VBSR Remembers Bruce Seifer and Will Raap
In late 2022, VBSR, Vermont, and our global changemaker movement lost two very bright stars.
As we were penning a remembrance of beloved founding Board member Bruce Seifer, VBSR received the news that Will Raap had passed, sending a wake of shock, reflection, and gratitude through our community and the many others that these two outstanding leaders touched.
Bruce Seifer played a key role in founding VBSR and served on our board from our first year in 1991 to 1999. He brought innovative thinking to Burlington’s approach to urban planning and economic development, which in turn shaped our state and region, and he was a tremendous source of inspiration, ideas, and enthusiasm for those working on local economies and sustainable economic development. He was also a kind, passionate, and generous human being. In recent years Bruce was struggling with illness, though he was still coming to VBSR events and engaging where he could, continuing to share ideas and support with us from afar.
Will Raap was a consummate visionary and entrepreneur who took a disciplined approach to business and partnership, with great success. He was tenacious in the very best sense. Will was a founder of many VBSR member businesses and organizations – including Gardener’s Supply Company, Intervale Center, and Earthkeep Farmcommon – and an investor, mentor, and inspiration to many more. In 2003 VBSR awarded Will our Terry Ehrich Award for Lifetime Achievement, after which he went on to contribute nearly 20 more years of brilliance. In 2022 Will was a standout speaker in our People.Planet.Prosperity. Speaker Series on regenerative agriculture, and he continued to push us to do more, better, differently up until his last days.
Both Bruce and Will had a tremendous impact on VBSR and our work to leverage business as a force for good.
They shaped individuals, businesses, communities, and our broader movement, and losing them has left a gaping hole in both our hearts and our collective work. In 2021, Will questioned me in his characteristic style: “Where is the next generation of business leaders?”
In 2022, inspired in part by Will’s challenge, VBSR launched our Expanding Our Movement Fund to bring new voices and greater access to our movement to revolutionize business in Vermont. This includes free and discounted programming and memberships for students, start-ups, and business leaders who have been historically marginalized, and leadership development for the next generation of values-led business leaders.
With the passing of Bruce and Will, the work of expanding our movement has taken on greater depth and urgency. Individually, and collectively as VBSR, we carry them with us as we gratefully steward their legacy and the next generation.
- Roxanne Vought, Executive Director
The following remembrances were collected from VBSR members and friends in recent months. These are people who knew Bruce Seifer and Will Raap well – as peers, as mentors, as business partners, as friends. We are thankful for their thoughtful contributions to this collection of memories and gratitudes. We do not consider this a static memorial – if you have thoughts about one or both of these leaders you would like to add to this page, please contact us.
“Bruce never accepted words like ‘never’ or ‘cannot’ or ‘impossible’ when it came to creative new investments into business incubators and community development projects. Somehow Bruce seemed to nearly always wrangle a way to ‘yes’ in designing, funding and launching projects. His attitude, method and results have inspired and guided all these years still.”
- David Bradbury, President, Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies
“I got to know Bruce when I worked at the Vermont Department of Economic Development. Not only did I immediately like him, but I also came to value his immense knowledge and understanding of community and economic development.
When we think about those things that we have come to value today – Burlington’s waterfront, VBSR, City Market, employee- and member-owned businesses, etc. – Bruce was there from the beginning, providing support, vision, and leadership when the path forward wasn’t nearly as clear – at least to the rest of us!
As I came to lead VSECU, Bruce proactively reached out to me, sharing stories about his relatives who were engaged in the credit union movement at its inception in the US. I even remember receiving emails and texts from him while he was in the hospital from time-to-time recommending articles or books on credit unions and cooperatives. Not only was he passionate, even as he faced his own personal health struggles, he was always there to help and encourage.
It is very difficult to envision a Burlington without Bruce, his enthusiasm, his smile and wit, his devotion to improving people’s quality of life, and his accomplishments. We are all better because of Bruce and he will be deeply missed.”
- Rob Miller, CEO, VSECU
“Bruce Seifer was for many decades a leader in Community Economic Development for the City of Burlington. He was the longest serving public official in economic development in the State of Vermont. A writer, lecturer, mentor, visionary, and friend.
During my past career as CEO of Main Street Landing, I worked with Bruce to make our vision a reality. Without Bruce, much of what we did to redevelop the Burlington Waterfront would have taken much longer or may not have happened at all. Every time you walk into a City Market, think of Bruce because he championed having a grocery store in downtown.
When honoring the work of Vermont Businesses for Social Responsibility – thank Bruce, he was a founding member. There are hundreds of these examples of Bruce’s impact on our City and our State.
I saw Bruce on Halloween of this year. Rick and I visited him at his house and brought him my homemade Chicken Stew and some Gluten Free Banana Bread. We sat for a long time in his living room and chatted about our mutual pasts and visioned for the future. When I hugged him, I did so for a long time – his breathing was strained and I knew his illness was taking its toll.
I will miss my friend, collaborator, colleague, and Bruce’s bright and electric intelligence. He was a force and I hope he finds his way to his new place of radiance.”
