David Ash ’76

Building Wonderful Dreams

By Donna Parker

David Ash, who received a Bachelor of Science in home building from Trinity in 1976, is just finishing construction on a San Antonio “wonderland” of its own that is attracting national and international attention.  David, working with his partner, Joe Eaton, and San Antonio’s ex-home builder and philanthropist, Gordon Hartman are putting the final touches on Morgan’s Wonderland—a non-profit park for special needs individuals. Details are at www.morganswonderland.com.

“This is a project that had a real purpose behind it,” says David proudly.  “This is a first of its kind outdoor recreational oasis for people with disabilities to experience the things most of us take for granted.  From train and jeep rides to fishing pier, a carousel and high tech sensory park, all are fully accessible for people with special needs.”

David first became interested in the art of building when he painted and repaired houses with his brother during the high school summer months, later forming Ash Home Maintenance and Remodeling.  He happened to talk to a neighbor who was a builder that recommended Trinity because of its full undergraduate home building degree program. 

“At that time, there were only seven universities in the country offering a four-year plan in construction.  It was a great time to learn under the tutelage of professors such as John Martin, who headed up the department.  He was a retired Corps of Engineer officer and had so much experience to offer,” says David.

“Ralph Bender, department of civil engineering, who also taught at that time, inspired me even more through his land development and real estate courses.  Ed Sobolak taught cost estimating and the values of making a profit.  They both had a clear vision of what the current residential market was in San Antonio and the advantages of becoming a builder.”

After graduation, David worked for Morton Southwest building tract homes as an assistant field superintendent and then in their estimating department. He quickly learned that tract building made its profits in land development and desired the more specialized world of commercial construction.  Some of David’s landmarks here include the San Pedro Office Tower, The Colonnade II, and the Frost Bank building on Thousand Oaks in San Antonio.

In 1989, construction ground to a halt with the oil crunch and S&L failures and David was out of work for months.  A Trinity friend, George Sumner III ’80, beckoned him to the “Aloha State,” claiming, “There are tower cranes everywhere,” so David and his family packed their bags and headed to Paradise.  He pursued commercial construction building hotels, high rise condos and a $20 million home for Toyota on the Big Island.  In 1993 David was diagnosed with stage 4 Lymphoma when just finishing up the Iniki Hurricane repairs to the Princeville Hotel on Kauai.

“They found a 10 centimeter tumor in my abdomen that literally stopped me in my tracks.  I left Hawaii and sought treatment at M.D. Anderson in Houston.  It took a year but we beat cancer and I returned to Hawaii until 1996 when the market softened and then moved to Portland, Ore., working for Howard S. Wright Construction.  By 1999, I tired of the rainy weather in Portland and moved back to San Antonio, teaming up with Joe Eaton of Eaton Commercial as vice president and partner.”

David lost his older brother Bill Ash in 2001, his mother in ’02 and recently his 91-year-old father in ’09. David lost his wife of 28 years, Challa, in 2006 to cancer. They had one son, Thomas, now 28, living in Portland, and married to Ashli with their new son James carrying the Ash name on. 

David recently celebrated his one-year anniversary to his current wife, Cynthia.  “Cindy renewed my personal life so much that I am now a firm believer there is definitely life after 50 and that I am only half way there!”  They enjoy golf, hiking, church, and seeing one-year-old grandson, James, whenever possible.  David still sees his younger brother Fred Ash on a regular basis. He’s a Trinity alumnus, class of 1979, who lives in Houston.

“I’ve found in life that if you stay focused on your dreams and don’t take things for granted, you’ll succeed and continue to find happiness.  Understanding that things will happen unexpectedly to throw you off your path is part of the game, and one must live the faith, get up, smile, and keep on truckin’.  Throughout my career, I’ve been hired and fired—been with companies who’ve gone broke—and come back.  Every two steps up the ladder I had to go back one.  I thank the Lord for all my trials and terrors as well as successes to be where I am today.  Trinity and the people I met there played a major role in developing my positive attitude and strong foundation enabling me to pursue my dreams.”

“John Lennon said it best when he said, ‘Life is what happens when you’re making other plans.’”

You may contact David at dash@eatoncontracting.com.