John Rakolta Sr. was a child of Romanian immigrants who settled in Detroit, Mich., in the early 1900s. After graduation from Detroit's Pershing High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and was selected for the Army Air Corps. He became a bombardier navigator during World War II.
In 1945, John joined what was then one of dozens of Detroit's small general contractors – Walbridge Aldinger Company. One year later, he married his wife of 57 years, Mary. He worked his way through college at night, and in 1953 he received a bachelor's degree in business administration from the University of Detroit.
By 1970, John was the sole owner, chairman and CEO of the company. Among Walbridge's many notable projects are the DaimlerChrysler Technology Center in Auburn Hills, the Nissan Research and Development Center in Detroit, the Rouge Steel Hot Strip Mill and the Compuware Headquarters building in downtown Detroit.
During the 70s and 80s John established a reputation as an honest and shrewd business leader, skilled in both the field and office tasks of construction. During this time, John recognized his responsibility to the industry to build leaders as well as buildings. In doing so, he hired his son and several other then young engineers who he would coach and mentor and guide to become the current leaders of Walbridge.
John played an active role as a leader and mentor in the construction and automotive industries throughout his career. He remained chairman and CEO of Walbridge until 1993 when his son, John Jr. succeeded him. He was the recipient of many honors, active in numerous industry and civic organizations and served as a trustee of New Detroit.
He was also very active in the Romanian-American community in Detroit, and his far-reaching generosity included building several Romanian churches in the Detroit area. Throughout his career, John was a man of his word, always filled with respect for others. He was a great constructor – not only of buildings, but of businesses and lives.