Every community — a real community, not just a collection of houses and businesses that share a given piece of land — is ultimately the sum of the contributions each individual within it makes towards its betterment. A community can only succeed if it has a wealth of individuals willing to look outside their own narrow day-to-day interests and contribute time, energy and resources toward improving the place they call home.
Wallingford is just such a community, and this month we lost one of those individuals who epitomized the selflessness from which strong communities develop and thrive. Fred Ulbrich used his multiple talents to grow a good, local manufacturing enterprise into a worldwide competitor in a very competitive global marketplace. That in itself is worthy of a lasting reputation and place in Wallingford history.
But what will long endure in the DNA of the community of Wallingford were the many, many other contributions he made outside of that concern. His financial contributions were considerable, but many who achieve the business success he did are willing to write checks to support the community and consider that enough.
Not Fred Ulbrich. He was involved in his town from top to bottom. I confess that I only got to know him at all within the past five years, mostly through the interest he took in the Spanish Community of Wallingford and his five-decades-long participation in the Rotary Club of Wallingford, of which I became a member two years ago. So my qualifications to write a thorough retrospective of Fred’s accomplishments are lacking. And it is also unnecessary. They are well documented.
What I am trying to emphasize is the graceful, egalitarian and unassuming way that he went about using his talents. That is what made this man so special. It was easy to be in awe of his business accomplishments, but he would have none of that. Every single person he met was on an equal footing with him. Every person was measured for his or her own worth, and everyone was made to feel that they had a friend in Fred Ulbrich.
A perfect example of that was a Spanish class that I took with Fred at SCOW. There were about a dozen or so of us in a beginner’s class, a group as diversified as you can imagine. Fred had already learned some Spanish in order to better relate to the people in his company’s Mexican plant, but as far as he was concerned, he was a beginner. We were taught by a wonderful woman whose former career was as a Kindergarten teacher in Mexico. The class went on for around ten weeks, and no one enjoyed each class more than this incredible business and community leader. Fred was one of us, and every one of us had a new friend.
There are many political topics bubbling up this time of year, and my contributions to From Wallingford will cover them in due time. But as much as I write about community and how special Wallingford feels as a community, I felt compelled to take advantage of the privilege of writing these columns to highlight the extraordinary person who lived every day of his life as the embodiment of that community spirit.
The Rotary Club of Wallingford is holding their annual golf tournament on Monday, May 19th, renamed some months ago in Fred Ulbrich’s honor. The proceeds have always gone to the Wallingford Foundation, the principal vehicle — jump-started by a contribution from, yes, Fred Ulbrich — by which Rotary supports so many other organizations. For it to be a huge success would be a most fitting memorial. Please contact Jon Kaplan at email@example.com or go the Rotary website Wallingford rotary.org for more information.
President Truman once said: “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Fred Ulbrich brought that wisdom to life here in Wallingford.
Stephen Knight is a former Wallingford Town Councilor.