Julie Birdwell, Co-owner & President
Julie grew up on a farm in central Illinois and began her career in carpentry in 1985 after completing a Master’s in Art Education at the University of Illinois.
Though she changed courses professionally, Julie continues to pursue the visual arts, exhibiting locally and nationally in juried and invitational shows and winning awards for her work. She collaborated in the design for the CD cover of Joni Laurence’s premiere CD, “Short Time,” and Laurence’s second release, “Daphne Speaks,” in addition to contributing backup vocals for both CDs. Her mixed media sculpture “Spine” is featured on the back cover of “Daphne Speaks.” She has also played bass guitar and sung backup vocals for the band M.J. Walker and Fictive Kin.
In addition to the visual and performing arts, Julie enjoys cooking and camping.
Erik Paulson, Co-owner, Carpenter
Erik holds an Associate’s degree from Parkland College in Construction Design and Management. He began working as a carpenter in 1992, building new homes and remodeling an 1870 Victorian. He also has training and experience in CAD drafting.
Erik began working for New Prairie in 2003. While working at New Prairie, he has broadened his carpentry skills to include straw bale building and timber framing.
Erik owns a small farm, and enjoys cooking, furniture making, and sculpture. He also follows auto sports, with an interest in open wheel racing.
Jennifer Hansen, Co-owner, Bid Estimator
Jennifer is a native of Urbana. In 1999 she graduated with a Bachelor of Fine and Applied Arts in Painting from the University of Illinois, receiving the “Outstanding Painting Student” award in her senior year. Jen came to work for New Prairie in 2005. Seeking a healthier, more sustainable, and more aesthetically beautiful material to work with in the context of her job, Jen has also learned to mix and apply natural paints.
Jen continues to stay active in the visual arts, painting and sculpting in her spare time, and she enjoys spending time with her family.
Antonio Juarez, Co-owner, Carpenter
A native of Santa Eulalia Huehuetenango, Guatemala, Antonio grew up farming with his family. In 1988 he came to Champaign seeking a better life. He soon obtained work in the trades and has continued to work as a carpenter, doing both framing and finish work. In 2006 Antonio brought his experience and sense of humor to New Prairie.
As the father of four sons, Antonio finds his spare time to be at a premium. He enjoys playing basketball and has recently taken up jogging and bicycling so he can keep up with his youngest son.
Mark Ritten, Co-owner, Carpenter
Mark has lived in the Champaign-Urbana area most of his life. Mark got his start in the construction field at the ripe old age of 12, when he started helping neighbors with their building projects, be it adding a garage or roofing their house.
He spent two years in the construction program at Parkland College before transferring to Bradley University, where he received a Bachelor’s of Science in Construction. Mark started working for New Prairie in 2007. He likes learning about new products and techniques in the construction industry.
Barrie Bredemeier, Co-owner, Carpenter
A native of New England, Barrie earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from New York State College of Ceramics in 1981. In 1983 he came to C-U for his Master of Fine Arts in glass sculpture. He designed, built, and ran the glass department for editions in cast paper for Frank Gallo. During this time, he also started Glass Lake Studio, producing decorative and functional blown glass. For the past twenty years, he was been selling his work through art fairs, galleries, shows, and commissions, offering workshops and lessons, and winning numerous awards.
In March of 2010 he started working for New Prairie. As part of his continuing education, Barrie attended a timber-framing workshop in 2014. He enjoys learning new skills in building greener living spaces, and is very interested in self-sustainable energy resources and lifestyle. He also likes to spend time fishing, hiking, camping, gardening, making wine, and sculpting hand-blown glass.
See an extended biography for Barrie, along with some pictures of his work.
Tonya Randall, Co-owner, Office Manager
A native of the area, Tonya graduated from St. Joe Ogden High School and received an Associate of Applied Sciences from Parkland College. Prior to joining the New Prairie team, she spent 15 years in corporate accounting. Tonya came on board in February of 2012. She enjoys the feel and flow of the New Prairie office environment.
When she is not pecking on the keyboard or organizing, you can find Tonya playing a hand of euchre, hanging with friends, attending/hosting fire pit parties, or reading on a Sunday afternoon.