- Melinda Moulton, former CEO of Main Street Landing
“Bruce Seifer was my friend for nearly 40 years. He was the epitome of the driven public servant guided by a north star grounded in justice. He cared so deeply and put every ounce of himself into making our community, state and nation a better place for those who are so often left at the margins of society.
He was deeply committed to the ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy that the decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.
Bruce was that unique kind of visionary who also knew how to get things done. He made a lasting impact that will live on for generations to come in Burlington and beyond. Rest in peace, dear brother Bruce!”
- Brian Pine, Director of the Burlington Community & Economic Development Office
“I worked with Bruce for over twenty years at CEDO as we all worked to clean up and create a public waterfront, redevelop contaminated properties, build and improve affordable housing, and work with entrepreneurs and business owners – he was a friend, supporter, cheerleader and colleague whose enthusiasm for the City and our work was palpable. His network was unmatched in size and diversity and was at the core of our collective ability to enact positive change.
Repeatedly, Bruce and our colleagues would push the envelope and reach beyond orthodox thinking working to create a sustainable, equitable, and dynamic local economy. His embrace of the arts and culture as cornerstones of community building, his ability to communicate the importance of our work, his deep understanding of poverty and commitment to mitigating it’s impacts, and his embrace of the dynamic, multicultural evolution of our City were all qualities that Bruce carried each day.
He was a gentle man with a kind heart, dedicated to all of us – and will be greatly missed.”
- Nick Warner, Executive Director, Winooski Valley Park District
“Will Raap started Gardener’s Supply Company (GSC) in 1983 selling innovative gardening solutions including aids for the seniors and people with mobility issues, for example, the garden kneeler that we still sell today.
In 1986, Gardener’s Supply Company moved to the Intervale on the last dairy farm in Burlington, including over 700 acres of agricultural land that had gone into disrepair. Will saw an exciting opportunity. It took several years to clean up the abandoned cars, discarded appliances and garbage. He started one of the first CSA farms and the Intervale Foundation funded through GSC which ultimately became the nonprofit Intervale Center. Will collaborated with the city of Burlington (including Bruce Seifer of CEDO) to transform the land in the Intervale.
Will believed in wealth equality and employees having a stake in the business they worked in. He wanted them to understand the concept that the business has three legs to the stool – people, profit and planet. All were important and none outweighed the other. In 1987, he started the Employee Stock Ownership Plan (ESOP) and began the transfer of ownership over time to the employees.
Fast forward to 2009, when GSC became 100% employee owned on Dec 21, the Winter Solstice. It was intentional on that day, a day of renewal and rebirth as we move from the shortest day of the year to the beginning of longer days. Each and every December 21, we celebrate at all GSC locations with pie to share for both our employees and customers to celebrate the solstice and employee ownership. That slice of pie symbolizes employee ownership. Employees are also given a piece of paper and encouraged to write down their goals or intentions and seal them in an envelope. These envelopes are collected and shared back on June 21, the Summer Solstice.
Will firmly believed in growing food locally, the power of gardening and that we all must be the change we seek in the world. He felt strongly that business must be conducted in a way that honored people and place. His passion and humanity and kindness will continue to guide and inspire us for many years to come.”
- Cindy Turcot, CEO, Gardener’s Supply Company
“Will Raap was a mentor, investor, and active member of Encore’s Board of Advisors. More than that, he was a disrupter for all of us at Encore Renewable Energy over the past 12 years. We were lucky to know him and learn from him.
Will pushed me early on in my entrepreneurial adventure to get comfortable with the uncomfortable, to question what was and is possible – and to understand the importance and effectiveness of servant leadership. This is a huge loss for me, for Encore and for the entire VBSR community.
It is difficult, in fact, to put into words the extent of this loss for Will’s family, his friends, his colleagues, the State of Vermont and the world of mission-driven business leadership that he helped to create and nurture. It will be hard to replace that amount of vision, integrity and tenacity to work for a cleaner, more equitable planet, but I am confident that he will live on in all of us and that the seeds he planted for a better way of doing business and protecting our environment will endure.
He was one in a million. We will miss him.”
- Chad Farrell, Founder and CEO, Encore Renewable Energy
“Will Raap and I first became close friends when I joined the Intervale Foundation’s Board. Will was the Chair and when he stepped down, I stepped into his big and bountiful Chairmanship footsteps.
Will was a visionary. He saw everything through a lens of opportunity and then he slowly and strategically put into place the methods and principles to make it happen. Will was a champion of the green agricultural movement and socially responsible business practices. His role helping to guide VBSR’s legislative policies was legendary.
Will was one of the first business owners in Vermont to sell his company, Gardener’s Supply, to his employees. This practice then grew wings across the country. Will’s foray into economic development as a partnership between people and planet was the thread that tied together so many of his entrepreneurial projects.
Will was never afraid to navigate out into the passing lane and present new ideas, programs, policies, visions, and plans that took what we all found typical and build a new dynamic for the rest of us to follow. His mind was so keen that rarely could we keep up, but he was patient and guided us along with him throughout his life.
Will was a kind, warmhearted, brilliant, and deeply passionate man and his absence will be felt for a long, long time.”
- Melinda Moulton, former CEO of Main Street Landing