Jeld-Wen Founder Dies of Stroke

August 17, 2010

Richard "Dick" Wendt, founder of Jeld-Wen Inc., passed away August 14 after suffering a stroke. He was 79.

Wendt led the Klamath Falls, Ore.-based window and door manufacturer as president and CEO from its start in 1960 until 1992. He served as chairman of the board from 1981 to 2010. His son Rod has been president and CEO since 1992 and Robert Turner, a 39-year Jeld-Wen manager, was named chairman of the board in March of this year.

"Jeld-Wen remains in steady hands, but employees throughout the company are deeply grieved," according to a company press statement. "Our workplace is so infused with Dick’s vision and principles that even employees who have not had the pleasure of knowing him personally see his influence in many aspects of their jobs, and admire him greatly."

According to Jeld-Wen's statement, Wendt got his start in the window and door business after graduating from Iowa State University and serving in the Air Force, when he started working for Caradco, the same Iowa window company as his father. In 1957, Caradco sent Wendt to Klamath Falls to help turn its fledgling millwork plant into a profitable venture. He was successful, but Caradco decided to sell the operation anyway and eventually arranged for an auction sale to take place.

On October 25, 1960, Wendt, in cooperation with four co-workers–John Biehn, Bill Taylor, Larry Wetter, and Gerry Wickersham–bid on and bought essential mill equipment and real estate. The new owners of the millwork plant held their first stockholder meeting one week later on November 1. Within two years they added a plant in Charlotte, N.C., where they began assembling complete window and door units.

Under Wendt's leadership, the company grew from 15 employees to more than 20,000, with operations in more than 20 countries.

To celebrate its 50th anniversary this year, Jeld-Wen initiated a program called “50 Hours of Service,” which encourages employees to select their favorite charities and form work groups to help the organization accomplish its goals. In return, Jeld-Wen compensates employees for their volunteer time. The program was created in part because of Wendt's long held the view that communities and businesses help keep each other strong, the company notes. 

"It’s heartbreaking that he won’t be with us at the company’s anniversary celebration in October," Jeld-Wen's press statement notes. "But perhaps now we will be able to showcase his many accomplishments and selfless acts of generosity without any objections for if he had his way, none of the anniversary activities would be about him."