Will Raap Obituary, Death – Will Raap, 73, a Vermont entrepreneur and environmentalist died Monday night, is perhaps best known for founding Gardener’s Supply Company or building Burlington’s Intervale Center — or even for his most recent project, which created a common area for new, sustainable agriculture businesses. Those who worked with Raap, on the other hand, believed his impact was personal and continuously focused on the junction of community and the environment. Raap “totally redefined what capitalism could accomplish for a community,” says Bill Lofy, creator of a botanical and cannabis company in which Raap was an early investor.
“He gave so many chances,” Lofy observed. “He established a company with a few hundred people. He came up with the Intervaledion. He founded a lot of businesses. He was a mentor to many individuals.” Raap died Monday night following a long illness, according to his family. “He was a guiding beacon and vital in many of our lives,” Lynette Raap and her three daughters, Kelsy, Addison, and Dylan, said in a statement released Tuesday. Many people referred to Raap as a “visionary” since he was known for asking big questions and pushing forward difficult, mission-driven activities. “He knew how to develop a corporation that didn’t fit the molds of our parents,” said Alan Newman, co-founder of Gardener’s Supply Company alongside Raap.
Newman, who remained in contact with Raap for 40 years, went on to become a serial entrepreneur, creating Seventh Generation, Magic Hat Brewing Company, and other businesses. Cindy Turcot, who first worked with Raap at Gardener’s Supply, is now the company’s CEO. “Bill recognized something in me and invested in me being who I am,” she said. Raap urged Gardener’s Supply Company, a retail and mail-order company based in Burlington, to become employee-owned as soon as it opened its doors in 1983. “In 1987, we established an ESOP, or employee stock ownership scheme,” Turcot explained. “We were also early adopters. When it came to shared ownership, he honestly thought that as employees, we should have a stake in the company for which we worked.” Even when he was in his late 30s, Raap envisioned a company that shared profits with its employees, according to Turcot.
He took a wage reduction to give her a raise while she was in her twenties and working at the company. The company currently employs over 250 people and has offices in Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts. When Raap first suggested building an incubation facility in the Intervale, Newman laughed. “No one saw any advantage to it.” The Intervale today has 360 acres of trails and farmland, a CSA, and room for food hubs and new farming operations to help the local food chain.
“Over the last 35 years, I’ve seen the Intervale become this amazing incubator for farming within the city limits of Burlington,” Newman said. “It has supplied fresh food to a large portion of Burlington. I thought that was the most ludicrous, stupid notion I’d ever heard, yet he executed it flawlessly.” Raap had recently attempted to repurpose Charlotte’s Nordic Farm into Earthkeep Farmcommon, an environmentally friendly farm and agritourism venture. He also assisted his children with the formation of Upstate Elevator Supply Co., a CBD firm based in Burlington. According to Turcot, Raap approached business with a “triple bottom line” mindset. “It’s about people, money, and the environment,” she explained. “That was how he had always lived his life.”
According to Lofy, who served as chief of staff to former Gov. Peter Shumlin, Raap is a “towering figure” in Vermont’s economic and agricultural communities. Raap, he observed, drew people together but was “unsparing in his sincerity,” giving them the impression that his gratitude was earned. “Will didn’t attempt to please everyone,” Lofy continued. “He was unequivocal. He was straightforward. That meant you could trust Will when he said you done an excellent job.” Raap was raised in Fremont, California. He and Lynette relocated to Vermont in the early 1980s and never left. “He was a maker and a dreamer,” Lofy said. “I’ve never encountered someone like him, and I doubt I’ll ever meet someone like Will Raap.”