Early in life, Walt Socha realized that the strength of any good home rests on a solid foundation.
As a first-generation Polish-American growing up in Schenectady, he toiled at many different jobs before finding work as a mason’s helper. That experience led him to start his own masonry business, which grew from building sidewalks and steps to foundations for homes.
From foundations, Socha expanded his scope to general contracting. From 1959 until the early 1970s, he built roughly 200 homes in Glenville and neighboring Clifton Park — structures that continued to garner him praise years after he left the home-building business.
“We used to run into people over the years and would always hear about how well-built his homes are,” said William Socha, one of his three children.
Walt Socha, who built a very successful property management company from the foundation up, died on Dec. 4 after a short illness. He was 85.
Born in Schenectady, Socha grew up in the city’s Vale neighborhood. His father died when he was 12, leaving him as the eldest son who had to help support a family struggling to make ends meet.
“He often didn’t know where his next meal would be,” his son said.
Socha graduated from Nott Terrace High School and immediately entered the local workforce. His home-building prowess helped construct the colonials and raised ranches in the North Crest development in Clifton Park and Willow Glen project in Glenville.
But Socha saw limitations in the business model of his company and decided to switch focus. He saw a market for apartments in Glenville, a once-rural town that was rapidly growing.
Socha first proposed building Indian Brook Apartments, a 96-unit complex he wanted to construct on farm land off of Van Buren Road. The project, however, proved to be controversial among a vocal contingent of residents.
Some feared the apartments would bring many of the problems associated with urban life to Glenville, and they pressured the town to reject the project. Socha was undeterred and fought the rejection up to the state’s highest court, which inevitably ruled in his favor.
Socha went on to develop and maintain Indian Brook and numerous other properties in the town, including the Shady Lane Professional Building, Shady Lane Apartments, Socha Plaza and Socha Plaza South Professional Office Building.
Today, Socha Management oversees 444 units and 80,000 square feet of commercial space. The company is also in the process of adding another 60,000 square feet of space in a $10 million, three-story mixed-use building now being constructed on Route 50 between Socha Plaza and the professional building to the south.
Socha’s family has also entered politics. Grant Socha, Walt’s grandson, was elected to the Schenectady County Legislature in November and will represent District 3, which includes Niskayuna and Glenville.
William Socha remembers his father as a man driven by a tireless work ethic. And he recalled his father imparting this ethic to his children during their youth.
“We’ve heard it our whole life — be the first one on the job and the last one off,” he said.
Socha said his father also knew how to enjoy life. As a prominent member of the Schenectady Home Builders Association, he traveled the world with his wife, Sophie, trips that he colorfully chronicled with slide photos.
Socha often lent sage advice to workers planning to start their own businesses. His record of helping other prospective business owners prompted the Socha family to create a scholarship for entrepreneurs, which gives $1,000 to a pair of Scotia-Glenville High School seniors each year.
“I can’t tell you the number of people who have come up and said, ‘Your dad was an influence to me in starting my own business,’ ” his son recalled.
Services for Socha will be at the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Glenville, with calling hours starting at 8:30 a.m. on Jan. 4. A memorial Mass will follow at 10:30 a.m.