Dana Woudenberg grinned as he reminisced about growing up with his father, John Woudenberg. “He was a hard worker and always had business deals going. John was also the biggest human being I’d ever seen,” he laughs. “If he started yelling, my brother and I would run.”
John had several careers over the years, and one of them was running Star-Lite Barricade & Sign Co., which he purchased in 1962. The business had been the Phoenix branch of a Los Angeles-based company. Star-Lite would go on to become the oldest and largest traffic-control equipment-rental company in the Southwest, and it’s one of five companies now controlled by Star-Lite Barricade & Sign Co., a multimillion-dollar Scottsdale construction and real-estate firm.
How did this tremendous growth occur? The intriguing story includes gridiron glory, operating a business like a big family, and the good fortune to be based in a city that was a leader in instituting traffic-control regulations.
John, a Denver native, excelled as a lineman on the football team at the University of Denver. He started his NFL career with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1940 and finished with the San Francisco 49ers in 1949. In between, he served in the U.S. Navy from 1943-1945 during World War II.
John and his wife, Myrna, moved to Arizona after Dana and his brother, Kevin, were born. “John would spend the off-season selling cars during his career with the 49ers, then went full-time into sales when he retired from professional football,” Dana says. “We ended up in Arizona in 1955 because my dad bought a Pontiac dealership in Mesa. When he sold the dealership, he bought Star-Lite of Arizona, which became Star-Lite Barricade & Sign. My dad was always kind of a wheeler-dealer guy.”
John’s sons worked part-time at Star-Lite as teens and eventually made Woudenberg Enterprises their careers. “I held every conceivable role,” Kevin says, “from working in the yard, to supporting the equipment preparation, to going to job sites to set up and install our traffic-control devices and service them, to all the numerous middle-management roles.” He eventually became the manager of Star-Lite's Phoenix location, and later Vice President of the Service Group that supported the other Arizona branches in Tucson, Flagstaff, Prescott, Bullhead City, and Yuma.
John Woudenberg and Dana Woudenberg
Star-Lite was a new and “very unusual” type of business in its infancy, according to Kevin. “The City of Phoenix had just published their first traffic-barricade manual, and became the leading municipality for implementing uniform work-zone traffic-control specifications,” he said. “Before the “U.S. Department of Transportation Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices” was printed, Phoenix was the frontrunner in providing safety for motorists, workers, and pedestrians in construction zones. From this type of government-required mechanism, the traffic-control industry grew substantially.”
Star-Lite was also a trendsetter and pioneered equipment in the traffic-control industry. These included Dura Stem vertical-panel barricades that were lightweight and tough, and the TrafficMaster portable traffic signal that replaced permanent traffic-control systems during construction.
Besides running Star-Lite, John also served as a Scottsdale city councilman and was elected mayor in 1964. He cut short his term after six months, however, to focus on Star-Lite, which he passed on to Dana in 1968.
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, May/June 2020 issue, Vol. 9, No.3.