Marvin Collins was the right man in the right place at the right time. As founder of a contracting firm, the longtime El Cerrito resident was involved with much of the building boom in the East Bay in the years after World War II.
He was also a well-liked figure who was very involved with his community in a number of capacities.
A memorial service for Collins, who died on June 19 at age 99, will be held at 11 a.m. July 20 at Sunset View Mortuary at Colusa and Fairmount avenues in El Cerrito.
Sunset View itself is just one of the familiar structures built by Collins, who also served on the cemetery's board.
Collins, whose formal education ended after eighth grade, "really was a self-made man," said Larry Sanchez, who now owns the contracting firm that still bears its founder's name.
Collins was born in South Dakota on Dec. 14, 1914 and came to California as a young man seeking better job prospects during the Great Depression.
After showing his mettle as a carpenter, Sanchez said, Collins started a contracting firm and landed his first big assignment in 1949, the Carnation Milk facility in West Oakland.
In the postwar years the firm built schools, including Thornhill and King in Oakland, Fairmont, Madera and St. Jerome in El Cerrito, and Verde in Richmond; numerous branches for Mechanics Bank; commercial buildings such as Travalini Furniture, Pastime Hardware and much of the Plaza shopping center in El Cerrito, and El Portal shopping center in San Pablo; and government buildings such as the state Department of Health facility in Berkeley.
"He never specialized in one thing -- he did pretty much everything," said Sanchez, who went to work for Collins the day after he graduated from Richmond High School in 1956.
"Marvin led quite a life," said El Cerrito resident and longtime friend Joe Conwill, owner of the Tradeway furniture and carpet warehouses. "So many things he did never got out."
Conwill said he and Collins were partners in a number of ventures over their 54-year friendship "and we never had a contract, we'd just shake hands. Nobody does that anymore."
During the years the Boys Club had a site in El Cerrito, Collins was a benefactor. The site later became the Contra Costa Civic Theatre and Collins and his wife, Marge, a former mayor and council woman who died in 2010, were active supporters.
Together Marvin and Marge Collins were one of the city's better-known couples and both are commemorated on the El Cerrito Wall of Fame.
Collins also was a contributor to many civic projects as a member of the Rotary Club of El Cerrito. An avid golfer, he was also a former board president at Mira Vista Country Club in El Cerrito.
He is survived by his children Marline E. Collins of Santa Rosa, and Marvin Emery Collins of Richmond, as well as by stepchildren James Stern, Cheryl Peterson and Kent Peterson.
music on the main: The free Music on the Main summer concert series in downtown Richmond kicks off from 5 to 7:30 p.m. July 24 with blues, gospel and R&B music by Tia Carroll and Big Cat Tolefree, Consonance, and Reed Fromer in the lot at Marina Way and Macdonald Avenue next to the new BART garage.
There will also be food and artisan vendors, children's activities, Zumba fitness breaks, prize drawings and giveaways of fresh produce. Free bicycle parking will also be available. Details: www.richmondmainstreet.org.