Laura Gillen, Carpenter
Laura was born in Paris, grew up near Akron, Ohio, and lived in Pittsburgh, where she earned her BFA in Painting at Carnegie-Mellon University in 1987. She got her first taste of carpentry after college, when she helped remodel a friend’s row house in Pittsburgh. In 1994 she moved to Brooklyn, NY, where she was hired as a Scenic Artist, working on TV and movie sets. Her favorite jobs were The Royal Tenenbaums and Angels in America. She left the movie business in 2003 to coordinate the build-out for the coffee shop she opened with her husband in Peekskill, NY. In 2012, she and her husband and son moved to Champaign to be near family. Before coming to work for New Prairie, Laura was doing odd jobs and decorative painting projects for businesses and homeowners in Champaign, while also working as a library clerk for Champaign Schools.
In her spare time, Laura makes and shows her paintings, goes hiking with her family, and reads as many books as she can.
Ian Summers, Carpenter
Ian grew up in Indiana and attended Indiana University, where he graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. After college he led volunteers at Habitat for Humanity, and worked as a carpenter’s assistant and painter. He started working at New Prairie in 2017, where he has since enjoyed working on a variety of projects and learning from his seasoned co-workers.
In his free time Ian enjoys riding his bike and playing his guitar. He also spends time learning new ways to cook lentils.
Tom Crapnell, Carpenter & Solar Installer
Tom grew up in a small town in northwestern Illinois before moving to Champaign to attend the University of Illinois, where he obtained a degree in Anthropology. He returned to Champaign – Urbana soon after to work in archaeology. He joined NPCC in 2017 and looks forward to learning more about sustainable building and historic restoration and renovation.
When not working, Tom can be found hiking and camping throughout the Midwest, cooking, and reading.
Dan Zangerl, Solar Assessment and Installation Specialist
Dan is an Urbana native, born of a Swiss-American family. Dan spent much of his childhood living on his grandfather’s property in Hajji Hollow, Indiana, hiking, doing chores, and fixing vehicles. Dan learned many of his do-it-yourself skills (and eccentricities!) from his Swiss father and grandfather. At an early age Dan had a strong grasp of environmental and evolutionary sciences as well as an obsession with history and learning psychology.
Dan’s interest in renewable energy started by watching his neighbor, Ty Newell, demonstrate the power of photovoltaic solar cells. Ty would later move on to build the net-zero energy Equinox house, which Dan would make into a thesis documentary for his degree at SIU.
After his father’s death in 2011 (shortly after Dan’s graduation), Dan came back from Los Angeles to be with his mother. He took up volunteering as an English conversation partner for the U of I’s incoming ESL students, helping them prepare for TOEFL exams and better acclimate to life in Champaign – Urbana. In 2015, Dan installed a solar array on the family house as a gift to his mother before he left to teach English in Japan. Family issues and a friend’s interest in solar brought Dan back a year later.
Dan installed another solar array in 2016, and then became a licensed Solar Site Assessor and a North American Board of Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) PV Associate through the Midwest Renewable Energy Association. In 2017, Dan met Nicholas Gordon at the Renewable Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin and soon joined New Prairie’s growing Solar Team.
Special interests: Drawing, writing, science, and history.
Special powers: Bad wordplay and bad jokes.
Waheed Asmati, Construction Engineer & Solar Installer
Waheed was born in Afghanistan and attended Kabul Polytechnics University, where he received a Bachelor’s degree in Construction Engineering. From 2008-2011, he worked for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Kandahar, Afghanistan. During that time he received extra training in safety and in Construction Quality Management.
Waheed came to the United States in July 2017 and began work for New Prairie in October 2017. He can speak Dari and Pashto as well as English, and when he’s not working, he likes to take part in active sports, study, and spend time with friends.
Doug Scatterday, Business/Operations Manager
Doug grew up and lived in the western suburbs of Chicago until his relocation to the Champaign area in 2015. Having graduated from Elmhurst College with a BS in Accounting, Doug has held positions in finance, operations management, sales, and marketing throughout his career.
Doug is an enthusiastic DIYer with a passion for rebuilding/refinishing old things. He recently rebuilt a 1976 ski boat and likes boating on Lake Shelbyville. As an avid outdoors person, Doug enjoys backpacking, hiking, biking, fishing, and mountain climbing with his wife Dawn.
Doug also loves spending time with their children, gardening, and playing guitar.