualmie and Redmond for Habitat for Humanity Seattle-King County. Moving south, she spent a year working for a contractor in Portland, building decks and some remodeling projects, (She mentions roto-hammering here.)
But Michelle was anxious to get back with Habitat, and was thrilled when the position opened up on TheReStore’s Salvage Service team. Now she works hard removing reusable components like appliances, light fixtures, cabinets, sinks, windows, doors, etc. –which then are sold at The ReStore.
“I really like the aspect of people giving you their trash, honestly, and we’re reusing it. So that’s nice,” she says.
It’s not all pinwheels and butterflies in the deconstruction business. But it’s exactly that hands-on, practical nature of the work that keeps Michelle engaged as she wields her mighty hammer or straps on a shoulder dolly and lugs out a whole row of cabinets with her boss, Stan Seals. In September the team took on 4-5 deconstruction jobs a week.
To look at her, you might be surprised at her line of work. Some people mistakenly underestimate Michelle Elmquist. They see a quiet, demure young woman and aren’t sure what she’s doing at a construction/deconstruction site.
“I think I look small to people, but I’m very strong. People ask me if I’m OK to lift something,” she says. “One woman called me a ‘sweet lady.’ I don’t even know how to respond. Honestly, it’s one of the weirdest parts of my job.”
As the morning progresses on a work site, speculation turns into appreciation.
“They don’t know how skilled we are. We never destroy things,” Michelle explains. “We take things out very carefully.”
But Michelle says she is more into making things than tearing things apart. In her spare time she works on string art projects and printmaking mostly. She designed wedding invitations for friends and screen prints on clothing. Big into reuse, Michelle crafted a terrarium out of an outdoor wall sconce purchased at The ReStore. That’s also where she found the bike she rides to work each morning–after she changed out the brake cables. She sifts through thrift stores to find re-workable clothes and furniture.
Then there are those rumors about chicken farming. What’s that all about, Michelle?
“When my housemate bought the house it came with a chicken coop, so they went out to get some chickens. There are three of them now and I named one of them Patti Smith after the rock star,” she sniggers.
Unfortunately, that “Patti” turned out to be a rooster and a replacement chicken christened “Little Patti” now nests in his stead.
Names are, after all, reusable too!