Manufacturing his own success
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.