Remembering Ruth Michels, the company's unsung hero
It is with great sadness and respect that we announce the passing of Ruth L. Michels on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020.
To know Ruth is to have experienced a dignified, classy, sincere, and refined lady. She will be remembered as a woman with a quiet voice and a huge heart.
Born and raised in Campbellsport, WI, Ruth graduated from Campbellsport High School and entered the work world at Wisconsin Telephone Company. After a few years, Ruth moved on to work in manufacturing at Giddings & Lewis in the computer department. She married Dale Michels in 1957 at St. Matthew’s Catholic Church in her hometown of Campbellsport and moved to Fond du Lac. In 1959, Dale and Ruth partnered with Ruth's brother, Ted Koenigs, and his business partner, Jim Michel, 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 energy and infrastructure 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 the company in 1998 when Dale passed away, joining her sons in leading it. Ruth served as the Chairwoman of the Board of Michels Corporation. Under Ruth's guidance, Michels 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.
Ruth was more than the matriarch of the Michels family; she was a revered presence at the company she loved. Ruth purposely avoided being the focus of attention. Yet, she was known to be an unsung hero of Michels' success, a woman who will have a profound influence on her family and the company for generations to come. As her time in the office lessened in passing years, her vigilant watch remained steadfast. Her sons have been known to say "all decisions have to past the Mom test."
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.
Ruth was also involved in the flip side of the construction world, partnering with her daughter-in-law, Marysue, to develop real estate in the Fond du Lac area.
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.
Ruth was awed by the company's growth and success, yet it was evident to all that her sons, daughters-in-law, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren were her greatest source of joy.
A private family Mass will be held.
Memorials can be sent to Agnesian HealthCare Foundation Hospice Hope, 430 E. Division St., Fond du Lac, WI 54935.