Saskatoon StarPhoenix

Man­u­fac­tur­ing his own suc­cess

- By Ned Pow­ers

When

Merlis Belsher first stepped into the of­fices of Wel­don’s Con­crete Prod­ucts in June 1957, he was a char­tered ac­coun­tant stu­dent, hired ini­tially for two days a week.

Eight years later, with de­grees in com­merce and law in hand, Belsher be­came pres­i­dent and co-owner of the com­pany which emerged as a ma­jor player on the Saskatchew­an con­crete prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ing scene. He en­gi­neered buy-outs of six com­pa­nies, en­larged plant ca­pac­ity, ac­quired new ma­chin­ery and equip­ment and en­graved the Wel­don trade­mark on ma­jor build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture.

He re­mains the gen­eral man­ager of the Wel­don’s di­vi­sion, which was sold to Ex­pocrete Con­crete Prod­ucts, a com­pany based in Edmonton, and he sits on Ex­pocrete’s board.

Belsher con­sid­ers his learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence with com­pany founder, Earl Wel­don, as in­valu­able. Wel­don started the com­pany in 1945 and the orig­i­nal pro­duc­tion con­sisted of pre­cast man­hole cov­ers, con­crete pipe, con­crete blocks and small amounts of pre­cast con­crete.

“A ma­jor fire in 1954 vir­tu­ally de­stroyed the plant and Mr. Wel­don came to get ad­vice from a char­tered ac­coun­tant firm, headed by Mel Har­ris. That was my en­try into the pic­ture and I’ve never re­gret­ted a mo­ment.

“The most valu­able les­son I learned from Mr. Wel­don was to never give up. Here was a man who sur­vived a dis­as­trous fire, suf­fered a heart at­tack and lost two chil­dren all in a short pe­riod of time and he re­mained pos­i­tive. I never saw him ex­press any bit­ter­ness. He en­dorsed an eth­i­cal busi­ness be­hav­iour and he de­vel­oped close re­la­tion­ships with his em­ploy­ees.

“For me per­son­ally, he en­cour­aged me to go back to the Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an to get a law de­gree to go with my com­merce de­gree and char­tered ac­coun­tancy. For three years, the days were busy — morn­ings in law classes, af­ter­noons with ac­count­ing clients and back to the court house li­brary to study in the evenings, all while rais­ing a young fam­ily.

“I think back now to the kind of na­tional job of­fers I had be­cause of my univer­sity ed­u­ca­tion. But my heart was re­ally in Saskatchew­an and this was an op­por­tu­nity I couldn’t re­sist,” says Belsher, who has been the full owner of the com­pany since De­cem­ber 1974.

Wel­don died in 1976, be­fore much of the ex­pan­sion, but Belsher says “I al­ways feel his spirit is with us.”

Not ev­ery­thing in Wel­don’s man­u­fac­tur­ing is vis­i­ble. Much of their ex­cel­lence is in un­der­gound in­fra­struc­ture, no­tably in a City of Saskatoon trunk sewer. In one trench, the storm pipe mea­sures 10 feet in di­am­e­ter, the san­i­tary pipe along­side it is five feet in di­am­e­ter, all buried 50 feet un­der­ground.

There are vis­i­ble signs at Credit Union Cen­tre, where 44 con­crete col­umns and 44 beams es­sen­tially hold up the multi-pur­pose build­ing. Con­crete blocks and paving stones are dom­i­nant at the Univer­sity of Saskatchew­an’s Phys­i­cal Ac­tiv­ity Com­plex, at other col­lege ad­di­tions, the Saskatoon Field House and new city high schools.

Belsher was born in McCord, a Saskatchew­an com­mu­nity named af­ter his grand­fa­ther who was a 1909 ar­rival. His fa­ther, Mil­ton, was a farmer. His mother, Inez, was a school teacher “and I re­mem­ber her tak­ing a blan­ket, lunch and books to the banks of the Wood River where she taught me the value of ed­u­ca­tion.”

Tragedy struck in March 1951, when he was 15 years old.

“We lived a mile out­side of McCord and a fe­ro­cious bliz­zard blew in late one Fri­day. My mother was com­ing to town to catch the train so she could at­tend a mis­sion­ary con­fer­ence in Saskatoon. We had no tele­phones. I stayed in town at my cousin’s house. Early Sun­day morn­ing, the horse my par­ents had bor­rowed was stand­ing out­side my cousin’s house. I knew some­thing was wrong. I tracked the stoneboat’s tracks three-quar­ters of a mile in the snow to where I found my par­ents frozen to death in a field.”

Belsher moved to Regina to com­plete high school ed­u­ca­tion at Luther Col­lege and then pur­sued his com­merce de­gree (1957), be­came a char­tered ac­coun­tant (1960) and earned his law de­gree (1964).

Be­cause of his at­tach­ment to the farm, he re­tains own­er­ship of his par­ents’ home­stead and had ac­quired neigh­bour­ing land.

He has do­nated to com­mu­nity causes at McCord, has ar­ranged schol­ar­ships and gifts at Luther Col­lege, and has named a Col­lege of Law class room in hon­our of his pro­fes­sor, Mr. Justin Calvin Tal­lis. He feels his gifts are meant to rec­og­nize “the true he­roes of ev­ery­day life, the teach­ers, men­tors and pro­fes­sion­als who were there for me.”

On top of al­ready siz­able gifts to ed­u­ca­tional and health care fa­cil­i­ties, Belsher do­nated $1.1 mil­lion to the Irene and Les­lie Dube Cen­tre of Men­tal Health, where the soil was turned 10 days ago.

Belsher en­dorses the project whole­heart­edly be­cause his son, Shawn, was di­ag­nosed with a bipo­lar con­di­tion.

He and his first wife, Sylvia, are par­ents of Daryl, Colleen, Larry and Shawn (and all three boys are in­volved at Wel­don’s). He and his sec­ond wife, He­len, were mar­ried in 1998 and have a son, Pa­trick. He is grand­fa­ther to three.

Sports and pol­i­tics have been among his other pas­sions. He played on the Luther team at the first-ever Luther In­vi­ta­tional bas­ket­ball tour­na­ment. He coached in the Saskatoon Knights mi­nor hockey or­ga­ni­za­tion, and was founder and coach of the Saskatoon Ju­nior B Cana­di­ans.

In his more ac­tive po­lit­i­cal days, he was trea­surer for the Saskatoon Pro­gres­sive Con­ser­va­tives at the age of 21 and was Saskatchew­an cam­paign or­ga­nizer for Robert Stan­field’s run for prime min­is­ter.

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 ?? —SP Photo by Greg Pen­der ?? Merlis Belsher ofWel­don’s Con­crete Prod­ucts has a com­merce and law de­gree and owns a fam­ily farm
—SP Photo by Greg Pen­der Merlis Belsher ofWel­don’s Con­crete Prod­ucts has a com­merce and law de­gree and owns a fam­ily farm

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