Builder who shaped Austin remembered for characterPublished 8:17am Friday, January 7, 2011
If ever there was a man to leave his legacy in Austin, it’s Joseph Wagner.
Joseph, who founded Joseph Construction Company with Dale Backel in the summer of 1965, dedicated his life to building up Austin — literally.
You don’t have to look far to see the impact of Joseph and his life’s work. He can be seen in the buildings that house Hormel’s corporate offices and in the rinks of Riverside Arena. His projects varied to include city and school district buildings, such as the Austin Public Library and Banfield and Southgate schools, and structures that house businesses, such as Wells Fargo and US Bank.
“I could go on for five, 10 minutes listing all of the buildings he built,” said his son, Carter Wagner.
While Joseph was certainly admired for his ability to create an excellent product, he was also known as someone customers could rely on to be honest and fair.
“Dale and Joe managed their business ethically and always built buildings with the highest level of quality,” Carter said. “He was honest and generous with his time and talents, and he was respectful to owners and sub-contractors.”
That’s a statement Pat Harty, owner of Harty Mechanical, can echo.
“We worked together many years contractor to contractor, and the thing that I always admired about Joe was that he was always willing to discuss what was going on and listen to your side,” Harty said. “He always had a smile.”
Harty said it was rare to see Joseph upset, as he was known more for his ability to smooth things over than he was to rough them up.
“The thing about Joe was that he really didn’t ever get upset,” Harty said, “he would just talk and smile and pretty soon we were all agreeing.”
Joseph and Backel founded the construction company after working together at Wagner Construction. At first, the two took on smaller projects, such as building garages and laying foundation. But their business continued to grow into one Austinites have come to recognize as one of the best.
“One of the satisfactions of being in the industry is admiring your past work, and he always enjoyed driving around and remembering the projects that they had successfully completed in the past,” Carter said. “He always felt the greatest compliment you could have was a past customer calling you back to do another project.”
And call back they did.
When Carter began working alongside his father in 1987, the company grew from a $1.5 million operation to the $15 million dollar regional business it is today. While Joseph officially retired in 1999, Carter said he never really stepped away from his business completely.
“He kept active in the company and came in every day,” Carter said.
That didn’t bother Carter, who considered it a blessing to do business with the guy who knew it best.
“To work side by side with my dad was an experience I wouldn’t trade for anything in the world,” he said.
The lessons learned from his father have certainly shaped the way the company does business, and will continue to be a stronghold in the foundation of the company.
“He gave us all a great example to follow, and we try our best to emulate his conduct everyday,” he said.
Even those outside of his business have learned a lesson or two from the man considered by many to be a longtime leader in the Austin development community.
“He’ll be missed,” Harty said. “He was a real class guy.”
Joseph passed away Wednesday, Jan. 5 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in St. Paul.