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Marv Soiland, key figure in development of Sonoma County, dies at 88

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Marv Soiland, a prominent member of the class of ex-GIs who returned home from war in the mid-20th century and helped to build Sonoma County and the North Bay, died Monday.

Soiland, whose name appears in the region’s Construction Hall of Fame alongside those of the likes of Hugh Codding, Benny Friedman, Paul Wright, Wendell Nordby and Richard and Jim Ghilotti, was 88.

When the San Francisco native founded the Soiland Co. in 1962, after serving with the Navy in both World War II and the Korean War, he left the building of homes and commercial buildings to others.

“I didn’t put up sticks,” Soiland said in a 2011 interview. “I liked to move dirt.”

He was renowned for decades as one of the area’s top excavators of the precise trenches in which are laid the water, sewer, utility and storm-drain lines essential to commercial, residential and retail construction projects, and to entire cities.

Soiland’s family business shifted away from underground construction as it focused more on the development of projects that included the high-end Shiloh Estates north of Santa Rosa, and also on the production of rock for the construction industry, and of landscape and garden soils.

“His legacy in Sonoma county was all built on honor and doing the right thing,” said one of his seven children, Marlene Soiland of Santa Rosa, chief of the Soiland Management Co. Her siblings lead the family’s other allied businesses, among them the Stony Point Rock Quarry in Cotati, Soils Plus on Stage Gulch Road near Sonoma and Grab N’ Grow Soils on Llano Road, between Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Marlene Soiland said she asked her father as he was weakened by heart failure what he would want to be remembered for.

“He said, ‘You really have to do things for the right reasons, because you have a vision for the community. When you do something for the right reasons, things fall into place.’”

Marvin K. Soiland was born in San Francisco in 1927 and was 8 when he and his younger brother, Al, moved to Santa Rosa with their Norwegian-American parents, Roy and Gertrude.

Marlene Soiland said one of his favorite stories recalled that at age 13 he borrowed from the Exchange Bank the few dollars he needed to buy a cow. He paid off the loan by delivering milk on his bicycle, then used the profits to launch greater enterprises.

“That’s kind of been the way he operated,” his daughter said.

Marv Soiland graduated from Santa Rosa High at age 16. He attended Santa Rosa Junior College until he was 17 and able to enlist in the Navy and join the war effort.

Discharged in 1946, he returned to SRJC, then studied engineering at Pacific Lutheran University near Tacoma and at Oregon State College. He began his career working for the Caterpillar construction-equipment maker in Peoria, Ill.

Soiland was training soldiers to operate Caterpillar machines when the Navy reactivated him to serve in the Korean conflict. He was made a transportation officer aboard the amphibious force command ship USS Estes.

In 1953, during a stop at the Estes’ home port in San Diego, he heard about a Brazilian woman, Helena MacKnight, who needed help buying a car. He did help her, and along the way they fell in love.

They married and in 1954 welcomed the first of their seven children. Upon Marv Soiland’s honorable discharge that same year, he went to work in Sonoma County, conducting estimates and supervising pipeline construction for Hal Peletz’s construction company.

In 1962, Soiland earned his contractor’s license. He told former Press Democrat reporter Bob Klose years later for a story in Northbay Biz magazine, “I had $3,000 and a lot of ambition. You just stuck your neck out and took the plunge.”

He opened Soiland Co., which would grow over a quarter century into a construction-industry leader with more than 200 employees. As the company transitioned into rock quarries and the landscape soil operations, Soiland’s children assumed greater levels of responsibility.

Over about the past five years, congestive heart failure limited his work and passions that included trailer camping. In recent weeks, Soiland strove to leave nothing unsaid to his second wife, Fran Roby Soiland, his children, grandchildren and friends.

The TV was on Sunday in his room at a Santa Rosa nursing home, and loved ones came and went. Marlene Soiland said some of her brothers joked that their dad “was such a football fan, he had to wait until after the Super Bowl was over” to take his last breath.

He died early Monday morning.

In addition to his wife and his daughter in Santa Rosa, Marv Soiland is survived by his other children, Dave Soiland of Cotati, Dean Soiland of Santa Rosa, Troy Soiland of Petaluma, Monica Nelson of Sonoma, Mark Soiland of Cotati and Valerie Rodriguez of Cape Coral, Fla., his brother, Al Soiland of Santa Rosa, 15 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

Services will be at 11 a.m. Feb. 20 at Spring Hills Community Church. Inurnment will be at Santa Rosa Memorial Park.

Soiland’s family suggest memorial donations in lieu of flowers to the Soiland Donor Advised Fund at Community Foundation Sonoma County, 120 Stony Point Rd., Suite 220, Santa Rosa 95401; Memorial Hospice, 439 College Ave., Santa Rosa 95401; Spring Hills Community Church, 3700 Fulton Rd., Santa Rosa 95403 or California Lutheran University, 60 W Olsen Rd., Thousand Oaks 91360.

Editor’s note: The asphalt operation created by one of Marv Soiland’s sons was not an outgrowth of Soiland’s construction company. The story above has been corrected.

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