Halls of Fame
Kenneth C. Ulrich
Kenneth Ulrich has looked to Santa Ana College for lifelong learning over a span of 50 years as he pursued a career in the construction industry that opened doors for many disadvantaged people. He graduated from Tustin High School, and in 1933, Ken attended Santa Ana College majoring in engineering. Working part-time while completing his studies, he earned his associate’s degree in 1934, and returned to the campus in 1935 for additional studies. In 1984, fifty years later he returned once again to SAC to expand his machine shop and welding skills.
Ken got his start in construction as a Seabee in the Navy. In 1946, he joined his brother-in-law and established the partnership of Means & Ulrich, the largest and most successful construction firm headquartered in Santa Ana, directing his field production operations for more than 35 years.
Ken’s genius is in developing faster, safer and more efficient methods for difficult construction projects. He has been responsible for more than $50 million in public works projects and was often selected to complete high-risk or extremely difficult projects. Two of his most challenging construction projects were Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach and the blimp hangars at the former Marine base in Tustin. An added project was Valley High School in Santa Ana, where Ken provided the engineering know-how to handle the project’s 80-ton, tilt-up concrete wall panels for the theatre building needed to be moved in a procedure called a “blind lift.” Ken was also responsible for building approximately 100 public school facilities including many buildings on the existing Santa Ana College campus.
Based on his experiences in the construction industry, Ken’s contributions to the community have focused on creating meaningful job opportunities for others. Early in his career, he saw a great and unfulfilled need to teach young people a trade in construction. He enlisted the management of the construction unions to establish an apprenticeship program where trainees could earn a living while learning their skills. At the time, the construction union was a closed organization, but through Ken’s and others’ foresight, the unions were convinced to open their membership and create a bona fide apprenticeship program. The state of California then joined in to the encourage participation and awarded certificates to those completing the program. Ken received special recognition by the state for his leadership in building the program.
Believing strongly that an individual’s worth should be judged solely on character and talent, Ken was also instrumental in providing job opportunities for Hispanic and African-American workers at a time when the idea was quite revolutionary. Other contractors quickly saw that Ken was gaining better workmanship, enhanced teambuilding and greater productivity. The result was another groundbreaking advance in opening the unions to participation by all.
Ken’s gift for engineering was not reserved for his career in the construction industry. After retirement, he explored a lifelong love of the automobile and began building a fleet of cars. Beginning with the restoration of a 1915 Buick, Ken had no detailed drawings and worked only by memory of the cars from his childhood. He transformed the pile of rusted steel into a beautiful antique automobile. It was at that point that Ken returned to SAC to enroll in machine shop and welding classes, having discovered that local machine shops did not have the skills to make or repair the parts needed for his restorations. With his skills sharpened through the knowledge he obtained at SAC, he became a master at building parts that looked and worked just like the originals. Ken recently presented each of his children and grandchildren with one of his beautiful prized antique cars.
Ken’s commitment to educational opportunities reflects in the Alberto Radillo Scholarship awarded at SAC. With only a seventh grade education, but with the intelligence and drive to succeed, Alberto was mentored by Ken, secured a job through the union and worked for Means & Ulrich his entire life. In remembrance of Alberto’s dedication after his death, Ken joined other members of the Radillo family and community to establish the scholarship in his name. Today, with the support of Ken and others, the scholarship is one of the largest scholarship endowments at SAC.
Ken has always given credit for his education to the fine teachers at Santa Ana College. Moreover, he made sure his daughters attended SAC before going to the university. At the age of 92, he is quick to captivate an audience with stories about the SAC, and what achieving a college education meant to him and many others.