Ruth L. Michels, who passed away on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020, played a quiet, yet powerful role in Michels Corporation, the energy and infrastructure construction company founded by Ruth and her husband, Dale Michels, in 1959.
Ruth and Dale had been married for two years when they partnered with Ruth’s brother, Ted Koenigs, and his business partner, Jim Michel, in 1959 to establish Michels Pipeline Construction in Dale’s hometown of Brownsville, WI. With Dale at the helm, the company blossomed from a small regional gas distribution construction company into one of North America’s largest, most diversified specialty contractors.
In the early years, when Michels had a handful of employees, Ruth supported Dale and his dream. She traveled throughout Wisconsin, scoping out prospective jobs for the company and relocating trucks and equipment, everything from backhoes to everyday pick-up trucks. Ruth was known to drive a dump truck whenever needed. As the company grew, Ruth continued to support the business, but settled into what she saw as her most important role, mother to the couple’s four sons, Pat, Tim, Steve and Kevin.
Ruth re-entered a leadership role at Michels in 1998 when Dale passed away, joining her sons in leading it. With Ruth as Chairwoman of the Board, Michels Corporation grew into one of the biggest and best, while maintaining the family atmosphere that was so important to her. The construction industry was one of Ruth’s lifelong loves, eclipsed only by her love of family.
Although Ruth was a woman of few words, she leaves a lasting impression on her family, Michels Corporation, her community, and the industries in which Michels works. Her introspective guidance, strong moral compass, and calming kindness perfectly complimented her husband’s grit, drive, and attention to detail. They were great partners in life and business. Together, they raised their sons to respect integrity, hard work, and dedication. The influence of both remains evident in Michels’ Core Values, daily operations, and decisions made by their sons and grandchildren.
“My mother purposely avoided being the focus of attention,” said Pat Michels, President and CEO. “Yet we all knew she was the unsung hero of Michels’ success. My dad rightly gets a lot of credit for what Michels has become, but it is important to remember that my mother was right beside him, sharing his vision.”
”I will always remember how my mother asked my brothers and me to honor my father by continuing to build the company he started in a way he would make him proud,” Pat Michels said. “We intend to honor my mother in that same way.”
Ruth was more than the matriarch of the Michels family; she was a revered presence at the company she loved. As her time in the office lessened in passing years, her vigilant watch remained steadfast.
“My brothers and I knew all the decisions we made had to pass the ‘Mom’ test,” said Tim Michels, Vice President. “They still will. Her character and moral fiber will be her legacy. We will never lose sight of that.”
Ruth was a respected leader in energy and infrastructure construction. In 2009, she was the first woman to receive an honorary membership to the Distribution Contractors Association, which is bestowed on those who have made outstanding contributions to the association and the utility construction industry for decades. In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the University of Wisconsin-Madison Construction Club, which honors those who have made a mark on the construction and engineering fields. Among its many honors, Ruth was particularly proud of Michels being named Wisconsin’s Family Owned Business of the Year in 2018.
Family was of great importance to Ruth.
“Without doubt, my brothers and I are the people we are today because of what she taught us about how to treat people, how to live with dignity and what it means to be family,” said Kevin Michels, Vice President. “She was a remarkable woman with a huge heart.”
In addition to being active in the business, Ruth and Dale were longtime philanthropists. Ruth oversaw the Michels Family Foundation, a charitable organization that has given millions of dollars to local educational institutions, medical facilities, and community organizations.
Among notable donations are the Dale and Ruth Michels Hall and Michels Commons at St. Norbert College in DePere, WI; The Dale Michels Atrium at Marian University in Fond du Lac, and The Dale Michels Center for Heart Care at St. Agnes Hospital in Fond du Lac. She also served on the board of directors of American Bank. She was a member of the Agnesian Hospice Charity Open Committee. Ruth received the Women of Achievement Award from the Fond du Lac Area Women’s Fund in 2008. She was a member of St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lomira and South Hills Country Club in Fond du Lac. Ruth was also a founding and active member of the committee formed in 2009 to oversee the DCA Dale Michels Scholarship Fund.
Memorials can be sent to Agnesian HealthCare Foundation Hospice Hope, 430 E. Division St., Fond du Lac, WI 54935.