Building a legacy

Don Greenwell retires after more than two decades with The Builders
Story by Angela Crawford

Don Greenwell Retirement Tribute

At this point in my career, I’ve had a lot of bosses — fewer leaders — but just one who stands apart from the rest in the invaluable role he’s played in my (and many, many others’) professional journey. While Don Greenwell’s impact on people is apparent without it needing to be spelled out, I’ve had the honor over these past few months to bear witness to countless testimonials celebrating Don and the incredible influence he has had.

After more than two decades as a leader for The Builders, the industry and the region, the challenge of capturing that legacy in just a few pages is great, but if anyone deserves the opportunity to be celebrated in the annals of Builders history, it’s Don. He’d likely argue against a spectacle of the scope we’ve executed in this issue of Modern Builder (which is why we didn’t give him a choice!), but those who know him and worked with him understand this only scratches the surface of the send-off he deserves.


On Dec. 31, 2023, Don will celebrate the beginning of his retirement and the final day of a storied career, capped by his 17- year tenure as president of The Builders. But his career didn’t start out in the construction industry, or even in labor law, which was his first role with The Builders. After graduating from law school, Don started work at a law firm in Fredericktown, Missouri doing general civil practice and serving part-time as a prosecuting attorney for Madison County, Missouri. He eventually found an in-house counsel position with Missouri Public Service Company, a natural gas and electric utility company for the Kansas City region, which launched a decade-plus-long career in the energy industry and earned him experience in labor and employment law.

In October of 2002, Don joined The Builders as the labor relations director before being promoted to a vice president role and eventually to the role of interim president in 2006. After a national executive search was conducted to find a permanent leader of the association, Don was named president in spring of 2007.

His leadership was tested early in his tenure, as the industry was faced with weathering The Great Recession.

“Don has led the industry through great challenges and great change,” said Phil Thomas, president at A.L. Huber General Contractor, former Builders board chair and current Builders Scholarship Foundation chair. “The Builders’ Association had a history of financial issues when the construction industry was in a recessionary time. The Great Recession was historically bad for the industry, but Don put together a master plan and guided the organization through with great success.”

His steady leadership was critical through the pandemic, the unification of The Builders’ Association and the Kansas City Chapter of the AGC, as well as through numerous other industry challenges and opportunities over the years.

“Don’s role with The Builders has been fulfilling as he has made a positive impact on countless lives and the industry,” said Tony Castanon, Don’s husband. “He has worked to improve standards and practices, mentored individuals and actively given back to the community. His dedication and passion have left an indelible mark on the construction community, and his legacy will continue to inspire future generations.”


Don’s focus from the start has been on relationships — with his staff team, with members, with community leaders. He is quick to note that those relationships and memories that stem from them are what will stick with him from his time with The Builders.

“The Builders still has a family-friendly feel to it,” Don said. “There’s excellent camaraderie with membership and with colleagues, who are really friends.”

Don’s approach to building genuine relationships meant they reached beyond the 9-to-5, allowing his family to know and appreciate his work on a deeper level.

“I remember all the trips I got to go on with my dad growing up,” said Andrew Greenwell, Don’s youngest son. “I got to know many of his colleagues and developed good relationships with them, including working for one of them for five years!”

With relationships at the heart of his approach, Don set out in his role as president with a goal to help take the association to the next level of advancing the industry through collaboration within the community and through better staff collaboration.


There have been several opportunities in the months leading up to Don’s retirement for those he’s worked with to share their thoughts about his tenure as president, and two themes that emerged are how much he’s done to empower those around him and how he’s served as a role model to so many by leading with integrity.

“Don’s leadership in the industry has taught me that you CAN be a good person and successfully lead an organization with grit and grace” said Builders Board Chair Brandy McCombs, principal at IBC. “Don is always going the extra mile, has never met a stranger, and always picks up the phone when you call him. I have always looked up to Don, and he will always have a special place in my heart.”

Don says he takes great pride in where the association has grown to be — he has been intentional in empowering and elevating staff and he hopes his legacy includes seeding the ground for more diversity and inclusion within the industry.

“My hope for the next phase of the association is that the industry really reflects its local community,” Don said. “I hope The Builders continues its pursuit of the vision of improving people’s lives through construction.”


As Don transitions his role to new leadership, he’s also been reflecting on what’s been and what’s to come. It’s clear this new phase of life will be bittersweet, though he says the relationships aren’t what he’ll miss most since he has every intention of maintaining them beyond his formal role with The Builders.

“I really enjoy the fast pace, the multitasking and the busy schedule,” Don said. “There was a lot of structure around each day, and that’s going to be an adjustment.”

Given a single day for Don could include a trustee’s meeting in the morning, lunch with labor partners, a social event in the afternoon and a city council meeting in the evening, it’s all but certain the pace at which his days flow will slow in the new year. His friends in the industry hope he’ll fill his time with the things that bring him the most happiness.

“Just like anyone who is passionate about their work, I hope he adjusts quickly to being retired and is at peace with a new chapter in life,” said Shawn Burnum, PCI (Performance Contracting Inc.) vice president of operations and former Builders board chair. “I hope he has more time to spend with his family and do the things he likes to do — maybe even travel!”

Don confirms that his retirement plans include spending lots of time with his five grandchildren, three adult children, three adult stepchildren and Tony. He also looks forward to volunteering, traveling, reading and landscaping.


I’m going to give Don the final word in this piece, but I would like to try to speak on behalf of the staff before concluding. To start, I’m subtitling this section to indicate the start of something new rather than the end of something. While it is hard to bid farewell to a boss like Don, we are certainly not bidding farewell to Don. Erica has threatened to track him down at home if he tries to disappear completely on us!

We are genuinely excited for Don to find joy in this new phase of life and hope he understands how much he has earned the opportunity to relax. But most of all, we are grateful. Our careers have been shaped and have bloomed under Don’s leadership, and those ripples will extend well beyond his tenure with The Builders. It has been an honor and a privilege to work for him and for the vision he created. And with that, Don had a final message to share.

“I am so appreciative of the membership and the board having me in this role,” Don said. “It’s been extremely fulfilling and gratifying. I have so many treasured memories and I’m just filled with gratitude.”

For a photo gallery of Greenwell with Builders members and staff over the years, please click here. Feel free to download and share to social media — don't forget to tag The Builders!