2023 Ditchdigger of the Year Award

Darren Cleary (right) accepts the Ditchdigger of the Year Award from Lauren Atwell.

The National Utility Contractors Association (NUCA) awarded Darren Cleary the prestigious “Ditchdigger of the Year” Award, honoring his many years of service to the American underground utility industry and his years of support for NUCA’s membership programs.

“Darren has been a leader of our industry in Kentucky and Tennessee,” said Doug Carlson, NUCA Chief Executive Officer. “His enthusiasm for this industry and what his company’s projects contribute to the economic growth and good health of his community cannot be understated. Darren’s hard work and entrepreneurial dedication merited this award and the recognition fitting a true champion of America’s infrastructure.”

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Cleary is President and CEO of Cleary Construction Inc., with its main offices located in Tompkinsville, Kentucky. Under his visionary leadership, the company has consistently delivered high-quality infrastructure projects, significantly contributing to the development of communities across the mid-South.

His innovative approach, attention to detail, and passion for the utility construction industry have earned him the respect of colleagues, clients, and competitors alike..Cleary has been part of the industry since 1985 when Cleary Construction was founded by his father, Ronnie Cleary. In those days, it was a true mom-and-pop shop, with Ronnie running day to day operations, while his wife, Shirley, managed the books and did payroll. Shirley remains active in the business to this day

The company started as a paving and chip sealing contractor before transitioning to excavation work, digging footers and installing small water and sewer lines. Today, the company employs 275 people and does work throughout thirteen states in the southeast and into the Midwest.

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Darren started working in the company at a young age, and toiled in the trenches for many years, gaining the practical everyday knowledge to become a successful contractor. He eventually took over the company after his father lost his battle with lung cancer in 2008. “I was fortunate that my mom and dad afforded me the opportunity to work in an industry I love,” Cleary says. “There were times when I didn’t know if I was cut out to lead the company, and worried that maybe we were in over our heads, but we are blessed with great employees who helped the company grow and get us to where we are today.”

The company’s bread-and-butter is utility construction, but also includes water and wastewater facilities, private development, highways, and airports.

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“As our footprint has grown, so has our scope of work. We are now building larger, more complex and challenging projects,” Cleary says. “We pride ourselves on collaborating with owners and engineers to deliver a quality, finished product we all can be proud of.”

Cleary has been a founding member of two NUCA Chapters (Kentucky and Middle Tennessee), actively supporting their growth from their first meetings and continues to be an enthusiastic supporter of NUCA National’s programs. He also founded a blasting company (Rock Solutions) and today serves as President of both Cleary Construction and Rock Solutions. He is also a member of several other construction and business associations, including the Kentucky Chamber of Commerce, NUCA of East Tennessee, and Kentucky Association of Highway Contractors.

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“Being involved with NUCA has been a great experience personally and professionally,” Cleary says. “It is great to be involved in an organization where people can get together and talk about the similar challenges they are facing, as well as share their successes. This network of like-minded people pushes us to better our companies and better the industry.”

Cleary and his wife, Dawn, have three children: Wesley, Joe, and Mariah. Wesley and Joe have followed their father’s footsteps and also work in the company, while Mariah is in dental school. Darren and Dawn have four grandchildren: Rowan, Palmer, Lennox, and Callum. In his spare time, Cleary enjoys spending time with his family and working on his cattle farm, while also keeping up with the NASCAR circuit.

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Cleary’s tireless efforts on behalf of his company employees and unwavering commitment to excellence have set him apart as a true industry leader. Cleary continues to inspire others in the industry with his quiet confidence and leadership acumen, and deserves to be recognized as NUCA’s Ditchdigger of the Year.

“Throughout the years I have worked in all aspects of the company, from working in the trenches to accounting,” he says. “I love to be outside and working in the dirt, and while I may be the President and CEO of the company, I am a ditchdigger at heart.”

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The prestigious Ditchdigger of the Year Award bestowed on a NUCA contractor member who has made a significant contribution to NUCA and the underground utility construction and excavation industry. The 2023 “Ditchdigger of the Year” Award was presented to Cleary at the association’s Annual Meeting held in March of this year at the Hyatt Regency Indian Wells Resort & Spa in Palm Springs, California.

NUCA Ditchdiggers of the Year

1971 – Peter Ellis, Rockville, MD
1972 – Joe D’Annunzio, Scotch Plains, NJ
1973 – Sam Luciano, Hazlet, NJ
1974 – Fred Campagni, Cortland, NY
1975 – William Feather, Marlton, NJ
1976 – David Shevock, Dover, DE
1977 – Leonard Genghini, Elkins Park, PA
1978 – John Felton, Missoula, MT
1979 – Robert Griffith, Aldie, VA
1980 – Rick Egge, Woodinville, WA
1981 – D.A. Foster, Merifield, VA
1982 – Joe Corrado, New Castle, DE
1983 – Loretta Simmons, Rochester, NY
1984 – Vic DiGeronimo, Independence, OH
1985 – Leon Asadoorian, Salem, NH
1986 – Bill Burgett, Fredericktown, OH
1987 – Ben Luster, Tucson, AZ
1988 – Ed Cruz, Holmdel, NJ
1989 – Harold Ruf, Pleasant Grove, UT
1990 – Jay Matricciari, Baltimore, MD
1991 – Andy Mayta, Palm Harbor, FL
1992 – Gerry Kenny, Wheeling, IL
1993 – Harold Mueller, New Berlin, WI
1994 – Delaine Nelson, New Berlin, WI
1995 – Mark Harris, Lake Mary, FL
1996 – Richard Foster, Newtown, PA
1997 – Tom Henkels, New Berlin, WI
1998 – Mark Accetturo, Fairburn, GA
1999 – Jim Barron, Baltimore, MD
2000 – Jim Stutler, Denver, CO
2001 – Steve Theis, Rolling Meadows, IL
2002 – James King Jr., Conyers, GA
2003 – Greg Strudwick, Copell, TX
2004 – Lyle Schellenberg, Salem, OR
2005 – Terry Dillon, West Lafayette, IN
2006 – Cheryl Yoder, Jacksonville, FL
2007 – Larry Fortin, Las Vegas, NV
2008 – Jim Giannelli, Albuquerque, NM
2009 – Glenn Ely, Newtown, PA
2010 – Ryan Schmitt, Jacksonville, FL
2011 – Dan East, Dallas, TX
2012 – Ryan Schmitt, Jacksonville, FL
2013 – Jeff Rumer, Denver, CO
2014 – Florentino Gregorio, Washington, D.C.
2015 – Warren Graves, Roanoke, Texas
2016 – Bruce Wendorf, Punta Gorda, FL
2017 – Ryan Kinning, Pender, NE
2018 – Kara Habrock, Omaha, NE
2019 – Mark Fuglevand, Bellevue, WA
2020 – Dan Buckley, Chantilly, VA
2021 – Fred Chesney, Palm City, FL
2022 – Lauren Atwell, Jacksonville, FL
2023 – Darren Cleary, Tompkinsville, KY