Ed Zoll is not always easy to track down.
When he’s not renovating the house of one of Hillsdale College’s professors, he’s working on another project around town or working at the Classic Cuts Salon, which he and his wife co-own.
His energetic nature and busy schedule keep him on the move, but that doesn’t mean he neglects relationships with his friends and clients, who, to him, are pretty much the same thing.
Zoll is the proprietor of Zoll’s Licensed Contracting, which he started (under another name) in 1988.
“We’ve been doing construction for so long,” Zoll said of himself and his 28-year-old son and partner, who began before his teens. “77 percent of my work is with college faculty. It started with my father-in-law who just introduced me to people and our business spread through word of mouth. Word-of-mouth is the only advertising I do.”
It works. Zoll gets a call every week for a new project, partly due to the connections and influence of his father-in-law, John Willson, an emeritus professor of history.
After graduating from Hillsdale High School and joining the Army, Zoll worked factory jobs before getting into construction. After getting laid off by multiple local contractors, Zoll decided to take a chance at working for himself.
“It was time to, well, take a gamble, and my father-in-law, who has really been one of the solid rocks in my foundation and the most respected man in my life, just said, ‘Hey Ed, if you’re going to try to work on your own, right now is the time to do it.’ So in 1988 I started a little maintenance business.”
Since then, Zoll has gotten to know a number of professors very well and considers many of them close friends.
“The knowledge I gain from some of the conversations is amazing, so I go by their places when I’m not even working for them.”
The feeling is mutual. Professor of philosophy Nathan Schlueter thrice compared Zoll’s work in construction to a professor’s in the liberal arts, a high compliment from a professor himself.
“First, he can do anything. Second, he takes pride in the quality of his work. Third, for Ed, human beings come first,” Schlueter said. “Although he is highly professional, Ed is also very personal.”
Professor of politics Robert Eden has known Zoll since 1988 – 89, when he built a long fence along the West Street side of his home.
“He has done a great deal of interior and exterior work on our old Victorian house during the 25 years we have owned it, and everything he has done has stood the test of time,” Eden said. “When he does a job, it is done permanently and does not have to be revisited for decades.”
While professors gain excellent handiwork at the hands of Zoll, in addition to payment, Zoll said he gains enlightenment from talking to such intelligent men just like his professor father-in-law.
“I love talking politics with these guys because they are so smart and because, growing up, voting was not part of my thing. I didn’t have a dad growing up so things being structured wasn’t for me until I met my father-in-law,” Zoll said. “I started paying attention and voting, and now I get to have great discussions with these people. And if I’m wrong, they tell me.”