Rick Montgomery is shown with a group of South African youngsters. Rick and his wife Sue Ellen traveled to a village called Shabalala in 2018 after providing funding for a medical clinic there. The orphaned children in the village are provided with a daily meal at the clinic. (Courtesy photo)
By Gaye Bunderson
Rick and Sue Ellen Montgomery have enjoyed an almost lifelong partnership. Their paths crossed in childhood when Rick’s family attended a church pastored by Sue Ellen’s father, Tom Blackburn. The Community Christian Center was located in Garden City and Rick was only 10 when he walked through the church door for the first time with his siblings, his mom, and his stepfather.
“His big sister became my best friend,” Sue Ellen said. That’s how it began – a partnership that would ultimately entail a marriage and a business. The story involves not only a big sister but several grownups as well. Sue Ellen’s mother started a school at Community Christian Center and Rick attended. Also, Rick’s stepdad became an assistant at the church, working for Pastor Blackburn by running the church soup kitchen and food bank.
One of the most amusing parts of the story is how Rick earned the record for most detentions in school, while Sue Ellen had the fewest. Part of Rick’s punishment was writing essays each time he was detained after class. As the teacher, Sue Ellen’s mother read everything he wrote. It could have been a disaster – but it wasn’t.
“Mom had to read his essays, and she really liked him,” Sue Ellen said. “Both my parents loved Rick, and Dad was his football coach.”
Rick and Sue Ellen started dating during her senior year. Even back then, Rick was a go-getter. “He was always a hard worker, and he got involved in heating and cooling at age 16,” Sue Ellen explained.
It started when Rick played chauffeur to a construction worker he knew who’d lost his right to drive because of a DUI. “Rick picked up what he could [about the construction business] – he’s always loved working with this hands. During the summer when he was 16, and even throughout the school year, he’d run flexible duct work under houses under construction.”
“He even took me on a date one time, and he had to go into a crawl space while I was holding a flashlight,” said Sue Ellen.
Ah yes, flexible duct work. That’ll tug at a girl’s heart. Fortunately by then, Sue Ellen’s heart was committed to the hard-working teenager with a record for school detentions. Even though she went away to college at Seattle Pacific University to major in music for a year, she returned and attended ITT Technical Institute in Boise in pursuit of becoming a legal secretary.
During that time, Rick proposed and asked her father for Sue Ellen’s hand in marriage, and the couple became man and wife when she was 19 and he was 18. They will mark 30 years of marriage this coming November. Sue Ellen is now 49 and Rick is 48. They have two daughters and five grandchildren.
With marriage and parenthood comes responsibility, and Rick did not shy away from working and providing for his family. But all lives encounter hurdles, and in March of 1999, Rick was laid off from a job; he had been employed in the heating and cooling industry for 10 years, working for other companies. The layoff turned out to be pivotal as he decided to start his own business. Sue Ellen’s parents helped by getting a loan for $1,000 to fund a startup. Rick started out on his own in new construction and launched Diamond Heating & Cooling in the Treasure Valley. Sue Ellen helped run the business and is now vice president of the company.
For the first 9 years, Rick worked at installing heating and cooling systems in new homes. In 2006, he provided heating and cooling systems for an entire subdivision at Tamarack Resort in Donnelly.
Then another hurdle popped up: the 2008 Great Recession. “New construction came to a halt,” Sue Ellen said. Housing construction had been booming, and in a very short time, it just stopped. “We were praying about what we were going to do next. In 2009, the Lord brought into our life a company called Success Group International, a business management consulting firm based in Addison, Texas. In one year, we went from doing 90% new construction to 98% residential services, including maintenance and repair of furnaces and air conditioning in existing homes. Rick and I struggled for years. In 2012, we started growing, and we now have 54 employees.”
Those employees are like family to the Montgomerys. “In 2017, we challenged them that if we hit all our goals, we’d take them on a cruise.”
Goals were met and the cruise was undertaken to the tune of $50,000. At this point, Rick felt a “burden on his heart”: If he was willing to spend $50,000 on his team, he wanted to give that same amount to people in need. Both he and Sue Ellen were influenced by their parents to give back and to always think of others and respond to needs with generosity. “It was through their influence and example that we wanted to give back – they had a big impact on us.”
The couple heard a presentation in church from a missionary who served in Africa. Rick got fired up. He wanted to help build a medical clinic in South Africa, and his enthusiasm spread to both his employees and customers at Diamond Heating & Cooling. A large sum of money was raised, as the Diamond team and its customers all pitched in what they could. Along with the medical clinic, money was raised for The Shoe That Grows, a program that provides expandable, long-lasting footwear for kids enduring poverty.
The medical clinic was built in a small village called Shabalala in South Africa in September of 2018. In 2019, Rick and Sue Ellen went to the dedication of the building there. “The medical clinic is for the village,” Sue Ellen said. “They serve the children of the village lunch after school every day. Many of the children are orphaned because of AIDS and other reasons. There is not an actual ‘orphanage’ in the village. The children are either cared for by others in the community or they live on their own. So, for many of them, the meal they receive at the medical facility once a day is their only meal.
“The local church is also very involved in ministering to the children there at the medical facility, where they have an area to do Bible lessons with the kids as well. We got to spend a day and meet all the kids. There is such a need there.”
While that was one of the Montgomerys’ biggest projects, it hasn’t been their only one. “Our parents taught us to ‘give what you have’,” said Sue Ellen. And what they had was a furnace that, in conjunction with Christian radio station KTSY, they gave to a family at Christmastime in 2011.
The Montgomerys also started Diamond Hugs, which is an internal program at their company that is also a pay-it-forward program and involves Diamond employees. “We do multiple Hugs a year as the Diamond family,” said Sue Ellen. The Montgomerys and their staff have taken on assistance programs and have packed diaper bags for needy parents, held golf tournaments to raise money for charity, and many other projects.
Again working with KTSY and other community-minded businesses in the area, Diamond and the other enterprises remodeled an entire home in a week for a local family.
The Montgomerys attend River City Church, where they’ve been members for 17 years. Sue Ellen serves on the church board and is the first woman to do so. Rick runs the men’s ministry.
Sue Ellen conceded that heating and cooling is a competitive business and she and Rick stay ahead by treating their customers well and their work team with respect. “We wouldn’t be here without any of them.”
The Montgomerys seem to live in accordance with Matthew 5:14-17: Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.
They don’t bury their light of faith under a bowl but display it brightly for everyone, including their customers, employees, and people in the valley. “We don’t hide our faith from anyone, whether or not they are Christian. We give credit to God.” That includes credit for everything, including success.