Robert C. Wilson was born in south central Kansas at Udahl on January 8, 1925, into a family of five children. He became an Oregonian when his family moved to North Bend in 1936. Bob graduated from high school in 1943, and for the next three years served in the U.S. Army. Two of those years were spent in Europe before he received his discharge in 1946. Two months later Bob enrolled at Oregon State College, studying civil engineering under the GI Bill. He met Patricia McEwan at OSC, and they were married in 1947. Pat worked for the Oregon State Highway Commission to help put Bob through school, and through their combined efforts, Bob attained his Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering in 1950. In March of that year, Bob opened his business as a contractor in Corvallis, with his first job of building a hatchery at Oakridge for the Oregon State Game Commission. He operated his office from his home, working on various small jobs with Pat’s continuing help. Their first big job came with the remodeling of Good Samaritan Hospital in 1951. The Wilsons’ first daughter, Patty Jo, arrived that year, too, followed by Nancy in 1953, Susan in 1955, and Cynthia in 1958.
In 1953, Wilson Contractors moved into an office on Ninth Street. From this location, operations were carried on for the next three years, increasing both the number and the size of the jobs contracted. Bob built a new office at U.S. Highway 99W and Walnut Boulevard in 1957 to accommodate expanded operations. Today, it seems, you can’t drive more than a mile or two throughout Corvallis without seeing one of Bob’s projects. Standing in marked contrast to the company’s first job are such buildings as Cheldelin Junior High School, Rite-Aid, the Corvallis Clinic, the OSU Federal Credit Union, Citizens Bank’s on Circle Boulevard, the Cascade Federal Building, US National Bank on Ninth Street, and the Plaza Nine Shopping Center. Pat started a numbering system for the company’s jobs in 1955—in 2000 the number exceeded 3,260. Bob and Pat kept extremely busy with the company over the years. They were always partners in the business as well as in life. Bob and his daughters were bereft when Pat died in December 1987 after an extended illness.
Notwithstanding Bob’s prodigious career, he was a devoted family man and very active in the local community. His daughters’ interests kept him busy and involved in many areas. He served on the Willamette Council of Camp Fire Girls; the committee that initiated the Benton County YMCA; finance chairman with the Friends of Higher Education; and the board of directors of the Children’s Farm Home. In 1962 the Farm Home Chapel was destroyed by fire, resulting in a $130,000 loss, with only $80,000 in fire insurance coverage. Bob was engaged by the Farm Home board of directors to seek donations from labor unions, sawmills, merchants, and townspeople to rebuild the chapel. He was successful to this end. For the Corvallis School District, Bob put in two terms on the Budget Review Committee and worked on the Architectural Selection Committee. At the community college level, he served on the Linn-Benton Site Selection Review Committee. As a member of the Corvallis First United Methodist Church, Bob served on its board of trustees. He was a member of the Corvallis Lodge #14 of the A.F. and A.M. as well as the Corvallis Country Club. For six years, Bob participated as a board member of both Corvallis Chamber of Commerce and Benton County United Fund Budget Review Committee. He was also a member of the Corvallis Rotary Club and was chairman of a committee that constructed the joint City-School District Park between Garfield and Highland View Schools. Bob also helped with the City Planning Commission and the City Board of Appeals. In the 1970s, he was on the City Parking Commission, which obtained three downtown parking lots. He was also instrumental in getting the bypass built. He served on the Good Samaritan Hospital Board and as a trustee of the Oregon State University Foundation. Bob also chaired the board of directors of Citizens Bank in 1975.
He joined the board of directors of BCF in 1968, and served as President of the Board in 1971 and 1972, and again from 1979 to 1981. Bob Wilson’s influence on the growth of the Foundation was remarkable. Bob was directly or indirectly responsible for at least thirty-one of the named funds established with the Foundation, and continued fundraising efforts long after his retirement from the board. He presided over the publication of the first History of The Benton County Foundation in 1972 and was the key to having the book revised and republished in 1989.
Bob was a long-time supporter of the OSU College of Engineering and served on the advisory board for the College. He also made a gift of land valued at about $1 million to the College of Engineering. He had a vision about a program that would allow construction engineering management students to combine their engineering education with the business courses that would help them succeed in the new economy. “A little-known secret of the civil engineering profession is that to succeed you need solid business skills—finance, management, accounting, etc.,” Bob said. “I had to learn all that along the way. And if you don’t learn those skills, you top out.”
In light of Bob’s record of community service, it is not surprising that he received many honors during his lifetime. For exceptional service, he was presented the Gulek Award by the Camp Fire Girls, the highest honor they bestow on men. In 1969, Bob was awarded the Benton County Education Award for his outstanding contributions to educational causes. In 1994, he received OSU’s Distinguished Alumni Award and in 1998 he was honored as one of the inaugural inductees in the Oregon State University College of Engineering Hall of Fame. In 2006 he received OSU Foundation’s highest honor, the Lifetime Trustee Award, in recognition of his three decades on the OSU Foundation Board of Trustees.
On October 24, 1999, Bob married longtime family friend, Joyce Fisher Keeney. Joyce and Pat Wilson had been part of the same bridge group when their children were young, and some of the children were friends. Joyce had grown up in Salt Lake City, Utah, and came to Corvallis with her first husband, Hobart Keeney, who died in 1997.
Bob died on July 13, 2006, leaving a legacy of service and financial support in Benton County. Bob established the Robert C. and Patricia McEwan Wilson Library Fund in 1991 to benefit the Corvallis Public Library.