David Bagwell was a bit of a celebrity in Moorpark.
He and his wife spent years building a family business, which was featured several times on an ABC television reality show. Customers sought Bagwell almost as much for his good-natured personality as they did his skills as a contractor. When he took his life Nov. 21, he may have taken his beloved company with him.
Randy Wheeler, business advisor to Bagwell Construction, said that without the talent and dedication of his longtime friend, the company isn’t likely to make it to the other side of the recession.
“He was the heart and the soul of that business,” Wheeler said. “Now that he’s gone, I don’t think the company can survive. No one else can do what he does. He thrived on it.”
Like most businesses in housing-related industries, the company took a substantial hit last year. Wheeler said the financial strain on the company, coupled with Bagwell’s divorce proceedings, weighed heavily on the 44-year-old’s mind.
“It was rough for him, for his family, for the company,” Wheeler said. “The business was failing, his wife was leaving — everything was coming down around him.”
Figures from the Associated General Contractors of America Construction show that national construction employment shed 1.1 million jobs over the past year. Wheeler said Bagwell was definitely feeling the pinch.
“It’s a tough time to be doing this. You just have to take it one job at a time,” said Christine Reinhardt, co-owner of Rhino Construction, also in Moorpark. “His company shot right up; they were even on television. But with that kind of overhead, it had to come back down again, unfortunately.”
Bagwell Construction was featured three times on ABC’s “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” which allowed Bagwell to combine two of his favorite things: philanthropy and construction.
The popular TV show remodels homes for families that have faced hardships. Bagwell worked on three builds with ABC.
Two of those projects were in 2004, during the first season of “Extreme Makeover Home Edition,” when the show was still a small-time operation and not a ratings standout.
“David and his wife Jodi were like family to us. They believed in us when we were a little tiny show,” said Diane Korman, who produced the show. “He didn’t do it for compensation. His heart and soul was about giving back, making a difference. You don’t close your business for a month for this if you don’t have a giving nature.”
Korman reached out to Bagwell in fall 2003 because she’d heard good things about Bagwell Construction. It didn’t take long to convince him to sign on with the fledgling project, which had only been picked up for five episodes.
“David was one of the first builders we worked with — back when we didn’t know what the heck we were doing,” added Korman. “It wasn’t a publicity move on his part; we weren’t even on the air yet when he joined us.”
Bagwell’s first experience with the show was on a Van Nuys build for Contessa Mendoza, a single mother who was taking in foster children and needed a new home. In the show’s fourth episode, Bagwell was part of the team that gave her one.
“He took the job with pride,” Mendoza told the Business Times. “He didn’t care that he didn’t sleep for seven days. His heart was so, so big. He did whatever it took for my family — and that went beyond the show and the remodel.”
When he learned that Mendoza had a developmentally challenged son who was having trouble finding work, Bagwell hired him on the spot.
“My son is significantly hard of hearing so I know it couldn’t have always been easy, but David was extremely patient and understanding,” Mendoza said. “He helped my family in so many ways.”
After working on the Mendoza house, Bagwell remodeled a Ventura home and then a third in Redlands for the Grinnan family. The youngest Grinnan, Hannah, had just undergone infant heart transplant surgery when Bagwell and the rebuild team stepped in.
“Our house was a challenge,” said mother Cathy Grinnan. “All the specifications came from the children’s hospital, but David was the one who followed them to the letter and took special care to make sure there wouldn’t be any lingering health issues for my daughter.”
Bagwell’s last appearance on the show was in October 2004, but style consultant and TV personality Tracy Hutson still remembers him fondly. “Dave was extremely hard-working, generous and a kind man who loved his family and community very much. I know he will be greatly missed,” Hutson said.
Restaurant owner Lupe Zuniga hired Bagwell to remodel Lupe’s Mexican Restaurant in Thousand Oaks, and said he changed her life in the process.
“He was my knight in shining armor,” Zuniga said. “He literally worked four months — from October to March — without getting any money. He kept all the subcontractors at bay until we got our bank loan. I will be forever grateful to David Bagwell. It is because of him that my restaurant stands today.”
In addition to running his construction business, Bagwell made time to volunteer for multiple causes and organizations, including the Boys & Girls Club, fire evacuation and relief, the local school district, environmental cleanups and Rotary Club. He even ran for a City Council position last year.
“He lived and breathed Rotary — very civic-minded guy,” said Wheeler, who is also the Moorpark Rotary President. “He was always available anytime anyone needed anything. His time, his tools — whatever he could do to help.”
In early December, Wheeler and The Rotary Club of Moorpark decided to do something in return. They formed the Bagwell Scholarship Fund, which is dedicated for the college education of Bagwell’s daughters, Emily and Katie.
Bagwell, a Pepperdine University graduate and former Rotarian of the Year, put a high importance on education. He started a program that provided every third-grade student in Moorpark with a free dictionary. His company also sponsored a yearly clean up at the Arroyo Simi.
Wheeler helped Bagwell write the mission statement for Bagwell Construction, and said Bagwell insisted on adding values like community service, teamwork and an emphasis on ethics — all values he used during his eight-year stint in the Army, where he eventually joined President Reagan’s White House Army Honor Guard.
“David was a patriot,” Wheeler said. “He loved his country, and he draped a huge American flag on his building.”
Wheeler hopes to have a full military honor guard at a Rotary-sponsored tribute ceremony, tentatively scheduled to take place at Lupe’s Mexican Restaurant in January.
At press time, it was still unclear what widow Jodi Bagwell’s plans were for Bagwell Construction.