Bruce Woolpert, president & CEO of Graniterock Company, died Sunday afternoon in a boating accident in Tahoe.
Keith Severson, the marketing services manager for Graniterock, which has a major presence in San Benito County, confirmed that the 61-year-old Woolpert died Sunday afternoon.
“We really literally don't (have details),” Severson said about the incident. “The Coast Guard is still conducting an investigation. It was a boating accident on his personal watercraft up in Tahoe. He was by himself. There were some family members in the area.”
Severson said the staff members at Graniterock, headquartered in Watsonville, were shocked by the news. Funeral arrangements are pending.
“It's unbelievable,” he said. “You know that he was just a great person in construction, but also very community-minded. He believes in furthering education. He was an absolutely diligent worker. We are all in shock.”
Graniterock has operations in Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Seaside, Salinas, Hollister, Aromas, Felton, San Jose, Redwood City, and South San Francisco. The company was founded in 1900 by A.R. Wilson, Woolpert's grandfather. It is still privately-owned and operated, with locations extending from Oakland to Monterey. In San Benito County, the company operates several gravel quarries and has been instrumental in completing such construction projects as the median installation on Highway 25 and the Highway 25 bypass.
The company has been recognized as one of the 100 best companies to work for in America by “Fortune” Magazine six times, most recently in 2006. Graniterock and Woolpert have maintained a serious presence in San Benito County’s construction and nonprofit communities.
Gary Byrne, president and CEO of Community Foundation for San Benito County, said he was stunned by the news himself when he heard Monday morning.
“What a big, big tragedy,” Byrne said.
Byrne reflected on the ways Woolpert has had an impact on San Benito County, through the philanthropy of his company, his staff members’ presence and Woolpert's own commitment to helping nonprofits.
“He had a great love for San Benito County,” Byrne said. “He loved it here. He thought it was a very healthy community and he liked doing business here.”
Woolpert was honored last year at the San Benito County Philanthropy Day, nominated by the Aromas-San Juan Unified School District. The company has long supported the schools through donations, including the 2007 grading and construction of a sports field for Aromas School.
Byrne said Woolpert was instrumental in bringing the United Way back to San Benito County.
“He came to talk to myself and Paul (Levy),” he said. “He said they match every dollar employees give.”
With Woolpert, Byrne reconvened some of the former United Way board members and brought the organization back to San Benito.
“He came into Hollister for three or four meetings and personally pushed that,” Byrne said. “It has been fabulous.”
Graniterock, meanwhile, is one of four corporate sponsors of a partnership between the Community Foundation and United Way that will raise money for six nonprofits in December through the “12 Days of Giving” program.
Byrne praised Woolpert for giving his staff members the opportunity to serve on the boards of nonprofits and government agencies.
“Graniterock people have always been very philanthropic,” he said.
He noted a couple other projects for which Woolpert and Graniterock's help was instrumental. Byrne said when the Community Foundation was first founded, he did not know Woolpert well.
“We were putting in three or four soccer fields at Vet’s Park for the Hollister Tremors,” Byrne said. “They gave a huge amount of gravel and materials to make it happen. It was a very large donation, like $70,000 (in materials). That made a huge difference.”
Byrne noted that more than 1,000 students play on the fields every season. Graniterock also donated materials and supplies when Emmaus House, the local shelter for battered women and children, was under construction.
“They were extremely generous in giving supplies and materials,” he said.
Byrne said Woolpert brought his business sense into his philanthropy.
“He was no nonsense, but in a good sense,” Byrne said. “He would say it was a good plan and support it, but if he felt there were some flaws, he would say, 'No, no, we need to do it correctly and do it right.' He was a very sharp businessman, so that translated into his philanthropy.”
In philanthropy and business, Woolpert left a strong legacy.
In 2011, Graniterock was recognized by the Transportation Agency of Monterey County with an excellence award for work on the Airport Boulevard Interchange East Project; by the National Asphalt Pavement Association for the NAPA Quality in Construction Award 2011 for work on the Marina Municipal Airport Runway Rehabilitation; and in 2010 for the United Way of Santa Cruz County for the outstanding corporate campaign gold level award. The company was honored as manufacturing business of the year by the San Benito County Chamber of Commerce in 2006.
Mark Kaminski takes on acting CEO role
The board of directors and the Woolpert family have implemented a succession plan developed by the company.
The first step of the plan is that Mark Kaminski, a long-time board member, has been named chairman of the board and acting CEO.
“The Woolpert family has complete confidence in the current management team and Graniterock team members and plans to continue operating the company for another 112 successful years,” said Severson in a press release.
Kaminski is retired from his full-time role as president and CEO of Commonwealth Industries, Inc. He is a graduate of Indiana University and Harvard Graduate School of Business.