Best Role Model - 2000
Readers' Choice: Kurt Warner
If more business owners followed the example of Bill Willert of Willert Home Products Inc., oh what a wonderful world it would be. Willert, who runs the business his father started in 1946, has two people employed full-time who do nothing but cut grass and pick up litter on and around his plant at 4044 Park Ave., between Grand and Vandeventer avenues behind Cardinal Glennon Hospital for Children. Willert himself has been on the board of the International Institute for about 10 years, and he estimates that about 35 percent of his 370 employees are "refugees" from as many as 18 nations -- including Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kosovo, Russia and Vietnam. Willert Home Products is based in St. Louis, but it has plants in West Virginia, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. Its West Virginia plant, according to Willert, produces more mothballs than "anywhere in the United States" and more "moth preventives" than anywhere in the world. Sales are in excess of $60 million and growing every year, he says. The St. Louis home office produces bathroom air fresheners, both potpourri and the little things you hang inside the toilet bowl. But above all this, Willert has taken the lead in tearing down the old Bi-State bus garage along Spring Avenue between Vista Street and Park Avenue. The 17 acres is about 75 percent cleared away, Willert says, thanks in part to federal "brownfield" credits. But make no mistake -- the ambitious demolition and development project would not have started were it not for Willert's gumption and financial support. Willert wants to attract warehousing and manufacturing to the site, but the best part is that right smack-dab in the middle of all this he wants a miniature golf course. That's part of the plan. Several years ago, the city's last miniature golf course, located on Watson Road, closed. A growing business, immigrant labor, landscaped lawns, litter-free streets, economic development -- all that and putting through a windmill. Maybe there is hope for the city after all.