Visionary O.C. Boldt left his mark on Appleton

Posted on Jun 9, 2020 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
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Oscar C. Boldt built more than the family’s construction business and notable buildings in the Fox Cities; he also helped build important initiatives in the community he called home.

When Boldt, who died June 9 at the age of 96 of natural causes, got behind an idea, there was a good chance the project would succeed. Case in point: the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center. The Boldt Co. served as the building’s contractor, but Boldt campaigned for the building before the first pile of dirt was turned over. He envisioned the PAC would not only bring a large economic boost to Appleton, but also would improve the area’s quality of life by offering more entertainment options.

“Oscar was a towering figure in the community for a long time. Looking back, what I remember most is his generosity to not only the community but to individuals as well. He did a lot behind the scenes,” says Jim Rossmeissl, senior executive vice president for The Boldt Co. “His integrity, in the way he did things, will also be remembered.”

Walter Rugland, the retired chief operating officer of Aid Association for Lutherans (now Thrivent Financial), worked with Boldt on numerous projects including founding the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. “O.C. Boldt’s legacy will continually recall his broad shoulders and firm resolve. He built and fostered a great company; he challenged and nurtured a wide community.

“Generations of business and community leaders will share their many moments with O.C.,” Rugland continued. “His vision was wide and his determination forward thinking. He guided. He saw solutions — all with the ultimate beneficiary in mind.  His handprints mark many of his gifts to us, and for these I am most thankful.”

In the case of the PAC, Boldt’s handprints are literally on the building. When interviewed for the November 2014 Insight cover story celebrating the construction firm’s 125 year anniversary, Boldt discussed some of his favorite buildings, including the PAC where his handprints are visible on the College Avenue exterior, just to the side of the main entrance. According to Boldt he was making a late-night visit to the construction site and stepped back to get a better view, pushing his hands into fresh plaster. That was in the interior of the building, but before it was repaired, a cast was made and later installed on the building’s exterior.

After returning from World War II, Boldt became the third generation to lead The Boldt Co. He took over the business, which was bordering on bankruptcy and had fewer than 10 employees, and grew it into a national, award-winning construction company with 14 offices around the country and about 2,000 employees.

Before Boldt married his wife, Pat — they have been married for 70 years — Rossmeissl says he shared his vision for the company with her. “Oscar said he wanted to build up the business so he could provide good jobs for people. This was just after the Great Depression and World War II. That left an impact on him and he wanted to help,” he says.

Under Boldt’s guidance, the company built many of Appleton’s landmarks, including the PAC, multiple buildings for the St. Elizabeth Hospital campus, the Warch Campus Center at Lawrence University and multiple buildings and additions for ThedaCare, including Encircle Health and the ThedaCare Regional Cancer Center. Away from Appleton, Boldt built the Aldo Leopold Legacy Center in Baraboo, the first LEED Platinum facility in Wisconsin and one of the greenest buildings in the world.

During the 1990s, Boldt stepped away from running the day-to-day operations of the company, with his son Tom becoming CEO and Bob DeKoch becoming president. Boldt became chairman and was still involved, coming into the office regularly until just a couple of years ago.

Rossmeissl says company employees mattered the most to Boldt. “He often said people made the company.”

Both Pat and Tom were at Boldt’s side when he died. The family plans to hold a private funeral and hold a memorial service at a later date.