Self-made roofing magnate Kenneth Albert Hendricks died on Dec. 21 after falling through the roof of his garage. He was 66.
Born in Janesville, Wis., Hendricks learned the roofing trade by working side-by-side with his father. Although he aspired to become an architect, life changed his plans.
Hendricks dropped out of high school at 17 when his girlfriend Diane became pregnant. To make ends meet, he worked two jobs: driving a repair truck for Wisconsin Power & Light and doing roofing gigs on the side. By the time he was 21, Hendricks was able to quit the power company and hire his own roofing crews. Within a decade, he had approximately 500 roofers working for him.
Hendricks married Diane and together they raised seven children. She fully supported his personal and professional endeavors and even started her own insurance company to sell low-cost policies to his contractors.
The hassle of dealing with multiple suppliers around the country inspired Hendricks to open a national supply distribution chain in 1982. Based in Beloit, Wis., American Builders & Contractors Supply employs 6,000 employees in nearly 400 locations and does about $3 billion in business a year. The company, which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, is the largest wholesaler of roofing supplies in the United States. Ken and Diane also owned a variety of businesses through the Hendricks Holding Co., and a property development group with more than 25 million square feet of industrial and commercial real estate. In 2006, Inc. magazine named him the Entrepreneur of the Year.
Despite being the 91st richest man in America — he was worth about $3.5 billion — Hendricks remained true to his blue collar roots. He wasn’t a member of a country club nor did he fly first class. He didn’t have a secretary, and was known for giving out his cell phone number to any employee who needed it. In his spare time, he enjoyed riding his motorcycle, spending time with friends and family and improving his community.
Hendricks was checking on the progress of construction on the roof over his garage when he fell through, suffering massive head injuries. Diane performed CPR until the police and paramedics arrived. Hendricks later died at Rockford Memorial Hospital in Winnebago County, Ill. A public viewing was attended by thousands of mourners.
“Ken was a true visionary who wanted the best for his hometown,” Wisconsin State Sen. Judy Robson said. “I respected Ken for his love of old architecture and industrial artifacts. That love drove him to preserve and transform some of our landmark properties in Beloit rather than bulldoze them. He helped turn blight into bright.”