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The Master Carpenter's Son

Written By Robin Caudell

John B. West Receives 'Seventy Fire Year Service Award' Plaque

PLATTSBURGH — Nothing interrupts 95-year-old John B. West’s fitness regimen. 

Not even Albany-based representatives from the International Union of Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers who presented him with a “Seventy Five Year Service Award” for his service and dedication to Local Number 2, New York/Vermont.

John received a plaque, a gold watch, a black wallet, several T-shirts and union patch Tuesday at Lake Forest Senior Living Community in Plattsburgh, where he lives.

“He said make sure you come mid-morning because I have my exercise class to get to,” said Kevin Potter, a field representative for Local Number 2.

The ceremony was also attended by Pat Tirino, Local Number 2 secretary/treasurer; Matt Zinc, field representative/apprentice instructor; and Robert Mantello, Local Number 2 president.

The quartet took John, his daughter, Janet Clerkin, and son, Paul, and his wife, Liz, out to lunch.


The Chazy native was the youngest of 14 children of Julia Boulerice and William West.

“He was the master carpenter for Mr. Miner,” Janet said.

“So, he was the master carpenter at Chazy Central Rural School. My dad worked on the addition to the old school."

John attended Chazy Central Rural School and graduated in the class of 1940.


He graduated from SUNY Delhi in 1942 and enlisted in the U.S. Navy.

John had three weeks of boot camp in Norfolk, Va., and three weeks at Camp Peary, near Williamsburg.

He married Mary “Peg” Slack of Speculator on Oct. 11, 1942, in Chazy.

“I enlisted into the Navy on the 16th of September in ’42,” said John, who left on active duty on Oct. 31, 1942.

“As far back as ’39, the kids in high school, when things started to rumble in Germany when Hitler was making his threats, we boys talked like teenagers. We just knew we were going in the military. I joined the Navy Sea Bees, and our tour of duty took us to Kodiak in Alaska.”

He shipped out on the USS Wharton, a troop-transport ship.

“There were at least two other battalions on that ship that went to Kodiak,” John said.

“Those other two were involved in the Battle of Attu. We had our work assignment on that island. I guess we were lucky.”

The 41st Naval Construction Battalion built ammunition dumps and fuel-oil storage.

His tour of duty with the battalion lasted 14 months.

Then, he came back stateside where he remained.

“Some of my battalion went back to Guam,” John said.


After three years and seven days, he returned back to the North Country and went right to work and joined Local 92 in April 1942.

“The one that hits me the most, the first big job, would be Macdonough Hall,” John said of the SUNY Plattsburgh dormitory.

“A beautiful job, I’m very proud. They were called drury bricks. They were a common brick, a good building brick. If you look, they have held up. You don’t see any bad spots in them.”

He went full circle and worked on one of the college’s high rises on his last job with Murnane Construction.

“That’s when I became a building inspector when they built the Chazy School,” John said.

“I was living in Chazy. I was the clerk of the works there.”

During his long career, he worked for FitzPatrick Brothers, J.J. Harvey and Merritt, Chapman and Scott.

A sampling of his many jobs include the Base Exchange and Recreation Building at Plattsburgh Air Force Base, Skyway Shopping Center, Champlain Hotel conversion to Jesuit novitiate, and dorm and faculty residences at the Miner Institute in Chazy.


John turns 96 on June 5.

It was great,” Janet said of being a bricklayer’s daughter.

“He had six daughters and one son. We carried a lot of pails of cement.”

John’s brothers — Leo, Joe, Lawrence and Homer — were building contractors.

“A lot of my cousins and cousins’ sons are also still involved in building, especially in the North Country,” she said.

“West Brothers Construction, they’re retired but my cousin Jim still does have work. And my Uncle Joe, years ago they owned a hardware story in Chazy. It was a wonderful way to grow up. We learned a lot.”

Paul does ceramic-tile work and carries on his father’s footsteps. 

John’s favorite building remains Macdonough Hall.

“I’ve been foreman on other buildings on the campus but that’s a piece of art to anyone that worked on it,” he said.


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