Sunday, August 15, 2010

Dick Wendt, a great American

Dick Wendt, founder of Jeld-Wen, died today.

I have been absent from my blog for several months while my wife runs for the state senate, but I am breaking my self-imposed exile because of this news.

Dick Wendt was, quite simply, a great man. He bought some sawmill assets out of receivership in the 1960's and built a company that became the world's largest manufacturer of windows and doors. He did it from Klamath Fall, Oregon.

I had the very good fortune to get to know Dick and his lovely wife Nancy. I could write a dozen long blog posts about his accomplishments in life - many of which had nothing to do with his business success - but I will leave most of that to the articles that you will see in the coming days.

But I will mention something about Dick that most people do not know: he was basically the architect of the welfare reform of the 1990's that moved millions of people off the welfare rolls all over the nation. This is not an overstatement.

I had the pleasure of listening to Dick and Nancy tell me and my wife the story of the how he started and grew his company one summer evening a few years back on the deck of his lake cabin in the Cascade Range. There was nothing pretentious about Dick. He lived in the same house in Klamath Falls that he bought in the 1960's. He drove a Jeep. His lake cabin was just that - a cabin. Rustic, maybe 1000 square feet.

When he became wealthy, he turned his talent and treasure to making the world a better place by reforming the institutions that have failed us, such as welfare and social security.

Dick Wendt was a great man. I am lucky to have known him, and I feel a great sense of honor that he considered my own efforts at reforming education to be worthy of his support.