When a bomb ripped through the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995, killing 168 people, employees in The Boldt Company office 7 miles away heard the blast and wondered how they could help. They contacted fire department personnel, who asked them to bring key staff and every piece of construction equipment available to the site as soon as possible. For the next three weeks, Boldt dedicated all of its local resources, including more than 120 employees who frequently risked their own lives, toward assisting the rescue and recovery efforts. Boldt staff logged some-2,600 hours at the site, but refused pay for their services. Boldt Company Chairman and UW-Madison civil and environmental engineering alumnus Oscar C. Boldt (BS ’48) said it would be obscene to ask for monetary compensation for his company’s contributions to the bombing rescue and cleanup efforts.
An educated, involved citizen and a role model for young and old alike, Boldt embodies the Wisconsin Idea — briefly, the many ways in which the university directly contributes to the state — and the virtues the university desires for its graduates. At the university’s upcoming commencement ceremonies, he will receive an honorary doctorate from UW-Madison.
A World War II Air Force navigator from 1943 through 1945, Boldt earned his UW-Madison degree in 1948 and returned to his hometown, Appleton, Wisconsin, to join the family construction firm, the Oscar J. Boldt Construction Company. The company dates back to 1889, when it was founded as a carpentry shop by Boldt’s grandfather, Martin Boldt, son of German immigrants.
Boldt joined the company at age 23. Just two years into his tenure there, his father, the company’s chairman, had an accident and could not return to work. As a result, at age 25, Boldt began running the business. At the time, the company had total annual sales of $107,000.
During the next 55 years, Boldt built this family business into one of the largest, most highly ranked construction groups in the nation. With a workforce of more than 2,000, the company has annual sales of more than $500 million and includes Boldt Consulting Services, Oscar J. Boldt Construction, and Boldt Technical Services. With headquarters in Appleton, it has 12 U.S.-based offices and is among the 100-largest U.S. construction firms. In addition, the company is among an elite group of construction companies nationwide that have been in business more than 100 years. Its corporate values include honesty, fairness, hard work, performance and a love for the profession — and its success is due, in large part, to Boldt’s strong leadership, business ethics, and professional skills.
With Boldt at its helm, The Boldt Company has provided jobs for thousands of people and built projects that have enhanced the quality of life not only for Wisconsin citizens, but for residents throughout the United States. Among the company’s portfolio of projects is a $495 million paper-machine complex for Consolidated Papers (now Stora Enso), in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin; a 430,000 square-foot cardiac-care addition to St. Luke’s Medical Center, Milwaukee (erected atop an existing parking ramp); and $76.6 million in improvements to the Will Rogers World Airport, Oklahoma City.
On campus, Boldt constructed both the Kohl Center and the UW Foundation building. In addition, the company is providing construction management services for the Interdisciplinary Research Center and other campus improvements, including a new dormitory, administration building and parking structure on Park Street.
Boldt’s service to the construction profession extends beyond the country’s borders: He has traveled to Russia nine times to help teach U.S. business practices and construction methods and techniques, particularly in applying modern prefabrication techniques to relieve housing shortages and overall, in improving the quality of construction.
Community involvement and corporate responsibility are part of Boldt’s personal commitment. He is a steward of his success, investing 10 percent of his company’s profits and 50 percent of his personal earnings in community and state entities. He played a major role in conceiving and creating the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center in downtown Appleton. He donated personal and company funds toward the project and spent countless hours helping to raise the $45 million to build it. He and his wife, Pat, have established endowed funds at St. Olaf College, Lawrence University and at UW-Madison to benefit both students and faculty. He has been a leader in helping connect UW-Madison faculty, staff and students with business leaders in the Appleton area. With a $1 million endowment, Boldt helped establish the Construction Engineering and Management Program in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering and was an active member of both the department and college Industrial Advisory Board. His philanthropy has spanned education, healthcare, the arts and social-service endeavors.
His service doesn’t end there, however. He regularly lectures to engineering students, addressing topics such as ethics, professionalism and trends and changes in the construction industry. His professional passion is contagious; even at 80 years old, Boldt has the uncanny ability to capture students’ attention and imagination. His message is simple, yet profound: Be fair and ethical, work hard, continue to learn, help others along the way, and have fun doing it all. In 2000, Boldt presented a gripping talk, “Finding Your Way Through Life,” to 500-plus students from more than 125 U.S. universities at the national Chi Epsilon Civil Engineering Honorary Society conference. Woven throughout his talk were moving personal stories that shaped his life, including the tale of a young girl who wrote Boldt after the Oklahoma City bombing and asked that the allowance she enclosed be used to buy his staff coffee as they aided cleanup efforts.
Over the past four decades, Boldt has served in a variety of leadership roles for Appleton-area organizations, including the YMCA, the Rotary Club, Community Foundation for the Fox River Valley Region Inc., and Lawrence University. He has been a member of the board of directors for M&I Bank, Milwaukee; Midwest Express Airline, Milwaukee; Integrated Paper Services, Appleton; Pierce Manufacturing, Appleton, and Valley Bank Holding Company, Appleton. His honors include a distinguished service award from the UW-Madison College of Engineering, a master entrepreneur of the year award from Ernst & Young, a senior constructor award from the American Institute of Constructors; inductions into the National Civil Engineering Honor Society, the Paper Industry International Hall of Fame, and into the Wisconsin Business Hall of Fame; and service awards from the Appleton Junior Chamber of Commerce and the Appleton Rotary.