Strong Foundation: Legacy of Dolese Bros. Co. set in Oklahoma stone!
By: Steve Metzer The Journal Record February 14, 2020 # 0
OKLAHOMA CITY – Other companies with names like Devon and Chesapeake benefit from being identified with some of the most iconic buildings in Oklahoma.
And that’s OK with Mark Helm. He knows that deep within the bones of those better-known companies – or at least within the bones of their buildings – lies his own Dolese Bros. Co.
Were it not for Dolese Bros., the Devon Energy Center as it now stands as the most recognizable building in Oklahoma City would not be. Were it not for Dolese, the Chesapeake Energy Arena would not stand as it does, as the proud home of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Other Oklahoma icons, too, like Route 66, owe their existence at least in part to the Dolese Bros. Co., which traces its history to before statehood and was there, literally, at the foundation of communities from Altus to Woodward and from Bartlesville to Idabel. In fact, few companies – if there are any at all – would be able to lay claim to a breadth of history and geography in the Sooner State that might rival that of the Dolese Bros. Co.
Dolese Bros. Co. President Mark Helm stands with a display of photos and artifacts dedicated to the company’s long history in Oklahoma. (Photo by Steve Metzer)
And the company, known for transforming the state’s raw rock into everything from highway overpasses to libraries, didn’t even begin here.
Helm, the company’s president and chief executive officer, said Dolese, which formally incorporated in 1902, actually can trace its roots to 1857 when 20-year-old John Dolese went into the paving business in Chicago. Fate and railroad construction drew his descendants west, and by 1907 Dolese Bros. Co. had a contract to mine ballast for the Rock Island Railroad at a quarry at a place called Richards Spur not far from Lawton. In 1908, the company bought a second quarry in such a remote spot in Murray County that Dolese workers became just about the only occupants of the tiny community of Dougherty.
From that point, the future of Dolese Bros. and Co. in Oklahoma was set in stone.
In 1910, the company bought a site in Oklahoma City between 13th and 14th streets adjoining the Santa Fe Railroad. It also purchased 10 dump wagons and 20 large horses to haul crushed stone and coal hand-shoveled from the rail cars to construction sites throughout the city.
Dolese entered the ready-mixed concrete business in 1927 and over time also furnished large volumes of stone and sand used at road construction and other sites across a broad region.
“We like to say we built communities from the ground up, or at least supplied the products,” Helm said. “If you think about anything that gets built – anything – it’s going to start with crushed stone, sand, concrete or asphalt. We have plenty of competition, but we are one of the major players here in the state.”
In fact, as a supplier of crushed stone products, Dolese ranks in the top 15 in the country. It’s among the top 30
suppliers of ready-mix nationwide. That accounts for “many millions of tons” of stone and sand taken from eight quarries scattered across Oklahoma, including the original and largest one at Richards Spur and also from operations near Ponca City, Hartshorne, Coleman, Davis, Ardmore, Cooperton and Roosevelt. The company also has four stone yards, four sand operations and 45 ready-mix plants in the state, employing more than 1,000 people at about 65 locations.
Helm said that on any given weekday, between 600 and 700 trucks might haul raw rock away from a typical Dolese quarry. The three main types are limestone, dolemite and gabbro.
“We do out of our quarries somewhere around 13.5 million tons a year,” he said. “About 2 million tons of sand comes out of sand operations in a year.”
Everything from riprap seen along banks of the Oklahoma River to fine-ground materials used in the construction of skyscrapers can be traced back to Dolese quarries.
“What’s cool about the Devon tower is that it is concrete all the way to the top,” Helm said, “which a lot of people don’t realize. The skeleton of that building is all concrete, and it all came from the Richards Spur quarry, from 300 feet down all the way to the top of that structure. ... We are not the only producer, but we’ve been lucky enough to be really involved in Oklahoma City, with the Devon tower, the BOK tower, Chesapeake Arena, the new Omni Hotel and other projects.”
The company is deeply invested in Oklahoma in other ways as well. Years ago, before his death, Roger Dolese, who had guided the company for more than 60 years, determined that he wanted Dolese to remain private but to become employee-owned over time. He also had a vision to leverage money made by the company to benefit engineering programs and students at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma State University and Kansas State University. So, after he died all of the stock he’d bought from family members and friends was ordered to be held in a foundation and redeemed over time with proceeds to be donated to the three universities. When stock is redeemed from each of the universities, new stock is distributed to a profit sharing plan for employees. Over the past dozen years or so, Dolese has redeemed about $30 million worth from the universities. Employees now own about 15% of the business and the three universities have been able to make significant investments in engineering schools and to double the number of graduates in fields ranging from electrical to aerospace engineering.
“Obviously some of them end up in construction, but it is all engineering fields, and we think that helps our communities as a whole,” Helm said.
The company also has invested in science, technology, engineering and math programs in public schools in Oklahoma and hosts field trips to quarries for elementary and middle school students.
Helm said the company’s efforts have been rewarded by the loyalty of employees. Multiple generations of some families have contributed to Dolese’s long history in Oklahoma. There are many long-tenured employees, including one at Richards Spur who recently marked a half-century on the job.
“They feel like they have some ownership in the business. We think it’s had a major impact on our performance as a business,” Helm said.
While not many companies in Oklahoma can trace their incorporated histories back 118 years, as Dolese can, even fewer might be able to anticipate remaining in business into the next century and beyond, but Dolese can.
“This product does not have a replacement. Even ready-mix concrete does not have a replacement right now,” Helm said, “so the challenge for us is to really be efficient and to be good neighbors so we can continue to be in business another 118 years.”
By: Steve Metzer The Journal Record