Distinguished Alumni of the Year, Cal and Marcy Tameling, built a company on the Christian values they learned at Timothy Christian Schools.
At the corporate headquarters of SET in the Oak Brook Terrace Tower is a worn striped work shirt with a decade old stain — pressed and neatly framed. The name Cal is carefully stitched above the left breast pocket. The unassuming work shirt, now turned artwork, hangs on a wall in the offices of SET Environmental. Displayed like vintage sports memorabilia, the shirt pays homage to Cal Tameling, who co-founded SET Environment over 40 years ago. But that stained shirt — the one Cal’s family purposely chose to keep and frame— represents years of sacrifice, hard work, and faith, the bedrock on which SET Environmental was built.
Cal says he can’t remember a time when he wasn’t a Christian. Faith just made sense. His family, which ran a garbage disposal business, believed in the value of Christian education. Cal started kindergarten at Timothy Christian Schools on the original campus in Cicero. “Timothy is a loving, covenant community,” Cal remembers. “For me, that made it an environment where I could grow spiritually.”
By the time Cal was a freshman in high school, he’d met a girl who lived down the street in Cicero. Her name was Marcy, and she had attended Timothy since kindergarten as well. “I fell in love with Cal on the Timothy school bus,” Marcy remembers.
The two became inseparable friends. Cal and Marcy started high school on the Elmhurst campus and shared a bus ride to the western suburbs. They were drawn together by their mutual love of music. Cal started a musical trio, and they sang in chapel and were the first (and only) act in Octoberfest. Marcy graduated from Timothy in 1967, Cal in 1968, and by the time they were 19 and 20 years old, they were married.
Cal and Marcy just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary, and they remain involved in Timothy Christian Schools. Cal sits on the Foundation Board. Cal and Marcy’s four sons graduated from Timothy and they now have 11 grandchildren enrolled. In total, five generations of Cal’s family and four generations of Marcy’s have attended Timothy.
Their home, which they intentionally built on Prospect, sits directly across the street from Timothy. It was Marcy’s dream to be in the heart of the community that helped shape them, their business, and ultimately the legacy of the Tameling family.
“I came out of the whole Timothy school system with a foundational understanding of what it means to be a Christian,” Cal explains. “I was taught that my faith can affect everything.”
Both Cal and Marcy attended Trinity Christian College in Palos Heights, Illinois. After graduating, Cal joined his family business, Wheeling Disposal. But he had an entrepreneurial spirit and dreamed of owning his own business. Cal saw there was a need for chemical waste disposal. “I thought this was my opportunity to start my own company,” Cal remembers.
It was a risky proposition. Cal and Marcy had two young boys at the time. “We didn’t know if it was going to succeed or fail,” Marcy admits. “But we were both all in and it was very exciting.”
Cal mapped out a five year plan. And through God’s hand, SET Environmental took off. Cal’s five year plan for the business was fulfilled in only six months. “We timed it absolutely perfectly,” Cal says. “There were mixed blessings in that, because we were scrambling and trying to respond to everything. It was a rush.”
SET Environment was based in Wheeling, Illinois. During the early years, the company functioned primarily as a transporter for drums, bulk tankers and bulk roll-off boxes of hazardous waste. In its first decade, the company expanded its base of expertise to include comprehensive remediation and decontamination activities.
Even as the company grew, Cal and Marcy always stayed firmly planted in their convictions and faith that had been tended and nurtured all their lives through Christian education. In fact, the foundational values of SET sound more theological than business inspired.
“One of the underlying principles of SET is based on those spiritual convictions that we grew up with and were taught,” Cal says. “It gives roots to the company. And it all starts with an understanding that we believe that nothing of this world is ours— we are stewards of it. We have a responsibility to be good stewards.”
As SET grew, so did their investments. In the 90’s Cal and Marcy invested in a lumber mill, which at the time they thought was a wise investment. But the lumber mill collapsed and the real risk of owning a business — of possibly losing everything, including their Elmhurst home — was suddenly a reality. “But we always saw God’s hand in our lives,” remembers Marcy.
At the time, Cal and Marcy had four young boys enrolled at Timothy. But taking their young boys out of Timothy to save money wasn’t something they were willing to do. “We would have sold our house first,” Marcy says. “Our commitment to Christian education at Timothy was non-negotiable. Our kids didn’t need stuff. They just wanted to be together and with the family.”
Those years helped shape and mold their faith. “Blessings come in many ways from God’s hand,” Marcy explains. “Sometimes the blessings can be the hardship and in the valleys, a lot of growth occurs. I don't regret having those years. It's been a part of a rich, deep life experience with God at the helm. The essence of faith for us is putting all your confidence in what God is doing in your life.”
Difficult circumstances, as the Tamelings can attest to, help develop thankfulness. “Gratitude looks different when you’re in the throes of trouble,” Marcy says. “For us our faith grew in those years.”
Slowly, SET Environmental began to thrive again. And today the company operates in multiple locations and remains a family-operated business.
According to Cal and Marcy, one of their biggest blessings is being able to support ministries. “As a business person, I’m also trying to figure out how I can support ministries in the best way possible,” Cal explains. “We just don’t want to send a check. We want to go experience what they are doing in the world for Christ.”
This mindset of experiencing what a ministry does has lead them all over the world. They have been to Ukraine, Honduras, India, and Dominican Republic. “One of the natural outcomes of having a life that has been affected by God the way ours has is that you develop a heart for seeing how God is working in the world,” the Tamelings say.
For Marcy, going to visit the ministries and seeing God’s handiwork has had a profound impact on her, particularly because she has had the opportunity to use her musical gifts to glorify God. “Joining together through music with people in other countries unifies you,” Marcy says. “It joins us together as the Kingdom of God.”
At very young ages, Cal and Mary both knew they wanted to live Christ-centered lives. And they were willing to faithfully follow Christ’s call. “We wanted to be kingdom builders,” the Tamelings say. “We wanted to be used by God to do things that were important to Him. This world will always be filled with trouble, but we know that His Kingdom is forever and His love endures forever.”