Robert Charles Collet charted his career path as a young man and stuck to it, working first for a major Sacramento construction company, then forming his own firm, R.C. Collet Inc.
Mr. Collet, a Fair Oaks resident whose company at one time employed about 300 people in Sacramento and neighboring counties, died Feb. 9 at age 90 in Palo Alto following a short illness.
Family members and colleagues described Mr. Collet as a man driven to succeed. A civil engineer, he believed in setting goals. He adapted his business operations over the years to prosper in the highly competitive construction field, while stressing the importance of quality work and personal integrity, they said.
“He wanted his reputation to stand up,” said Albert Powell, the firm’s former vice president for operations. “He recruited educated and loyal people. He would never cut corners to save a few dollars.”
Mr. Collet was born April 6, 1924, in Stockton to Charles and Margaret Virzi Collet. He graduated from Stockton High School in 1942 and enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps a year later, serving in the South Pacific during World War II as a bomber navigator. While training at Stamford Air Force Base in Texas, he met and married Joni B. Wright.
He and his wife returned to Stockton after the war and Mr. Collet enrolled at College of the Pacific, now University of the Pacific, graduating in 1951 with the college’s first civil engineering class. As a senior engineering student, he worked on the design for the college’s Amos Alonzo Stagg Memorial Stadium, said Georgette Hunefeld, director of principal and leadership giving with the university’s development office.
“That generation of men, who grew up in the Depression, were very driven,” said Mr. Collet’s daughter, Jill Collet, who worked with her father in his latter years. “It was all about business and succeeding.”
As a youth, she said, her father delivered newspapers in Stockton and worked summers at a lumber mill near Donner Lake. After graduating from UOP, he went to work for Teichert & Son Construction Co. in Sacramento. He became district manager of Teichert’s Woodland office in 1961 and moved to the city with his wife and three children. In 1965, he resigned from Teichert and started his own general construction company, R.C. Collet Inc.
Mr. Collet sold his home to start the business, and the family moved into a house they rented from friends in Woodland, Jill Collet recalled. Her father set up his office in the home’s garage, which had been converted to a bedroom.
It was all part of his career plan. “When he started at Teichert, he gave himself so many years and then he would start his own business,” Jill Collet said. Her father was always proud of his years with Teichert, she said, and was a member of an elite group known as the Teichert Irregulars.
Like Teichert, R.C. Collet Inc. specialized in road construction projects. The company later added gravel mining and asphalt operations to support its road-building activities, said Tom Inks, the company’s former vice president of project management. Inks said he joined R.C. Collet in 1970, initially working part time while pursuing his MBA. He retired after 38 years with the construction firm.
At the outset, Inks said, he was among a staff of five people working out of an old building in Woodland. The company later expanded with offices in Woodland, West Sacramento and Vacaville.
“He was fearless,” Inks said of his boss. “He barged ahead through a lot of different things to be successful … He was a very driven guy. He pushed hard, but he was fair and he took good care of his employees.”
Powell said the company did site preparation and paving work for area developers, including Frank and Gregg Lukenbill and Joe Benvenuti. Projects included all the paving work for what is now Sleep Train Arena. The firm also established aggregate mining operations in Rocklin, Rio Linda, the Natomas area and Woodland, Powell said.
The company, which had purchased land for aggregate mining just outside Rocklin when Rocklin was just a small town, found itself in the midst of controversy in the late 1980s. Residents of the newly developed Stanford Ranch opposed the mining operations, citing concerns over noise, traffic and air quality. After years of litigation, R.C. Collet’s mining permit was not renewed, Jill Collet said. The firm sold much of its approximately 300 acres for residential development but retained parcels at Sunset Boulevard and Park Drive, where it developed the Rocklin Park Plaza shopping center. The commercial center was completed in 2007.
Powell purchased the construction division of R.C. Collet Inc. in 1999, changing the name to Collet Construction, and is currently winding down operations, preparing to retire. Mr. Collet and Lou Mendez, R.C. Collet Inc.’s secretary treasurer, continued to oversee the firm’s real estate and development activities.
Mr. Collet’s first marriage ended in divorce. In 1969, he married Bette Schaulis. Both had three children from previous marriages, and together they had a son.
Mr. Collet was preceded in death by his first wife, Joni. He is survived by his wife, Bette, of Fair Oaks; sons Greg Collet of Woodland and Chris Collet of Japan; daughters Gwenn Iott of Dallas, Ore., and Jill Collet of Orangevale; stepchildren Dawn Fitchen of Orange County, Bob Schaulis of Rocklin and Terre Moss of Elk Grove; and 14 grandchildren.
A celebration of Mr. Collet’s life will be held from noon to 3 p.m. March 21 at Vizcaya, 2019 21st St., Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Cathy Locke, (916) 321-5287.