"Encyclopedia Dubuque is the online authority for all things Dubuque, written by the people who know the city best.”
Marshall Cohen—researcher and producer, CNN
Affiliated with the Local History Network of the State Historical Society of Iowa, and the Iowa Museum Association.
JELD_WEN revolutionized production of wood-framed windows, which had largely been made in the Midwest out of Ponderosa pine logs shipped from the West. Instead, the company made door parts in the West, near timber supplies, and sent them to window factories near Eastern markets -- shipping 35 percent less wood. The difference was made into wood fiber, applying resin and hot-pressing it -- to make door skins. The molded-skin product, also made by Masonite, became the nation's most popular interior door.
In 1990, JELD-WEN gave $150,000 toward a ballot measure he favored to place welfare and unemployment recipients in subsidized private-sector jobs. The initiative passed, leading to a program known Oregon’s JOBS Plus which became a state-sponsored, on-the-job training program in which employers are permitted to pay eligible JOBS Plus workers less than the minimum wage. (3) NextJob is one of a group of companies including Hire Calling Co., SOS Staffing and Employment Trends that Wendt founded or bought, putting to work more than 70,000 people a year. Wendt founded the American Institute for Full Employment in 1994. AIFE sent people to state legislatures around the country to promote the idea of converting welfare and unemployment benefits into wage subsidies for companies. Programs have been created in Mississippi, Texas, Kentucky, Wisconsin and Delaware. (4)
He and his wife made large contributions to Republican political campaigns.
The JELD-WEN Foundation was established in 1969. Founded to benefit the local community, it provided financial assistance through grants, scholarships, and matching JELD-WEN employee's voluntary United Way donations. (5) He and his wife endowed chairs at three Oregon universities. They also donated to charitable and academic institutions including $32 million to the UNIVERSITY OF DUBUQUE.
In the 1970s, University of Dubuque supporter Lester Wendt stated,
“Integrity is essential to all other considerations and this principle of mankind should be the Golden Rule…Americans must concern themselves with the basic questions of what they can do for their fellow man and at the same time assist each person to help himself or herself.”
Two decades later, Lester’s son and daughter-in-law, Richard L. and Nancy J. Wendt, brought his dream to reality.
In April of 2004, Richard and Nancy Wendt endowed the University for the establishment of the Lester G. and Michael Lester Wendt Character Initiative. Named in honor of the late Lester Wendt, and for Richard and Nancy’s son Michael, who died in 2003, the Initiative sought to create a campus-wide culture of character at the University. Specifically, the initiative focused on the values of truthfulness, fairness, honesty, and the Golden Rule. The intended role of the Wendt Character Initiative appears in its mission statement:
Centered in the University’s Mission and Values and consonant with its Reformed Christian identity, the Initiative engages the university community in a cooperative and spirited effort to foster intellectual understanding of and personal commitment to leading lives of purpose and excellent moral character. (6)
In 2002, Wendt offered $75 million to the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls to go private. College administrators, however, decided it was not enough to make up for state funding. (7)
Wendt stepped down as board chairman early in 2010, succeeded by Robert Turner, a longtime JELD-WEN manager and board member. Wendt's son, Rod, has been chief executive since 1992. Soon after Wendt’s death from a stroke in 2010, a majority share of the company was sold to Onex, a Canadian holding company. (8)
1. LaLande, Jeff, (author of article), "Richard L. Mendt," The Oregon Encyclopedia, Online: https://oregonencyclopedia.org/articles/wendt_richard_l_1931_2010_/#.XK4k6qZryQU
2. "The Wendt Gang," From the Trenches WorldReport.com Online: https://fromthetrenchesworldreport.com/hometown-corporate-mafia/the-wendt-gang
4. "The Wendt Gang..."
5. JELD-WEN, Online: http://www.jeld-wen.ca/en-ca/about/company/history
6. "History of Wendt Character Initiative," University of Dubuque, Online: http://www.dbq.edu/Wendt/About/WendtHistory/