On the weekend of his 60th class reunion, Richard Seale ‘63 was admiring the campus landscape when he bent on one knee like a prospector to sift through loose organic material surrounding a red maple tree.
“This is a one-season black dyed hardwood fiber mulch,” he said, “not a pine bark multi-year mulch.”
If anyone should know, it’s the mulch king of North Carolina. Seale has spent the past 50 years processing mostly pine bark mulches to supply homes, gardens, golf courses, and businesses.
The greatest achievement of this proud Denisonian cannot be measured in the truckloads of mulch he’s sold, however. It’s the scales of justice he’s tipped in the favor of consumers, who reportedly spend $1 billion annually to cover soil with layers of decorative moisture-conserving matter.
Seale, the CEO of Kamlar Corp., went state to state for two decades to regulate bag quantities and ensure that professional landscapers and amateur green thumbs alike weren’t getting cheated. While he might not be as well-known as Delta Upsilon frat brother Michael D. Eisner ‘64, Seale has contributed to consumer confidence.
“He’s made certain everyone is playing on a level field,” said son Eric Seale ‘91, the vice president of sales and marketing at Kamlar, a mulch manufacturer and recycler of forest residuals in Rocky Mount, North Carolina.
Richard Seale arrived in Granville, Ohio, in 1959 to participate in a unique five-year program in which he split time between Denison and Duke University. He became Denison’s only alum who completed the “Denison-Duke 3-2 forestry program,” earning a bachelor of science in biology at Denison and a master’s of forestry economics degree at Duke.
After graduation, he spent two years in Nigeria working for the Research Triangle Institute before enjoying a six-year run at Procter & Gamble as a national packaging manager. In 1973, he was offered the opportunity to buy into Kamlar.
Few Denison alums have a more memorable first-day-on-the-job story.
“I had just left P&G, sold my house, and drove from Cincinnati to attend a board of directors meeting,” Seale recalled. “They wouldn’t let me in the meeting. Finally, a guy comes out and says, “Kamlar is bankrupt.”“
Seale’s business acumen helped change the company’s fortunes. So did the 1970s energy crisis.
“The high price of gas had people staying at home instead of traveling,” Seale said. “They spent more time working around their yards and gardens. God moves in mysterious ways.”
The lack of industry regulations was threatening his company’s finances, however. A vendor told him she was dropping Kamlar as a client because a competitor could fill a 40-foot truck with 900 bags of bark compared to his 750 bags for the same price.
“I knew darn well what was wrong,” Seale said. “She was getting short-pack product. What’s worse is she didn’t care. She was cheating the customers, and we came to realize other retailers were doing the same.”
Seale designed wooden boxes with hinges to replicate two- and three-cubic meter bags, which is how mulch often was sold then. If you emptied a bag’s contents into the volume verification box, the mulch needed to fill it to the proper declared volume. Seale and his partners took the boxes on the road looking to get state regulatory commissions to endorse his plan.
Eventually, the National Conference on Weights and Measures adopted the idea. The standards Seale helped develop are still in use, his son said.
“I wasn’t looking to gain an advantage,” Seale said. “I was trying to do something that was fair to all concerned.”
Seale, 82, spends much of his time hunting, fishing, model railroading, and traveling. He’s visited all seven continents, riding trains on each except Antarctica.
His commitment to Denison and his classmates remains strong.
Seale and his wife, Linda, who earned a degree from the Duke School of Nursing, have established multiple scholarships. There’s one at Denison and several endowed summer scholarships at the Duke University Marine Lab for qualified Denison and Duke students.
“We love coming back and seeing old friends,” he said. “Denison has always been a special and friendly place for Linda and me.”