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Graniterock's Woolpert dies at 84

Feb, 06 2004

Graniterock's Woolpert dies at 84 WATSONVILLE,California — Bruce Gideon Woolpert approached life as a scientist, with an eye to making things better: that included his friends, his protégés, his business and his community. Woolpert, former president of Granite Rock Co., died Tuesday 20th January at his Watsonville home. He was 84. Son Bruce Woolpert described his father as someone with an intellectual curiosity that carried him through his studies at UC Berkeley, Harvard University and Stanford University. And that curiosity and a vision of the growing San Francisco and Monterey bay areas brought Graniterock concrete to the growing region. Under his father's watch, Woolpert said, Graniterock concrete was used to build the rail line for Bay Area Rapid Transit and other projects in the larger area. "If my father had one passion, it was concrete," said Bruce Woolpert, now president of Graniterock. "And he also had a vision of how this whole area would grow. He was very interested in it, and he envisioned it growing exactly the way it did. He was involved with high-tech companies in the Bay Area." Woolpert was born far from the coast, in Delia, Kan., to a poor family. He attended elementary school in Delia and junior and senior high school in Topeka, Kan. His family moved to California so their sons could go to college. Woolpert graduated from Ventura Junior College, in Ventura and then attended UC Berkeley, where he graduated in 1942 with a bachelor's in civil engineering. The Berkeley Draft Board sent him to Southern California to work at shipyards and airplane factories until the end of World War II. After the war, he taught civil engineering at UC Berkeley for a year. He got his civil engineering license at that time, something he was proud of throughout his life. Then he got a master's degree in soils mechanics from Harvard and returned to California to work for Standard Oil in San Francisco. There, he heard of a job teaching at Stanford. It was while he was teaching there that he earned his degree in civil engineering and met Mary Elizabeth "Betsy" Wilson, whom he later married. The couple moved back to Watsonville, where Betsy Woolpert was the president of Graniterock and where Bruce Woolpert worked as an engineer. Betsy Woolpert and Bruce Woolpert shared executive duties until both retired in 1987. During that time, Graniterock built a wet processing plant in Aromas, and built new plants in Salinas, Felton, Santa Cruz, Los Gatos, San Jose, Redwood City, Gilroy, Hollister and Seaside. Even after retirement, son Bruce Woolpert said his father worked three days a week, including conducting Graniterock University, which brought continuing education speakers for the company and employee's families. He was a member of the Young President's Organization and co-founder of the World President's Organization. He was also a member of The Executive Committee, another business organization, and on the board of the National Stone Association. The was named man of the year by the Watsonville Chamber of Commerce in the 1960s. He was known professionally for being a mentor to generations of young people, as well as searching for solutions to his employees problems. "He used his own experience as an example all the time (of how you can be successful)," said son Bruce Woolpert. "When people went to him with problems, you knew you weren't leaving until he had it worked out. He was not a chit-chatty person, but he was interested in what things he could do to make things better. "For instance, when employees would come to him and say, ‘I just found out I have this disease,' they might just expect him to nod and say OK. But he'd get on the phone to friends at Stanford and find out the latest research and treatment for it. People would come in expecting just to let him know they weren't feeling well and leave with a doctor's appointment." Outside of work, Woolpert also was intellectually voracious, using family vacations and trips to learn as much as he could about the world around him. His favorite travel spots were the "hot spots" of the world: the Soviet Union and the Middle East, for instance. "I think we took one family vacation to Hawaii, but we'd be learning about volcanoes part of the time," his son said. "I'd want to take trips and my dad would say, ‘While you're down there, why don't you stop in and see how they make jet airplanes.' Because he had friends from Stanford at Lockheed Martin or something. At the time, I said yes just so I could go. But now I realize that I have such a leg up because of it." Woolpert was also passionate about music, holding season tickets to the San Francisco Opera. His love of music went far back. He played the clarinet in high school and junior college bands, marching in the Rose Parade with the Ventura Junior College Band. He loved to dance to swing music. In the community, Woolpert was a longtime member of the Santa Cruz County Planning Commission, with a developer naming a street after him in Live Oak. He also served on the California State Association of County Planners, and served as vice chair and chair. He was on the board and president of the Watsonville Chamber of Commerce. He was inducted into the Topeka High School Hall of Fame. He was a director of the Pajaro Valley National Bank and the Pajaro Valley Savings Bank, of the California School of Clinical Psychology and of the International Human Learning Resources Network. "He lived his life with the idea that he could leave the world a better place," son Bruce Woolpert said. "Not a better place in things he didn't know about, but a better place in the things he was familiar with."

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