Gary Kuzma and Saad Dimachkieh, practice leaders in HOK’s mechanical, electrical and plumbing Engineering group in Houston, have worked together for 38 years. Their uncommon friendship includes fasting together in recognition and respect of each other’s faith.
When Dimachkieh and Kuzma joined HOK following the 1994 acquisition of CRSS Architects, the two engineers had already been colleagues for 13 years. Since then, their friendship and respect for each other has only strengthened. For 22 years the two carpooled together to work. Kuzma’s wife has joked that Dimachkieh is more of a soulmate to Kuzma than she is.
Today there are many markers of their friendship, such as the way they bicker with each other and finish each other’s sentences and the far less common tradition of fasting together as a sign of faith and support for each other.
Diamachkieh observes the month-long fast of Ramadan as part of his Muslim faith. For Kuzma, Catholic guidelines for the observance of Lent require giving up meat on select days and some fasting. Yet long ago Kuzma decided to fast for all 40 days of Lent. He starts fasting on Ash Wednesday and ends his fast on Easter Sunday.
More than 35 years ago, Dimachkieh and Kuzma decided to fast together for both Ramadan and Lent. This year, Lent concluded just ahead of Easter on April 12. Ramadan begins Thursday, April 23.
“We get a nearly two-week break this year,” said Kuzma. “Now I’m enjoying carrot cake, cheesecake, other desserts and junk foods because during the fast I give up all that stuff. Because Ramadan follows a different calendar than Lent, the start of Ramadan shifts forward each year by about 12 days. Saad and I are looking forward to that time when Lent and Ramadan overlap and we don’t have to fast separately for both.”
Their commitment to fast together has worked well for them as coworkers who sit next to each other in the Houston office. They may not live as close to each other as they did when they were carpool mates, but they both still arrive to work at around 5:00 a.m. to avoid Houston’s traffic and enjoy the quietness of a near empty office.
Both are extremely committed to HOK and the mechanical, electrical and plumbing (MEP) group and value mentoring younger engineers to become the emerging leaders. They appreciate the many talented people they get to work with and the many projects across the world they have worked on and the unique challenges they have posed.
After nearly four decades together, both Dimachkieh and Kuzma are amazed at how the CRSS-HOK Houston family brought together someone from Beirut, Lebanon, and someone from the “backwoods of southwestern Pennsylvania” to form a lasting bond. The two have accumulated a lot of stories and experiences, with so much of their friendship rooted in respect for each other and their cultures.
“I hope people look at our friendship and see that we can all be different,” said Dimachkieh. “We can be respectful to and accepting of each other even if we have different beliefs. It is possible if people work toward it.”