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Contributed photo / Chattanooga business owner Jerry Sexton says his construction company is closing after 35 years. The company did some 465 projects over the years, he estimates.

Chattanooga builder Jerry Sexton has raised barrel-aging warehouses for Jack Daniel's Distillery, done a dozen projects for Southern Champion Tray and put up a number of Elder's Ace Hardware stores.

But the longtime owner of Sexton Construction Corp. is closing shop after 35 years as he grapples with not just another down economy but with a medical diagnosis of ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease.

"I'm not doing any more jobs," said Sexton, 72, adding that he had hoped to work for eight more years.

Sexton said he's continuing to live at his Council Fire residence in Chattanooga, and he's taking treatments at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta and Siskin Hospital for Physical Rehabilitation here.

"ALS may not be a choice for ending your career," he said. "My career has been very rewarding, which you never really look back on as such."

Sexton said he had a strong work ethic because he loved what he was doing.

"Friends would say workaholic, but it wasn't work to me," he said.

Sexton said he was raised in a general contracting family in Salem, Virginia, noting his first job was at 12 answering phones for his father's construction company for 50 cents a day. Sexton said he later earned a building construction degree from Virginia Tech.

He moved to Atlanta and then to Chattanooga in 1982 to continue his career in commercial construction.

In 1985, he met Jim Fulmer, who owned Fulmer Concrete, and Chattanooga real estate developer Pryor Bacon. Sexton said they furnished the money for the company while he "had the desire, enthusiasm and energy." After five years, they turned the company over to him, he said.

Sexton estimates the company did 465 projects over the years.

"My biggest compliment was that 40 percent of our projects were repeat customers," he said.

Tom Glenn, chief executive at Elder's Ace Hardware, said Sexton started building for the company 24 years ago, putting up a Walden store that opened in March 1997.

Glenn said Sexton about built one of the hardware stores twice. The Ringgold, Georgia, unit was hit by a tornado in 2011 and Sexton's company nearly had to entirely rebuild it, he said.

"He was a straight-shooter, he was transparent," Glenn said. "He had a sense of urgency to get the project done and get to the finish line."

Southern Champion Tray CEO John Zeiser said Sexton Construction completed multiple projects for SCT over the last 25 years.

"Anytime we needed to add production or warehouse space, Jerry was our go-to builder," he said. "We always found him to be knowledgeable, reliable, and able to deliver on his promises."

Sexton said his company put up three facilities for McKay's Books, built a 105,000-square-foot project for paperboard packaging maker Southern Champion Tray and a 100,000-square-foot facility for truck-maker Freightliner in Ringgold among his many jobs.

"The relationships, trust and friendships you develop when building for an owner's business are very special and long-lasting," he said.

Sexton said his nephew, Brendan Bastable, had joined him as a partner in the business for 15 years before moving to North Carolina and eventually starting his own company. Ron Seals was a project superintendent for Sexton, having worked with him for 30 years, while Sonya Perry was an office manager and accounting manager over 27 years, he said.

Sexton said he understands that ALS gives a person about two to four years.

"I look at it as everyone is going to get something sometime," he said. "I just had a wonderful and fun life. My faith has me believing that passing is a good thing. We just don't get to select when that will be."

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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