W.F. Delauter Celebrates Milestone 65th Anniversary as 4th Generation Joins Company
Deb Abraham Spalding
1st Generation — Willie F. Delauter
The year was 1955, when a disappointment with another company prompted Willie Delauter and, later, his son Russ to exit the company for whom they worked in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, to start their own venture back home in Thurmont. Having experience working heavy equipment at the company in Pennsylvania, where they worked on large roadway projects throughout the Mid-Atlantic Region, Willie was soon operating heavy equipment for grading and excavation on house foundations, ponds, land clearing, and various other projects within his new company, W.F. Delauter & Son Inc.
Now at 90 years of age, Russ credits his father, Willie, “He was the best around on this,” motioning to the antique machine to his right that now sits in front of the company’s offices in Emmitsburg. “Now, this don’t look like much now, but at the time, this was state of the art (see 1954 International TD6 vintage diesel bulldozer pictured).” Willie was an expert at grading and doing fine-grade earthwork with the ‘dozer.
Willie’s skilled grading resulted in so much work, Russ recalled, “we didn’t know what to do.” The duo bought an old backhoe so Russ could help out at night after finishing his full-time shift in Chambersburg. During that first year, Russ juggled the two commitments while he and his father dug a waterline down Moser Road in Thurmont. Russ finally joined his father full-time and helped set a company reputation for skilled, quality work performed with honesty and integrity. That reputation became the company’s foundation which has remained strong for the past 65 years.
Soon Willie and Russ hired Randolph ‘Dolph’ Waesche, who was a civil engineer. “Dolph’s engineering background allowed that we could get into larger projects.” The company grew with jobs like grading and site work for the new school in Lewistown in 1960, and then more private and government projects followed. “It really grew when Dolph came on. He was very, very good,” Russ said.
In running the company, Russ said that his and his dad Willie’s ideas were completely different. Still, he feels that having various perspectives is one of the foundation blocks for success. The opportunity to bounce things off of tenured [experienced] and technologically fresh [young educated] thinkers is an opportunity to get more things right.
Russ stepped up to run the business when Willie passed in 1967.
2nd Generation — Russ, 1967-1980s
Russ served in the Korean Conflict in the Army 3rd Infantry Division prior to entering the workforce, and he feels that that experience helped set another foundation block for the business. In the Army, he supervised 15-30 people, and there he learned how to treat people. He said it’s important to “get your hands dirty, and don’t ask anyone to do something you wouldn’t do.” Russ left the military in 1952 and worked with the Chambersburg construction company until 1955.
Russ and his wife Marlene had four children, three boys and a girl: Keith, Kim, Kaye, and Kirby. All of their children helped in the family business while growing up. Yet, Kirby took the most interest in the business as his siblings’ careers took different directions like U.S. Postal Service for Keith, mortgage services for Kim, and Perdue Farms on the Eastern Shore for Kaye.
3rd Generation — Kirby, 1986-2020
Around age 12, Kirby started helping out in the company’s shop on Saturdays. He said, “The guys were fun to be around, and they were good at what they were doing.” He learned a lot from them. Kirby set off to serve in the U.S. Army after high school. He had developed a solid foundation of discipline from his father. That was reinforced in the Army. He said, “You’re not anything special in the military, which sets a good foundation for running a business. In our business, you started at the bottom and worked your way up, which helps you because you can relate better with employees because you’ve done their job. You have to get in the trenches and understand the employee’s perspective and, at the same time, realize your customer’s needs. No good decision is made from a swivel chair; you have to be out in front with your employees on a daily basis.”
After the Army, Kirby worked in Frederick with a manufacturing company when W.F. Delauter was hired to grade their parking lot. The business owner he was working for at the time was impressed with the job W.F. Delauter did with grading his parking lot. He suggested Kirby go to work in the family business. Soon, thereafter, when Russ was having some health problems in 1986, Kirby left that company, and he and his wife, Tina, decided it would be best if they worked in the family business at W.F. Delauter.
