JENNIFER JACKSON’S PORT TOWNSEND NEIGHBOR COLUMN: Building a life on service

SERVICE AND SERVICE stations have been recurring themes in Dave Sather’s life.

When he was in high school, Dave worked weekends and evenings at Harper Shell in uptown Port Townsend.

That the gas station was full service was something that owner Bob Harper never let his employees forget.

One evening, Dave was washing a car windshield when a group of friends drove by. Dave waved to them, impelling Harper to walk over.

Your job, Harper told him, is to take care of the customers and ignore the kids driving by.

“I remember it like it was yesterday,” Sather said.

That was one of the stories told Saturday night when Sather was presented with the Elk of the Year award for 2009-2010 by Leonard Fullerton, exalted ruler of the Port Townsend Elks Lodge.

That Sather started a business from scratch that is now one of the larger private employers in the county is a testament to business mentors like Harper, who inspired him to succeed.

“One of the things I believe in is you never give up,” Sather said. “When you start something from nothing, especially in this day and age, you just can’t give up, even when there are days when you wish you could.”

“Never give up” is a phrase Sather’s friends and family hear often.

Other Satherisms: “We’re working here,” and “Don’t be scared.”

All were put into practice when Sather started his own company in 1990 with just a truck and one guy.

Based in Port Townsend, Pacific Environmental Services now employs more than four dozen people building service stations in four states SEmD Washington, Oregon, Idaho and Montana.

“It’s important to set goals and have a dream, and work hard to fulfill that dream,” Sather said.

This week, Sather has construction crews in Everett, Fife, Tacoma, Bangor and the San Juan Islands, and has two projects brewing in Port Townsend: a new store at the Sea Breeze Shell station on Sims Way and an auto detailing and car wash business on Howard Street.

His company, which also provides cathodic protection (corrosion prevention) for underground steel structures, also built the Safeway convenience store as well as rebuilt most of the service stations in Port Townsend, he said.

But most people don’t know the business, in the old Lundgren Distributorship off state Highway 20 across from Seton Road, is here.

“Edensaw Woods put up a sign on the highway last year because trucks going there ended up here,” he said.

The Sather name, however, has been part of the community for more than a century.

Sather’s grandparents moved to Port Townsend in the late 1890s, his grandfather following work up the West Coast building Lutheran colleges, including Pacific Lutheran in Tacoma.

His mother’s family moved to Port Townsend in 1926, where her father, Norman Luck, became head millwright at the paper mill.

The second of Arnold and Myrtle Sather’s three sons, Dave was born at St. John’s Hospital and grew up on the corner of Maple and V streets near Fort Worden.

A 1973 graduate of Port Townsend High School, Dave was senior class president and played football and basketball.

“He was friends with Neil Potthoff, the principal, and Gael Stuart, the superintendent,” Arnie Sather, Dave’s younger brother, said. “They weren’t like student-to-teacher relationships. They were adult to adult.”

Also speaking at the dinner was Dave’s older brother, Norm, and longtime friends Woody Woodley, Bernie Lundgren and Dennis Morgan.

Ken Brink, a retired Port Townsend High School teacher, said that Dave was the only student in his business economics class who put what he learned into practice by going out and buying property.

The city block, above the north end of Sheridan Street, cost Sather $5,000, a down payment plus monthly installments of $46 out of his wages from the gas station.

One of his first jobs out of school was driving a truck for Peterson Oil in Tacoma, after which he worked as an estimator for SME Corp., a company that builds service stations.

A Tacoma resident for seven years, Sather returned to Port Townsend to start his business, persevering when plans to locate in the Glen Cove Business Park fell through.

“He made a commitment to the community to work here and employ local people,” Lundgren said.

Now Sather is the mentor, a good boss and a strong supporter of Kiwanis and Elks projects that support local scholarships and projects.

In addition to spending three years on the building committee for the new Elks Lodge, Sather showed up with heavy equipment and did some of the excavating.

But the most moving tribute to Sather at the dinner came from Arnie, who is 18 months his junior.

“When you’re looking at my brother, you’re looking at a good example,” Arnie Sather said. “He is a good mentor and a good friend.”

Norm also told a story about his brother at the dinner, which was attended by Sather’s spouse Jeanie Sather, daughters Charlotte Rutter and Amy Sather, and other family members.

Mel Mefford, as emcee, related the story about Bob Harper, who Sather said taught him to be observant.

Harper has been gone a while.

A more recent loss was Bob Murray, a local business owner who got Sather involved in the Elks Lodge at the leadership level.

“He was a big inspiration,” Sather said when he accepted the award. “I really wish Bob Murray was here tonight.”

________

Jennifer Jackson writes about Port Townsend and Jefferson County every Wednesday. To contact her with items for this column, phone 360-379-5688 or e-mail jjackson@olypen.

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