Our History

From farming to refineries to paving: learn about our rich history of successful projects dating all the way back to 1982.

OUR STORYOUR PURPOSE

Humble Beginnings

Dairy Farming and the Three-Man Crew

“My attitude was always: ‘You bet, we can do that.’ And then I would go home and think, ‘How in the world am I going to do that?’. But that was always my approach: ‘You bet, we can do that.'”

 It was this can-do attitude that launched our founder Jerry Libolt into the world of refinery services in 1982. A dairy farmer by trade, he made a reputation for himself with Soil Conservation Services because of his expertise with manure lagoons. “I worked very closely with Soil Conservation Services,” explained Jerry, “and I got a call one day that said, ‘Hey Jerry – there’s a refinery out in Ferndale doing land farming that might need your help.'”

“I had never been in a refinery in my life before. I hadn’t even thought about a refinery before that,”  Jerry emphasizes. Never one to back down from a challenge, he told them he would come on down and check it out. He started by teaching them how to farm, and it quickly evolved into more and more work. Jerry and his crew successfully tackled any projects the refineries threw their way, and they became an important presence there. By 1990, he had renamed Western Services to Western Refinery Services, and sold off the other parts of the company in order to concentrate on the refinery work.

“I was a hands-on kind of guy,” Jerry says, “If there was a tank to clean, I’d be the first one in. That was who I was. That was what it took.” It’s one of the reasons that WRS grew the way it did – Jerry and his crew were the epitome of perseverance. “My office was my pickup,” Jerry laughs. He only had three or four employees at the time, and he wrote payroll checks right from his front seat.

 

1980s

“You Bet, We Can Do That”

Grit and hard work have never been in shortage here at WRS. When Jerry talks about his initial projects, he explains that the refineries were “just looking for someone who was willing to do it.” But as he goes on, it’s clear that he and his (at the time) three-man crew also offered an unmatched level of innovation. He remarks, “They wanted people who were willing to think outside the box for solutions.” So business continued to grow, and so did WRS’s list of services.

Jerry remembers fondly: “One day they came to us and said, ‘Hey Jerry – do you think you could pave for us?’ And I thought to myself, ‘I don’t know… I’ve never paved before.’ But I said, ‘Heck yeah!’ That was always my attitude. My attitude was always: ‘You bet, we can do that.’ And then I would go home and think, ‘How in the world am I going to do that?’. But that was always my approach: ‘You bet, we can do that.'”

 

1990s

Good People and More Growth

With growth and time came a new set of challenges. WRS needed to hire more people for office work, and the systems needed to be digitized.  Jerry recognized the importance of adapting and flexibility, which had been a hallmark of WRS since the beginning. He says: “I’ve always taken the approach in business that you’ve got to be willing to try. You may not how exactly how you’re going to do it, but then surround yourself with people who can help you with that.” That was always important to Jerry, to have good people giving good advice. He sums it up well by saying: “You can’t be an expert at everything.

So surrounding himself with good people is exactly what Jerry did. And as WRS grew, fostering positive relationships with employees was always at the forefront. He explains: “Your employees are your company. They represent you every single day, in every job, every place you work. Employees are the most valuable asset a company has.”

It’s important to note that growth didn’t come without hardship. Jerry expresses that when he was in ownership, he carried the weight of every project and jobsite squarely on his shoulders: “If something went wrong, it was my responsibility.” This constant pressure started wearing on him, and he felt called to bring in more leadership at WRS. Billy VanZanten, who was one of Jerry’s first employees back in 1982, became Jerry’s first official partner in 1992. Billy had started at WRS as a truck driver and operator, then in the refineries as a site lead.

The 90s brought another key player onto the scene at WRS: Ryan Likkel. Ryan graduated from Lynden Christian in 1990, and started at WRS that summer for what he thought would be two weeks. That two weeks quickly turned into a year, and after a short break to study business and accounting at Davenport University in Michigan, Ryan returned in 1993. From 1993 to 1998 he filled a variety of positions from refinery work to bookkeeping to office management, and then in 1998 he officially bought into the company.

 

2000s

Billy and Ryan Take the Reins

By 2000, Jerry had sold out completely and retired. By 2001, Billy and Ryan were sole owners of WRS and filled the positions of CEO and COO, respectively.

In 2003, Ryan’s dad was diagnosed with lung cancer, and Jerry (a long-time friend of Ryan’s dad) offered to come back on board to help out so that Ryan can spend more time with his family. A year later, his dad passed and Ryan moved to more of a half-time role at WRS for a few months. When Ryan did return full-time, Jerry expressed that he really enjoyed being back, and they decided that he should stay on to help with the financial side of things so that Ryan could focus on growing the business.

 

2010s

No Stopping Now

Obviously Jerry chose his successors well, because between 2010 and 2020, the company experienced another period of incredible growth. By 2012 WRS had grown to a team of 92, and by the end of the decade that number had more than doubled to reach over 200 employees.

Jerry served as the full-time CFO from 2010-2017, and then moved to a lighter workload once again. Cody Bormouth then joined the team in 2019 as CFO, in order to oversee the financial strategy and direction of WRS.

 

Present Day

Looking Forward to a Bright Future

Today WRS employs more than 230 people, and offers a wide variety of services: paving, seal-coating, civil construction, concrete construction, technology and design, industrial maintenance, land-leveling scrapers, UAV mapping and inspection, emergency response, demolition and processing, landscaping, and hydro excavation utility location. Who says you can’t do it all, right?

As for Jerry, he continues to emphasize that although he’s now less involved in the day-to-day operations at WRS, he’s still extremely proud of the company and the direction that Billy and Ryan are taking it in. He says: “I’m very happy with how things are going now, with what happened, and with how Billy and Ryan are doing. I’m still here, although I don’t do nearly as much as I used to, but I like to stay in the flow of things. It’s been a great run… it’s been fun.”