Russ recovered from his health challenges and stayed on for a couple of years before retiring. He said, “We left a good honest reputation for Kirby to build on.” Russ felt it was important to move aside and have Kirby take on the lead role. When he decided it was time to retire, Russ became a dedicated volunteer in the kitchen at Trinity United Church of Christ in Thurmont, where he continues to volunteer 5-6 days a week at 91 years of age.
Kirby and Tina purchased the business in 1994. They would see tough times, and they would see good times while running the business and building their own family with four children: Maureen, William, Emily, and Sam.
Tina worked “free of charge” for the first couple of years. She had her hands in a little of everything, then became heavily involved in hiring new staff when the business was recovering from the recession.
As with their father, aunt, and uncles, the Delauter siblings had the opportunity to help with the family business. Russ said, “Most family businesses that go bad, it’s the third generation that did it.” On Kirby’s watch, the third generation didn’t fail.
Kirby said, “The business can go really good one way or really bad the other way,” he admits. “I came very close to failing. I made some really bad business decisions.”
Obviously, Kirby, the W.F. Delauter team, and family have successfully worked through the various challenges that have occurred over the past 35 years. Kirby added, “I had to sit down and say to myself, ‘You’re going to get your act together and work through this. Failure is not an option.’”
This third generation has so far carried the name and reputation and done everything possible to make sure they didn’t let their employees, family, and customers down.
The Delauters’ solid reputation remains. In keeping with Russ’ sentiment that it was an advantage to have the various perspectives between him and his father to bounce ideas around, Kirby still values Russ’ opinion and bounces things off him to determine the best course of action. For example, Kirby was talking with Russ about a job running a water line, where he was having a hard time configuring a tight workspace for the water connections. Russ remembered a job the company did 40 years ago with a very simple tool that was used for a similar purpose. Kirby had used these in the past but had completely forgotten about the process. Using it resulted in saving “a lot of money and time.”
There’s something to be said about faith, Kirby affirms, “When the economy was bad, I told everyone around me that there is a God because there are things that happened that I can’t explain. Opportunities that came out of nowhere and good things just fell into place. Good people just walked in the door at the right place, at the right time. One after the other.”
When the recession hit, the company went from 65 people to a core of 16. Today, even in the shadow of Coronavirus, it’s as good as it’s ever been, employing 82 people and positioned to continue to grow. “We try every day to maintain a good reputation in the process.”
Now, it’s time for the next generation. Kirby and Tina’s son, William, worked with the company through high school and college. Like his family before him, he knows what it’s like to be in the trenches, “starting at the bottom and getting dirty in the ditches.” He understands what it means to work 8 to 10 hours a day in the dead of summer or dead of winter, when your back and hands hurt from rigorous, manual labor.”
4th Generation — William, 2020
William started full-time with the company just a few months ago. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 2011 with a degree in civil engineering and an interest in land development and structural systems. William is married to Kristin, and they reside in Dillsburg, Pennsylvania, with their daughter, Millie.
As William takes the first steps for the fourth generation of W.F. Delauter, Russ proudly states, “With Willie here [referencing his grandson William], it makes my day, and it would make my dad’s day, too!”
It’s hard to believe it’s been 65 years since Willie and Russ first opened the doors at W.F. Delauter & Son. “We’ve enjoyed many great successes through the years, and have had our share of challenging times, too, but we are stronger for it.” Kirby continued, “Of course, we owe much of our success to our dedicated customers, employees, and vendors, who have stood by us in good times and in bad. We can’t thank them enough.”
He assures, “If you run a company honestly and never forget where you came from, success will come. A business is a tough, tough thing to run. The perception is that you sit there and success falls into your lap. The reality is, it’s challenging, it’s hard work, and it’s stressful. I’ve found if you put God first, work at it to the best of your ability, things always seem to work out. Oh, and a sense of humor really, really helps, too.”