STOCKTON, Calif.—Mervin M. Vater, one of the founders of Proco Products Inc., died Feb. 4 after a three-year battle with gliblastoma. He was 75.
He was born in Eugene, Ore., and earned a bachelor's in industrial engineering in 1966 from Oregon State University.
After enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps after graduation, he served in Vietnam from October 1967 to November 1968 as a first lieutenant. In 1972 he received his MBA from Cal State Fullerton.
Following gradation, he joined Hewitt-Robbins Inc. in Buffalo in the customer service department, staying there until the plant closed in 1974. He then joined with Don Luechtag in forming the Luechtag-Vater distributorship, which represented Elliott Rubber & Plastics Co.
Vater then became marketing administration manager in 1976 for the Expansion Joint Division of Holz Rubber Co. in Lodi, Calif., working for Gene Johnson, a colleague at Hewitt-Robbins. When Johnson left in 1979, Vater was promoted to assistant to the president and marketing director for piping products.
In May 1984 he and Johnson partnered to form Proco Products Inc. in Stockton, with Johnson as president and Meter as vice president for administration and sales. The maker of rubber expansion joints and check valves flourished and grew steadily under the two, according to an obituary posted on Proco's website.
After Johnson died in 1993, Vater served as president and CEO. In 2006 he gave up the president title before retiring in 2008.
He was active in the Fluid Sealing Association, serving a term as president.
Ed Marchese, current Proco president and CEO, knew Vater going back to 1976, when Vater joined Holz Rubber. They worked in different product lines and over time became friends, and became especially close, Marchese said, when Vater was promoted to VP and became his boss.
Marchese took Vater's position when he left Holz Rubber, eventually becoming president, but the two remained friends and often socialized as they both traveled to the same trade shows.
The two later worked together again, when Marchese joined Proco in 1999 as executive vice president.
"We had a very unique relationship," Marchese said. "We were very good friends, but not social to the point our families socialized together. But when it came to business or to playing golf, or going to FSA meetings, we maintained a great relationship and a great friendship."
Marchese said he and Vater had the same kind of business philosophy, which made for a good working relationship. "I never ever had to worry about compromising my business ethics or my credibility," he said. "And the friendship never got in the way of business, nor did business get in way of friendship. We maintained a friendship but we always had mutual respect for each other."
As a leader, Marchese described Vater as fair and generous, but demanding. He was a big man who might have come across as someone you would fear because of his size, but "he was like a gentle giant."
"He did expect people to do their job like any boss would," Marchese said. "But at the same time when it came down to being able to talk openly, or about family, he was open to that and people really related to him. Everybody liked him. He was as good as it gets, and he was very successful."
Vater is survived by Linda, his wife of 48 years; and daughters Krissie Wilk (Tony) and Katie Vater.
A celebration of life service will be held Feb. 25 at the Stockton Golf & Country Club. Donations in his memory may be made to the Stockton Symphony, 4329 Quail Lakes, Stockton, Calif., 95207.