Born and raised in Bradley County, Jonathan Cantrell grew up riding earthmoving and paving equipment with his grandfather and going to Cleveland State Community College basketball games with his father. Now the President of Caldwell Paving, Cantrell has been a Cleveland State student athlete, alumnus, contributor, contractor and trustee. In July, he will become the Chairman of the Cleveland State Foundation Board of Trustees.

Cantrell has a deep history with the college. His father, John Cantrell, was a beloved business and management instructor for almost 40 years. His grandmother, Dorothy “Dot” Cantrell was assistant to Jim Cigliano, Vice President of Student Services. As an adolescent and teenager, Cantrell attended Cleveland State basketball camps and practiced basketball in the college gym with his father.

When he wasn’t at basketball camp, church camp or in the hay fields, Cantrell spent his childhood summers going to job sites and riding the big equipment with his grandfather, Roy Caldwell, founder of Caldwell Paving.

“Most kids would probably sleep until noon in the summer, but I literally couldn’t sleep the night before if I knew I got to go with my grandfather,” said Cantrell. “Sometimes without my mom or grandmother knowing, my grandfather would let me drive the big stuff. That’s how I got the bug.”

Cantrell was a basketball player at Bradley Central High School and dreamed of playing Division I college basketball. After suffering several setbacks, his senior season didn’t end the way he had hoped. He did get offers to play at smaller colleges, but the big schools didn’t call. 

His grandfather passed away the summer before his senior year. The paving company was struggling, and the family considered dissolving it. “At that time, I was heartbroken because I loved it,” said Cantrell. “With a lot of prayer and the grace of God, we resurrected the paving company. We weren’t really sure what we were going to do, but we stumbled along with a few employees.”

Cantrell was still struggling with his college decision. His father suggested that he take a few classes at Cleveland State and take his time deciding what to do. He followed his father’s advice and started classes. “That is why I became a big believer in community college,” said Cantrell. “I know so many people go off to the big schools, but I made a lot of good friends from Cleveland and Polk County and Meigs County. It was a melting pot. I was 18 years old, and I was in class with 50-year-olds, expectant mothers, and people who were redoing life for the third time. There was so much hope and expectancy.”

Cantrell sometimes played pick-up basketball with friends in the college gym. The coach at the time, L.J. Kilby, offered Cantrell a scholarship on the Cleveland State basketball team allowing him to achieve his dream of playing college ball. Two weeks later, Kilby left to coach another team. Kyle Turnum coached the team for a year then left for another coaching position. Lee Cigliano coached Cantrell’s final season and had a successful career at the college for 25 years.  

Caldwell Paving continued to grow. Cantrell could work at the business and take classes at the college. Oftentimes, he would run into class straight from working on a job site; he had to leave his boots outside the classroom because they were covered in diesel or asphalt. 

“I loved the business; it was fresh and new and there was something raw about it. I loved the smell of asphalt. I was the salesman; I was the equipment operator; I was the mechanic and the courier. My mom and dad both jumped in and helped measure jobs, and we became the face of the company.”

Cantrell earned an associate degree and a few four-year colleges recruited him to play basketball. He could continue his dream of playing college ball. “At that point, Caldwell Paving had successes, and we had progressed in three short years. God had blessed us,” said Cantrell. “But, I was being offered to play two more years at good schools. I had spent my entire life practicing basketball and working out, but things had changed in construction, particularly the paving business.”

“The unique thing was that Cleveland State let me live here,” continued Cantrell. “I got the college experience; I got to play college basketball; I had the friends, but I also was here working a job. It was then that I knew I needed to get to work. I knew that if I left, there would be no more Caldwell Paving. I turned down those college offers, and I’ve never looked back. I jumped in. Four years later, we moved to our current site. We started with a few employees, and now we have about 40.”

Now, Caldwell Paving is a leading paving contractor in the region. They recently built their own asphalt plant, Manhattan Materials, where they produce hot mix asphalt for themselves and other contractors.

Cantrell has served on the Foundation Board of Trustees for fourteen years. He will become chairman in July succeeding Mike Griffin. “Serving on the Foundation, I see the good that the school does and how it impacts the community,” said Cantrell. “I think the best days are still ahead for the college. I am honored to be a part of it. I’ve got some big shoes to fill because Mike Griffin is amazing. I don’t know what to expect, but I will give it my all.”

Mike Griffin, Foundation Board of Trustees Chairman and President/CEO of the Cleveland Bradley Chamber of Commerce, said “One of the best experiences I’ve had serving on the Board of Trustees is getting to know Jonathan Cantrell. He is constantly offering his skills and treasures to benefit and satisfy the Foundation’s needs. I am so excited to have him take the gavel from me and take on this important leadership role at the college. As a proud alumnus, Jonathan will make an excellent Board Chairman.”

Cantrell and his wife, Sarah, have a son, Caldwell, and a daughter, Caroline, who all support him in his Cleveland State service.  

“I’m a sentimental person; sometimes when I’m on campus, I will park and go to my dad’s old office. I wish he was still here. He would be extremely proud of my service on the Foundation.”