Ask anyone at our Annapolis Junction, MD (AJ) location about the Olwage family, and you will hear one resounding sentiment about them; “They are wonderful people.” Chris, Brian, and Derrick’s dedication to the job, their incredible knowledge of the Vermeer product, and genuine kindness are just a few reasons why customers and coworkers alike have nothing but praises to sing for the family. With 60 years of combined service to Vermeer All Roads, the Olwage family has been a huge asset to our team, and we are lucky that their journey landed them here.
Chris, Shop Technician and patriarch of the family, decided to flee South Africa and immigrate to the United States in July of 2000 to protect his family and give them better opportunities. He was joined by his wife, Linda, and their four children: Brian, Derrick, Kelvin and Megan. “I came with four suitcases and $5,000 in my pocket,” said Chris. “I had to take that and buy a house and a car.”
Chris had been a mechanic in his home country since 1973, working on drills used for titanium mining, and Linda was a nurse. The family was able to move thanks to Linda’s nursing career, and when they arrived in the U.S., she began working at Mt. Sinai Hospital. As Chris began the search to find a new job opportunity for himself, he landed at Vermeer All Roads (VAR). Even though he had never worked with tree and landscape equipment before, John Vos and Mark Boyle, former President and Sales Manager, brought him on board.
Chris began to love working on Vermeer equipment and enjoyed learning something new, so he encouraged his son, Derrick, to join him. Chris’s younger son, Brian, also started working at the store, sorting equipment brochures and other paperwork during holiday breaks from school. Chris, Brian, and Derrick all showed tremendous potential from the start, and they worked their way through the ranks and rose to success.
According to Jeff Jones, President, “Mr. Chris has been the go-to person to help solve the hardest mechanical challenges for his 22-year tenure at the company. He is extremely talented.” Jones goes on to describe how Chris has been willing to help train new technicians and even helps salesmen perform better trade-in evaluations and gain a deeper knowledge of Vermeer equipment. It’s not just Chris’s expertise that’s had an impact on the team. Kevin Mulford, Field Service Coordinator, describes him as, “a great guy – very conscientious, thorough, and one of the nicest men you’ll ever meet.”
Over his 22 years of service, Derrick Olwage has developed strong relationships with customers on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and Delaware. “A top-level road technician who represents our company very well,” is how Jeff describes Derrick. His tenure and depth of knowledge makes Derrick a reliable and valuable asset to the team. He takes great pride in his road truck and his ability to keep customers up and running in his region.
Having shared the territory with Derrick as a Salesman, Chris Campbell, VP of Northern Operations, worked in tandem with him for many years to keep their customers happy with the equipment and the support. “It was a great pleasure working with Derrick,” said Chris. “We also gained a relationship outside of work, watching our kids compete in athletics together, which I’m very thankful for.” One of the customers they worked with was Jay Johns at Bartlett Tree Experts. Jay described how working on the Eastern Shore can make it difficult at times to bring his equipment into the AJ location. “Derrick lives over here, so he’s been a huge help,” said Jay. “He’ll stop by first thing in the morning and get our equipment back on the road.”
Brian Olwage officially joined the team 16 years ago after graduating. He quickly rose in the ranks to become a Service Manager and eventually helped to open the Roanoke, VA location as Branch Manager in 2018. Jeff praises Brian’s willingness to take on the challenge of opening a new location. “Through his hard work, determination, and relationships with customers and employees, Brian and his team have made Roanoke a success story. Brian earns respect with his deep mechanical knowledge and can wear multiple hats to take care of our customers.”
C.P. Richardson, Regional Fixed Operations Manager, agrees and says that Brian is one of the most knowledgeable guys he works with. “Customers appreciate his knowledge and trust they will get the right answers.” Chris Campbell says even though the Roanoke location doesn’t fall in his territory, he still calls Brian from time to time just to pick his brain.
The Olwage family has proven that the American Dream can be achieved, and the VAR team could not be prouder of the success each family member has achieved. When Chris decided he wanted to become a citizen, John and Mark agreed without hesitation to be his sponsor.
“He earned this, and he loves his country,” said Mark. “Brian also enrolled in the services, and they’re both great citizens. We felt proud to have them as Americans.”
The citizenship test is not an easy feat, and Mark expressed that the family put in all the hard work themselves, and VAR was just their sponsor. Derrick also went through the process of becoming a citizen. After everything, Chris has watched his family flourish and relishes in their achievements.
“Today, I own a house and a vehicle. My kids are happy, most are married, and I have six grandchildren. We’ve made out well in this country, and I really appreciate it. It’s been a blessing,” said Chris.
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