Under Oscar C. Boldt, the company built a legacy in the Northland
Oscar C. Boldt’s company grew from a small operation in Wisconsin to a national organization with hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts in Cloquet and across northeastern Minnesota. Boldt died Tuesday at the age of 96.
Construction crews are beginning to close in on the finishing touches of the 7,000-square-foot Cloquet Public Library expansion project.
Cloquet Shaw Memorial Library Foundation treasurer Larry Anderson stopped to check on the progress Wednesday, June 10, and one of the crew members had a question for him and library director Beth Sorenson.
“He was going to lay the carpet in front of the children's area and he had carpet samples laid out on the floor and he said, ‘Which direction do you want the grain going,’” Anderson said. “Beth and I just looked at each other and it was like we hadn’t even thought about it. Little things like that have been so heartwarming and comforting. That comes from Oscar all the way down through the organization.”
“Oscar” is Oscar C. Boldt, and the organization is The Boldt Co., a construction firm he led for more than 70 years. Boldt, 96, died peacefully Tuesday, June 9, of natural causes, the company announced.
“Oscar was the driving force through a lot of the tough times that our country faced from the 1950s to today and he was instrumental in the business up until a few days before he passed,” said Steve Schultz, Boldt Co. executive vice president and general manager of the Minnesota division.
Boldt took over the firm in 1948 when it was a struggling company based in Appleton, Wisconsin, that did less than $1 million in business per year, Schultz said. Its biggest claim to fame was making ammunition boxes for the U.S. military during World War II, and its main construction project was a bakery in Appleton.
The business began to grow in the 1960s when Boldt transitioned to construction for paper mills in Wisconsin. In the mid-1970s, Boldt won the contract for a project with the Potlatch Corp., and in 1978 The Boldt Co. established its first out-of-state office in Cloquet.
Since those early days, the company has grown to do more than $1 billion in business annually with 14 offices in seven states.
From the initial relationship with Potlatch, the company demonstrated the values Boldt held dear throughout his life and allowed it to flourish across Minnesota, Schultz said.
“The business vision, the hard work, the honesty, the fairness was demonstrated and that just continued,” he said. “We built relationships with local trades people, we built relationships with the community, we got involved and that’s how it just took off.”
In addition to the $2.5 million library expansion, other recent projects in Cloquet include:
A $22 million expansion of Community Memorial Hospital;
The $8.5 million Carlton County Health and Human Services building;
The new Members Cooperative Credit Union building on Highway 33; and
$2.2 million in renovations and expansions at the new Cloquet City Hall building.
The company has also completed hundreds of projects for USG Interiors and Sappi Fine Paper since coming to the Cloquet community more than 42 years ago.
In addition to the Cloquet area, The Boldt Co. built a MCCU branch in Duluth and completed projects for the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the College of St. Scholastica, Essentia Health, Minnesota Power and others. It has also done work for Northshore Mining in Silver Bay and U.S. Steel’s Minntac mine in Mountain Iron.
Sappi completed a $170 million project during the administration of former Cloquet Mayor Bruce Ahlgren. Ahlgren only met Boldt once during his 16 years as mayor, but the meeting left a mark
“I remember meeting him once when he came to visit the Cloquet office,” Ahlgren said. “He was very kind and gentle and a very humble man. It was just a short conversation, but I was very impressed with his presence.”
Boldt not only built a mammoth construction company with locations all over the U.S., he was also a philanthropist. From major gifts to the United Way, the Essentia Health Foundation and Community Memorial Hospital Foundation, Boldt invested in the communities where his company worked.
His philanthropy went beyond gifts to major charities. The company provides engineering and computer science scholarships for students at UMD and contributes to the Cloquet Educational Foundation. They even donated the first round of conceptual plans for the library expansion, Anderson said.
“I've worked with ... other general contractors where all they cared about was getting their bucks out,” Anderson said. “That’s not the culture that Boldt works under and that comes directly from Oscar.”