Waltz ’85:
“Anything’s Possible”

Stella and Jesse Waltz ’85 with their yellow lab, Sammi.—Photos courtesy Waltz.

Jesse Waltz ’85 never took higher education for granted. No one in his family had gone to college, and his parents had only gone through school as far as the eighth grade. He was the seventh of nine children, and resources were scarce, to say the least.

Then came high school. Waltz, a wrestler, wrestled in the Pennsylvania state wrestling championship, and at the state meet, a college wrestling coach came up to talk to him. The coach was Isaac “Ike” Sherlock, VMI wrestling coach from 1978–85, and Waltz’s life would never be the same. In time, the young man uncertain of his future would matriculate at VMI, earn a Bachelor of Science degree in civil engineering, and become the first person in his family to graduate from college.

He went on to establish two businesses, JES Foundation Repair and KBH Business Management Systems, which he evolved into industry leaders. Together, the two businesses led to the formation of Groundworks, the nation’s leading and fastest-growing foundation repair and water management solutions company, now employing more than 4,000 people.

In gratitude for all that VMI and Sherlock did for him, Waltz recently established the Coach Ike Sherlock and Jesse Waltz ’85 Wrestling Scholarship, which will be awarded for the first time in the 2023–24 academic year. “I never would have been able to go to college without a scholarship,” Waltz explained. “VMI awarded me a full wrestling scholarship. It opened my world.”

Having considered enlisting in the military straight out of high school, Waltz didn’t object to coming to a military college. In fact, he saw an upside. “Growing up, I was very poor. I never had nice clothes or any of that. So, to me, it was a good thing that everybody would be dressed the same,” he noted. “I was happy I wouldn’t need to buy clothes. I couldn’t.”

The Waltzes with their children in Aruba.

The Waltzes with their children in Aruba.

Just as cadet uniforms level the Corps socially, Waltz found satisfaction in competing in an individual sport, and the lessons he learned from wrestling at VMI carried over well into business. “[Wrestling is] a matter of your preparation and execution, and you can’t look and say it was the ref’s fault or the coach’s fault,” said Waltz, who won the individual Southern Conference championship in 1985, his 1st Class year. “Those skills and principles, without a doubt, helped me fight through the difficult times in business.”

Sherlock, who led the Keydet grapplers to a Southern Conference championship in 1985 and was named SoCon coach of the year four times, made sure the young men on his team were learning more than grips, holds, and pins. Waltz remembers going on road trips with the team and seeing Sherlock reading books, such as Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People.

With the knowledge from books like Carnegie’s in mind, Sherlock would talk to his wrestlers. “He was constantly reading and making you realize you can do better,” Waltz remembered. “Coach also helped get me my first job at Norfolk’s Naval Facilities Engineering Command.”

Even in wrestling practice, Sherlock knew how far to push his team. “Coach had the ability to push you beyond where you wanted to go and not make you hate him,” Waltz stated.

In recognition of all he had done for VMI athletics, Sherlock was inducted into the VMI Sports Hall of Fame in 2011.

After VMI, it was time for Waltz to wrestle with building his business, which now spans the country and operates in 25 different states. Tackling wet basements, structural repairs, and damp crawlspaces wasn’t easy—but neither was his time at VMI. Thankfully, Waltz had learned how to face a challenge head-on without wavering.

Now a resident of Virginia Beach, Virginia, with a second home on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, Waltz stepped down as Groundworks CEO in 2018. Today, he focuses on private equity, real estate, and other investments, and spending time with his family.

Describing his success as “a process over the years of trying to get better,” Waltz says that the lessons he learned at VMI are what helped him rise from an economically disadvantaged background in the small town of Sunbury, Pennsylvania, to the person he is today. “VMI helped me with that stick-to-itivness and never give up mentality,” said Waltz. “You can’t quit.”

No cadet makes it through VMI alone, of course, and Waltz is especially grateful for a group of friends who always had his back. “I want to send special thanks to my roommates, W.G. Rowlett, Dave Stinnette, John Wranek, and Gary ‘Mac’ McClelland, and also to my dedicated wrestling workout partner, Ben Walker,” he said. “They undoubtedly helped me make it through VMI, and I will always be grateful for their friendships.”

Waltz noted it will be “humbling” to realize he has made it possible for another young man to attend the Institute on a wrestling scholarship, just as he did. “I was that kid who did not know what my future looked like when I entered this place,” he stated. “Anything’s possible. Just to realize what you can accomplish over time, with dedication and the willingness to do whatever it takes—it’s almost unbelievable.”

  • Mary Price

    Mary Price Development Writer/Communications Specialist

    The development writer plays a key role in producing advancement communications. This role imagines, creates, and produces a variety of written communication to inspire donors to make gifts benefiting VMI. Utilizing journalistic features and storytelling, the development writer will produce content for areas such as Annual Giving, stewardship, and gift planning.