Born in Salem, Oregon, our Lumberman of the year grew up poor; his first home without indoor plumbing. Son of a plywood mill worker, he attended seven different grade schools as his father moved up and down the Willamette Valley looking for work.
His father finally found steady work at a plywood mill in Albany, where he would attend South Albany High School. He played High School football and City League basketball, and loved being a part of a team… but he always had to work; from picking beans in the summer, to working at the local grocery store after work and on weekends, he helped to make ends meet, and developed the work ethic that would serve him well throughout his life.
After High School, he headed off to the Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University, with hopes of becoming an economics teacher and football coach. As is often the case, he fell in love and his priorities changed.
After his freshman year he drove to Scottsdale, Arizona where he proposed to his sweet heart. She was reluctant at first, but he was a natural born salesman, and eventually he convinced her to accept.
After that, Life got complicated and he put his education on hold to get a job and support his family.
He got a job at a Plywood plant, working swing shift while he tried to go back to school during the day… One night, during his shift a fire broke out in the plant, by the time the foreman showed up most everyone else had panicked and run off, but he was still there, the last man standing, still holding a firehose. The foreman recognized that he had character and integrity…and recommended him for a sales training program in Phoenix, that sent him off into the world of sales and marketing.
After, a few years in Arizona, he and his family moved back to Oregon in 1980, where he took a job in Eugene, at Fremont Wholesale. Once back in Oregon, he finally found the time to coach football. He coached from fourth grade on through High School and even as his business travel kept him from coaching, he never missed attending his kids game. He was a natural coach and team builder and applied those skills in every aspect of his life.
The recession of the early 80’s was a difficult time, and his family was growing quickly. His sales experience, work ethic and charismatic personality opened doors for other opportunities. He went to work at Bohemia, Inc. to make a better life for his family. His mantra became, “Not biggest, but best”. He worked hard and quickly moved up in the company.
He had 5 kids by the time he was 30, and sent them all to private Catholic Schools, which was not cheap, but he knew the value of a good education. To earn extra money, he would play in a band at night. He was the lead singer and played guitar…but after a while his boss at Bohemia realized his potential and gave him a choice to make…”You can be either a rock star or an executive” … He made his choice, and at 28 years of age became Sales Manager for Bohemia.
While at Bohemia, he had an opportunity, and the determination to finish his college degree… in 1990 he went back to school at night, and completed his Management Degree from Linfield College.
In 1992, Willamette Industries, bought out Bohemia. He quickly adapted to a different corporate culture and once again moved up quickly from engineered products manager to General Sales Manager. He built strong teams where ever he went, and created lasting friendships along the way that he has been able to build upon throughout his career.
After completing his transition assignment, with the Weyerhaeuser acquisition of Willamette, he purchased an interest in Mckenzie Forest products where he served as President and CEO. In 2004, he also purchased Cascade Structural Laminators where as president, he reassembled a strong team of seasoned professionals from his Bohemia and Willamette days.
It’s a rare individual that can survive in both the entrepreneurial and corporate world’s, and he not only survived, but flourished. It’s a testament to his personality and people skills…always building a team that together can succeed.
When asked what he loved most about the lumber industry, he would compare it to his coaching days and reply…”Every day is game day! There is no practice!”
While it might sound trite, he really is one of those people who no one ever has a bad word to say about…
He has worked hard and earned the respect of all who know him. He and his wife are very active in their church, The St Vincent de Paul Society, and are always there to volunteer to help give back to their community and those less fortunate.
This Year’s Lumberman of the Year has worked in the forest products industry for over 37 years. In addition to the contributions made to his company and his community, he has also served our industry with his vision and leadership on the APA Board of trustees, Marketing committee, and through his support of NAWLA and the PWLA.
He is the epitome of the American dream…born into a poor family, pulling himself up by his bootstraps, working hard and earning everything he has, going to school at night, and gaining the respect of all he encountered along the way, and then giving back to those less fortunate…he’s come full circle and represents all that is good about our industry. He has lived his life, with integrity, honor, basic solid values and a work ethic to be admired…in 2010 he joined Roseburg Forest Products, as Vice President of Sales and Marketing.
He has always been a wonderful ambassador of our industry, and the kind of man we are proud to call this year’s lumberman of the year… Congratulations Mr. Steve Kilgore!