Oscar C. Boldt, 96, who steered his once near-bankrupt family building business to become the $1-billion diversified construction giant Boldt Group Inc., died June 9 from complications of pneumonia and kidney failure, according to current CEO Tom Boldt, his son.

As firm chairman until his death, Oscar Boldt, who led the Appleton, Wis., firm for seven decades, was its long-time go-to person for problem-solving, ethics, philanthropy and much more, say company and industry observers.

With a University of Wisconsin-Madison civil engineering degree and World War II Army Air Corps service as a B-24 navigator, the elder Boldt in 1950 took over a struggling business begun by his grandfather in 1889 that once built wartime artillery boxes to pay debts.

But Boldt moved the firm to growing industrial, commercial, health care and institutional markets in the state and beyond in the next three decades. The firm also took up construction and program management in the 1960s to “get into the food chain earlier,” an executive told ENR in a 1995 profile. 

The firm became a lean construction and integrated project delivery advocate, serving as joint venture contractor on two San Francisco hospitals exceeding $2.5 billion for leading owner proponent Sutter Health, which were completed in 2018 and 2019.

Boldt “knows how to get things done without interrupting work we do,” one hospital executive told ENR.

Boldt unit The Boldt Co. ranks at No. 114 on ENR’s Top 400 Contractors list, with $897.2 million in 2019 revenue. Boldt Group has about 2,000 employees.

Published accounts note Oscar C’s status as an industry “ethics guru” in fair treatment of subcontractors and point to a typical low-key response to praise of his problem-solving prowess. “I don’t know that I’m a problem solver, but I work at it,” he said. “Usually, they don’t give it to me until it’s pretty well beaten up.” One local sub referred to him as one of "the elders of high wisdom around here."

One crisis to which Boldt directed a quick and memorable response was the April 1995 bombing of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, which killed 168 people. A firm office just seven miles away immediately sent equipment and staff, with 120 employees eventually donating 2,600 hours to often risky rescue and recovery efforts.

“Many saw the commitment of our values,” said Boldt. Other firms also joined. 

The CEO transitioned to his chairman role four years later, but stayed active in many community and industry programs. He was a co-founder of the construction engineering management program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and supported numerous groups in Appleton.

“My dad loved the company and the positive impact it has had on so many customers and communities,” says Tom Boldt. “He was excited about what we will be capable of in the future.” 

A memorial celebration will be held at a later date, said the company.