Boldt left lasting impact on the Fox Cities

Posted on Jun 30, 2020 :: Commentary
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Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

After Oscar C. Boldt died on June 9 at the age of 96, I spent several days talking with a variety of people asking about their favorite memories or Boldt’s enduring legacy. It seems everyone had an Oscar story, with people recounting his integrity, generosity to community causes, genuine care for his employees and his humor.

While I’ve covered businesses in the region for the past 18 years, I only recall interviewing Boldt once. It was in the early 2000s, and members of the Navy, Army and Marines reserves were being called up to go to Iraq and Afghanistan. The Boldt Co. received an Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve Award for its treatment of its military reserve employees.

I recall Boldt saying he felt honored and touched that the company received an award it was nominated for by one of its employees. When he started talking about his own experience in World War II, it dawned on me he was likely in his mid to late 70s. I came away impressed with Boldt’s energy and commitment to his employees.

To understand Boldt’s legacy a little more, I spoke to Dave Kievet, president and chief operating officer of The Boldt Co. Boldt hired Kievet 30 years ago. “In the past few days,” he said in mid-June, “I’ve been thinking and realized that Oscar didn’t hire me until he was 67 years old. That’s a time when most people are retired or very close to it, but he was hands on.

“He loved going to job sites, and when Oscar came to one of mine, I loved showing him around. He was extremely knowledgeable about the construction industry. He would ask if I had any challenges and we would brainstorm ideas.”

Boldt built some of Appleton’s landmark buildings, including the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center and the Warch Campus Center at Lawrence University.

After passing on the day-to-day running of the company to his son, Tom, and Bob DeKoch in the 1990s, Boldt still came into the office regularly — right up until a couple of years ago.

Boldt’s impact spread beyond construction. Walter Rugland, the retired chief operating officer of Aid Association for Lutherans
(now Thrivent Financial), says he challenged and nurtured a wide community.

“Generations of business and community leaders will share their many moments with O.C.,” Rugland says. “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.”

Boldt grew the family-owned construction company from about eight or nine workers after World War II to a national company with more than 2,000 employees. Kievet says Boldt encouraged employees to think innovatively and try new methods to solve customers’ problems. “Oscar was the happiest when others succeeded,” he says.

There’s one more quality Kievet won’t forget: How Boldt treated his employees, recalling details about their lives, such as the names of their kids, and asking how things were going.

“He was truly one of a kind,” Kievet says.

Behind the lens

Photographer Shane Van Boxtel of Image Studios has shot every single Insight cover since the inaugural issue in April 2008. While he’s photographed a broad range of leaders, from CEOs of Fortune 500 companies to entrepreneurs, Van Boxtel remembers being “abnormally nervous” prior to shooting Oscar Boldt for the November 2014 cover of Insight.

“To me, Oscar was such a prominent man who had accomplished so much, and if nothing else, won the hearts of many just by being his absolute wonderful self,” he says. “It seemed like everyone knew him and respected him a great deal. Needless to say, I didn’t want to screw this one up, and furthermore I wanted to do something special.”

Van Boxtel’s efforts created one of Insight’s more memorable covers. “I don’t remember all the details of the day. However, I remember being intimidated, nervous, excited and, by the end of it all, super happy,” he says. “He truly is a man to remember, and I am thankful to have had some time with the man they call O.C.”

Retired Insight publisher and editor Margaret LeBrun also looks back fondly on working with Boldt on the cover images and article. She recalls a conversation she had with the then 90-year-old.

“Oscar C. Boldt loved going into the office every day, long past the time most leaders would have traded time at work for some well-deserved leisure. I didn’t think it was far-fetched to ask, ‘When do you think you’ll retire?’ He looked at me with his infectious grin. “‘What would I do?’ he asked. And then, for emphasis, said it again. ‘What would I do?’”