It’s a construction business that has played a role in almost every major building project in our area.
After 25 years in business, Sands Drywall, which also does the steel stud framing of buildings, is well known in several states.
But what may not be so well known is the troubled background of its founder and how Greg Sands has made it his mission to help others in the way he was helped during one of the lowest points of his life.
Studies show the construction industry employs more workers with substance use disorders than any other profession.
The man at the helm of one company sees it first hand.
“I remember one of my bosses saying to me, ‘Greg, you’re one of the best drywall finishers I’ve met in my life. And none of that matters if you don’t make it work on Monday. I’ve heard that sentence in my head on quite a few Mondays when my guys haven’t made it to work,” Greg Sands said.
Greg Sands started Sands Drywall 25 years ago with just one pickup truck.
“The goal I had and the dream and vision I had was that someday I would have five employees with a coat that said Sands Drywall on it,” Sands said.
Now he has hundreds of workers in several states.
“Everything has went beyond my wildest dream,” Sands said.
The Avera on Louise buildings are the latest that Sands Drywall has been working on. But take a quick drive around town and you’ll see buildings all over that Sands Drywall has helped put up.
Those include the Pentagon, CNA Surety, the Hilton Garden Inn, Grand Falls Casino Resort and Sanford Imagentics.
But this is more than a rags to riches story. Sands’ adult life had a rocky start.
“Coming from a broken home and a very tough childhood, when drugs are around, that’s what you go to to relieve the pain,” Sands said.
Sands started with marijuana as a teen before moving on to harder substances.
“The drug of choice, if you will, was alcohol and cocaine. They feed off of each other. You can drink more if you’re using cocaine. It’s a vicious cycle,” Sands said.
In April of 1989, Sands was arrested in Aberdeen for cocaine distribution. He spent 2 years in prison.
“I think a person needs that wake up call. And for me to be pulled out of that insanity I was living in is what saved my life,” Sands said.
One of his first stops out of prison was the Glory House.
“He was actually the very last counseling client I had before I took Executive Director position. Greg really had the motivation. He was really smart, had really a great skills set,” Glory House President Dave Johnson said.
Sands went from being a resident to president of the Glory House’s Board of Directors. He’s been a major contributor and in 2008, he was instrumental in putting up the building that bares his name, Sands Freedom Center — a residential treatment center for women just released from prison.
“I know that that building saved somebody’s life and that is such a rewarding feeling,” Sands said.
11 years after his sentence, Sands received a presidential pardon and his past became public knowledge.
“Fear just overcame me because I was concerned that would affect my business and my employees,” Sands said.
To his surprise, Sands received dozens of messages of support and people asking him to help their loved ones battling addiction.
“I went and tried to help all of them,” Sands said.
Sands has also been a driving force behind the new Avera Addiction Care Center, which will open this fall.
“My philosophy is we want to do the most good for the most people in our area right here. Because right here, we have a crisis. We have a real problem here. We have people who are dying and living in the wrath of addiction. It’s ruining and ripping apart families. And right here, we need help,” Sands said.
While Sands has put his money, time and efforts into getting people back on their feet in the community, he practices the same philosophy with his employees.
“He’s a great person to look up to, there’s not doubt about that,” Terry Curl said.
Terry Curl has been working for Sands Drywall for more than 20 years. But it’s a miracle he’s still here on the job at all.
“He’ll say I’ve been on the thinnest ice out of everybody without getting fired,” Curl said.
Curl has struggled off and on with addiction issues.
“We got pulled over in actually a Sands Drywall vehicle and had a considerable amount of marijuana on me and almost lost my job; luckily Greg stuck behind me and I got help,” Curl said.
“My role was being there for him when he was on his knees and he was hopeless. Because what addiction does is make you hopeless,” Sands said.
Eventually Curl rose to the level of supervisor.
“Me being a supervisor position before and me hiring and firing and guys do that and seeing him as a role model and how to react to different addictions and what not. And not just firing guys on the spot. I gave many guys chances for Sands Drywall,” Curl said.
“They’re all success stories, Angela. Because when the seed is planted a person starts heading in the right direction, even if they relapse — in the back of their head they have seen and experienced a better way of life.” Sands said.
Sands’ ability to put his employees first has created a culture of loyalty and ultimately the reward is a successful business.
“I know that there is hope for every addict. Because no one thought I would ever be able to stop. No one thought that I would not be re-incarcerated again. No one thought I could make it through probation without violating it. They were all wrong. I didn’t think I could do it. I was wrong,” Sands said.
And being wrong, has been the best thing for so many people in his company and his community.
Greg and Pam Sands are also committed to feeing the hungry in our community. They’ve given away hundreds of turkeys at Thanksgiving through Feeding South Dakota.