WWII Navy friends create legacy with Truitt & White Berkeley lumberyard

BERKELEY, Calif. (KGO) -- Fleet Week has always meant something special to the owners of a Berkeley lumberyard, started by two Navy veterans after World War II. Its future is now in the hands of a third generation, as Truitt & White celebrates its 75th anniversary.

World War II brought people from different walks of life together. George Truitt from Texas found himself working with a young Bob White from Wisconsin in the Navy at the Oakland supply depot.

"They ran and operated this facility that brought in all the wood and put it all together in the right order and quantity and prepared it for shipment across the Pacific," said White's son Dan, who is Truitt & White's chief financial officer.

That was a critical military mission as the Navy was building barracks and aircraft hangars at newly established bases across the Pacific. It also forged a friendship that only deepened after the war when they married, settled down in the Bay Area and decided to create a lumber yard together in Berkeley in 1946.

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"The two of them started out small, had a very small crew and initially it was difficult to get material. Everything was still in short supply and rationed and all that," Dan White said.

Many of their customers were fellow Navy veterans. Retired Admiral Chester Nimitz also settled in Berkeley after commanding the allied air, land and sea forces in the Pacific. He autographed a photo of him aboard the Missouri when Japan surrendered.

"He learned that both my dad and Mr. Truitt were Navy men, and so after that, he started coming in," said Bob White's other son, Warren, who is company president. "He'd sit down in their office and talked to them over a cup of coffee and talked to them obviously about war, life and all those kinds of things."

Both Truitt and White have passed, but the lumber business has grown.

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Many family owned businesses run into a problem in that the next generation doesn't want to be part of the business. But the White family is very fortunate because they want to be part of this legacy that started in the Navy. No one from the Truitt family remains connected to the business.

Dan and Warren's sons Brian, Zack and Jake have stepped in, building on a foundation created by two Navy buddies. Brian has an M.B.A., Zack has a business degree, and Jake has a law degree. The family says it has always stressed personalized customer service, and it takes pride in having long-time employees among its full-time team of 80. Two recently retired after 40 years at Truitt & White.

Skills originally developed to support U.S. overseas bases overseas have been passed down to a third generation helping to support the proliferation of construction projects in the Bay Area.
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