Will Raap Obituary: Will Raap, a beloved husband, father, friend, and renowned entrepreneurial activist, died suddenly on December 12, 2022, at 73. He made a lot of progress and set the wheels in motion for many more.
How would you sum up Will Raap? His wisdom, sense of humor, pragmatism, grace, and ease. He has a great love for the environment. His complete lack of pretense, his lack of emphasis on his “legacy.” The words multiply. But most importantly, he had a strong sense of regard for and conviction in everyone’s inherent value. He also believed that the collective and the individual could alter the world.
Will Raap was at ease speaking at conferences and pleading with legislators to get on board and make something happen. He was doing it with his family and coworkers while packing boxes, pulling weeds, and cleaning up pigeon droppings.
Will Raap redefined and provided a paradigm for what it meant to be a leader in our society. He had great aspirations, was determined, extremely charismatic, and fiercely competitive. However, this was founded on mutual respect, emotional honesty, compassion, and empathy. Will was a kind mentor to many, and he believed in you.
Where Was Will Raap Spent Most of His Life?
Will Raap, a native Californian, spent most of his life as a devoted Vermonter and was always aware of other cultures. His life’s work was significantly influenced by his time working in planning in the Central Valley after completing his degree at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. Will imagined a future built-in local commerce and agriculture after observing the effects of large-scale agriculture and the stupidity of harming our environment to send a stiff, tasteless tomato across the county or around the world.
His “conventional” work path did not fulfill him, so he traveled to Scotland to join the Findhorn intentional community, built on spirituality, ecology, and cooperative living. Will’s life was significantly impacted by this experience of taking charge of the situation and realizing the effectiveness of teamwork. He also met Lynette there, who would become his wife and serve as his life partner and spiritual advisor for the following 45 years.
Will joined Lyman Wood at Garden Way, a company established to promote a living-off-the-land mentality after he and Lynette returned to the United States. Lyman had a vision for a different sort of company that contributed to society and was managed through shared ownership and collaboration. Unfortunately, a corporate coup resulted in significant layoffs.
At the time, Will Raap was employed for Gardens for All, a division that promoted home gardening and published National Gardening magazine. Will started selling things within the magazine’s pages after being forced to devise a way to monetize their viewership better. Later, Will separated this venture into its catalog company, giving rise to Gardener’s Supply in 1983.
Despite some early corporate near-death experiences, this was a time when specialist cataloging was still in its infancy, and the rising tide lifted many boats, including Gardener’s Supply.
Gardener’s Supply wasn’t established to conduct catalog sales of goods. It was started because Will thought that business should be the driving force for good in our society and that the Gardener’s Supply team could use gardening to change the world. His vision was far ahead of its time; the idea of socially conscious business hardly existed at the time.
Will Raap was looking for a new kind of business structure that would reward not just the financial investment made but also the work and efforts of each person who was adding value to the company. Only four years after starting Gardener’s Supply, he had a strong appreciation for the contributions made by each employee. Through the early implementation of an ESOP or employee stock ownership plan, Will guided the business toward employee ownership.
Will Raap was steadfast in his commitment to retain the firm in the Vermont community, even though it increased in value and he could have sold it for more money. Ultimately, he would sell Gardener’s Supply to the staff, who would take ownership of the entire business. With 300 year-round employees and yearly sales of more than $100 million, Gardener’s Supply has expanded.
Will Raap first encountered the Intervale, which was literally “the wrong side of the tracks,” one afternoon in the early 1980s when retrieving his stolen and abandoned car.
Will Raap discovered the fertile soils’ untapped agricultural potential there. The last dairy farm in Burlington, acres of cow corn, abandoned tires, and minor crime were all located in The Intervale. Will moved Gardener’s Supply there in 1986 with the idea that good usage would drive away the bad.
He soon established Intervale Farm and Garden, which would later become the nonprofit Intervale Center, to foster the development of new farms and farmers, reinventing Vermont agriculture in the post-dairy era and producing 10% of the city of Burlington’s fresh food locally.
The Intervale Center is currently revolutionizing agriculture nationwide.
Will Raap had a relentless desire to begin things. He continued to start numerous more businesses, some of which were profitable and others not, ranging from commercial greenhouse sales to the production of wood goods (Serac Corporation in Georgia, Vermont) to ecological wastewater treatment. After stepping away from Gardener’s Supply’s daily operations, he worked with his children to build the hugely successful Green State Gardener and Upstate Elevator Supply Co. He most recently put together a team to launch Steep Hill Labs, a renowned cannabis testing facility in Vermont.
When he was 72 years old, he took on his most enormous task by buying the former Nordic Farm in Charlotte and transforming it into a thriving ecosystem for agricultural companies, a working example of the future of specialty agriculture in Vermont. That goal still exists at Earthkeep Farmcommon.
Will’s influence extended well beyond Vermont and the United States. Will repeated comparable for-profit and charity efforts to boost green entrepreneurship in Costa Rica, where he and Lynette had strong relationships. He used the same philosophy in international commercial alliances, forging connections and engaging in socially conscious sourcing in Europe, India, and Asia.
Will Raap was also at his most at ease in Costa Rica, where he and Lynette graciously hosted guests and shared the wonder and beauty of that nation.
Will Raap grew enterprises and ideas, but he also grew people. First and foremost are his imaginative and loving children, Dylan, Kelsy, and Addison, who are all free-spirited individuals and the perfect embodiment of Will and Lynette’s practicality, perseverance, and enthusiasm.
Will Raap would serve as a genuine mentor for many people throughout their lives. He was a charismatic leader who saw promise in everyone. Will Raap demonstrated quiet confidence clothed in modesty by being generous with his time and blunt with his ideas. He was an example of “servant leadership,” never asking anyone to do anything he wouldn’t do. With understanding and compassion, he interacted with each team member as he would with a close friend.
Will Raap had selflessness and confidence; he would identify a problem and provide a practical solution that others could use, allowing the good work to spread. And so it is.
Only with boldness and perseverance does that work. Will approach risk-taking with a “Why not?” mentality. Wil Raapl became more motivated to demonstrate that “You can” the more you told him, “You can’t.” This did not always work to his advantage; he occasionally hung onto projects, ventures, and even relationships for too long. But every loss resulted in knowledge gained and a new route to a better outcome.
His family deeply appreciates the profound love he showed them and the love he instilled in them as concern for others’ well-being. He also taught them that every issue can be solved in a way that benefits both parties and how to dedicate themselves to bettering conditions on the planet Earth, our shared home. Even though it hurts to be without him, they appreciate the outpouring of love and support and understand that his influence will continue.
He will continue to exist in the spirit of everyone fortunate enough to have been affected by him for as long as we remember him.
Will Raap is survived by two devoted sisters, Linda Kramer of Lafayette, California, Sherrie Crumpler of Malibu, California, and his wife and children. Will Raap’s favorite holiday, Earth Day, will be marked with a celebration of life; further information to come.