Posted 14 August 2008 - 09:52 AM
Jack A. Weil, the oldest working CEO in America and patriarch of a LoDo clothing company that put the snap in western wear, died Wednesday night at the age of 107.
Weil died at home surrounded by members of his family, said his oldest grandson, Steve. A service is scheduled for Sunday at Temple Emanuel, but a time has not been set.
Since founding the Rockmount Ranch Wear Manufacturing Company in 1946, "Papa Jack" Weil and his company have been a fixture in lower downtown. He saw value in the former warehouse district long before it became fashionable as LoDo.
With his cowboy hat, a folksy manner and his favorite greeting — "Where you from?" — he would welcome everyone from truck drivers to celebrities like Elvis Presley, Bob Dylan, Robert Redford and Eric Clapton.
They all got the same friendly treatment, said Steve Weil, who went to work for his grandfather full-time in the 1980s.
Status never matter. "He didn't care about what you were, he cared about who you were," his grandson said.
His death comes about eight months after his son, Jack B. Weil died.
Until a few weeks ago, the eldest Weil was a fixture in the store on a part of Wazee Street that the city renamed "Jack A. Weil Boulevard" when he turned 100.
Each day, he would put in about four hours at the store serving as the official greeter before heading for lunch with his son at the Denver Athletic Club.
For many years, his grandfather was "kind of the family secret," Steve Weil said, someone his family admired and loved.
But in recent years, he became the face of the company and later a memorable symbol for the city itself. He was featured on billboards and videos created by the Denver Metro Convention & Visitors Bureau.
"He was part of our brand. He's part of what makes Denver the West," Mayor John Hickenlooper said, who remembered Weil for his entrepreneurial spirit and ceaseless optimism.
"He was somebody who just by being in the room helped everyone feel better," said Hickenlooper, who remembered first meeting "Jack A." back in 1987, when he asked him to sign a petition for a liquor license for what became the Wynkoop Brewing Co.
Hickenlooper remembered Weil being skeptical of the idea of opening a restaurant in what had been a warehouse district, but on his grandson's recommendation he signed the petition.
"He believed in self-reliance, but also in the value of community," Hickenlooper said, recalling the care Weil took in his business relations with the retailers who sold his western wear.
Andrew Hudson, who got to know Weil better while serving as spokesman for former Mayor Wellington Webb, said the 107-year-old businessman's influence went far beyond LoDo.
"He was an icon," Hudson said. "He believed in business ethics long before it became a buzzword."
Hudson said his own life was influenced by Weil. At one point, Hudson was one of several finalists for a spokesman's job with Wal-Mart. But after thinking of the mega-corporation's impact on mom-and-pop businesses, and also thinking of Weil, Hudson said he withdrew from consideration for the job.
Westword Editor Patricia Calhoun recalled meeting Jack A. Weil back in the 1970s when Westword's offices were located near Rockmount.
"He was just funny as anything and really created a tremendous legacy in this town. She enjoyed seeing him every St. Patrick's Day in McCormick's restaurant.
"He always had a twinkle in his eye and told these great jokes, usually at the expense of Democrats," she recalled. It probably would have tickled him to see Democrats buying his shirts during the convention later this month, she said.
Stewart Patton, the doorman at the Oxford Hotel got to know Weil after helping him into a car one day. "He said, 'Where you from?'"
And I said, 'Oh a little town in Indiana you probably never heard of,"
"Try me," Weil answer.
"Poseyville, Indiana," Patton said.
"Poseyville? That's seven miles from Harmony. My brother and I used to herd cattle through there in 1918.
Thereafter, Weil would always say howdy to Patton, and then, with a twinkle in his eye, added, "do you believe he didn't think I knew where Poseyville was."
Weil was born March 28, 1901 in Evansville, IN, where his father Abraham, who lived until 90, was a cattleman.
During a labor shortage in World War I, Weil went to work after school in the DS Bernstein Overall Factory, where he began a lifetime of learning in the apparel manufacturing business.
When he started Rockmount, Weil became what his grandson called "the Henry Ford" of western shirts by inventing the sawtooth pocket and diamond snap design.
Weil is survived by his daughter Jane Romberg of Steamboat Springs and by five grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.