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