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Celebrating Adrienne Bennett: History’s First Black Female Master Plumber

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Meet Adrienne Bennett: A Plumbing Pioneer

“I’m honest, hardworking, and I don’t let anyone get in my way and cheat me out of my dream.”- Adrienne Bennett, Owner, and Founder of Benkari.

Ms. Bennett has made breaking through glass ceilings look easy for decades and is credited with creating her seat at a table previously occupied only by men. 

How It All Began

At 30, Bennett became the first black female master plumber in the United States. 

She preferred math, science, and hobby modeling of aircraft over stereotypical female toys or gender roles as a child. Her passion for figuring out how things work prompted her to apply for an entry-level training program at a Detroit-based engineering firm where she hoped to go on to study mechanical engineering. 

Unfortunately, a racially charged encounter at the engineering firm led her to change her course, and fate led her to a conversation with Gus Dowels, a recruiter for the Mechanical Contractors Association of Detroit. He wanted to bring minority women into a federally-sponsored skilled trades apprenticeship program. 

From Apprentice to Plumbing Contractor

contractorShe was 22 when she signed on for the 5-year apprenticeship program and made $5 an hour with a 50 cent raise every six months doing physically demanding and dirty work. 

The instructors celebrated her efforts and accomplishments, but she was met with hostility by her male peers that felt like she was showing off. To avoid unwanted physical advances from male counterparts, she intentionally wore a heavy tool belt at all times while on the job site.

She almost gave up many times due to bullying and harassment. Still, she stuck with the program and completed the required 4,000 hours of experience to qualify for the master plumber licensing exam.

In 1995, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and chose to briefly take a step back before founding her plumbing contracting company Benkari LLC in 2008 with her son, A. K. Bennett. 

Before founding Benkari, she served as a journeyman plumber, master plumber, project manager, plumbing inspector, and then Code Enforcement Officer for the City of Detroit for ten years. 


Independent Contractor

Benkari is the crowning glory of a woman plumber who had spent her entire adult life working to build up the city she grew up in and has had a deep love for her from when she was nine years old. 

It’s well known that Detroit has been a lower-income city for years and has been stuck in a prolonged financial crisis but is starting to make a comeback with plenty of new construction and renovation projects, including Housing Developments and a new Arena. 

Because of the large contracts that Benkari has secured, the company is looking at expected returns of triple the revenue of previous years, which is a huge jump and a feather in the cap of a woman that has paved the way for female tradespeople everywhere.


About Gene Johnson Heating, Cooling, Plumbing and Electrical 

Gene Johnson Heating, Cooling, Plumbing and Electrical is a family-owned and operated company serving the Seattle area since 1976 while providing quality service within customer budgets. A list of service options is provided for every job so homeowners can rest assured knowing they are in great hands. Call today for service in Seattle, WA.