SANTA ROSA – A third-generation plumbing and HVAC professional, Ernie Ongaro reflects on the longstanding legacy of his family’s business. “My grandfather started Ongaro & Sons in 1932,” he recounts. “All three of his sons followed him in the business, and it was the same way with me, my brother and our two cousins. Now, with my son and nephew joining the company, we’re heading toward our fourth generation of family ownership.”
As president of Ongaro & Sons, Ernie says his favorite part of his job is staying on the cutting edge of his professional field. “It’s really important for us to keep up-to-date with our industry, so we’re always looking for the latest equipment and methods of doing things. I also enjoy watching our technicians start from scratch and progress in their careers. It’s kind of exciting to see the growth of your employees—it gives you a sense of pride.”
A longtime resident of Santa Rosa (where he lives with his wife, Debbie), Ernie has fond memories of growing up in rural Sonoma County. “In addition to running the company, my dad was sort of a gentleman farmer and raised cattle. Growing up on a ranch was fun, even though I used to have to milk the cows twice a day. I still love living in Sonoma County—it’s a beautiful place.”
Outside of work, Ernie engages in a variety of active pastimes, from traveling to restoring vintage cars. “My wife and I love to travel, both within the United States and abroad,” he says. “I also enjoy restoring vintage vehicles. I have a 1942 Willys Jeep that I drive in local parades, and I also restored a 1932 Chevy pickup that I modeled after my grandfather’s first plumbing truck.” Additionally, Ernie enjoys reading and spending time with his family, including his grown children, Ernest and Allison.
In regard to his professional career, Ernie says the family dynamic has always played a vital role at Ongaro & Sons. “Being a fourth-generation business, family is very important to us, and that informs the way we treat our employees and customers. We treat our employees like part of our family and try to be sensitive to their needs. Likewise, we take care of our customers and always follow up with them to make sure they’re 100 percent satisfied.”
When asked the first thing he’d do if he were to retire tomorrow, Ernie says he’d hit the open road. “I would probably take a road trip and visit some places in the U.S. that I haven’t seen yet. Actually, I recently finished a book about Lewis and Clark, and I think it would be neat to take a trip that follows the path they traveled.”