Thursday, January 16, 2014

George Borgen

For many years when a resident needed hardware, or lumber,  building advice, or maybe just a good laugh and smile they would find themselves at the intersection of Harborview Drive and North Harborview Drive.  There they would find themselves at Borgen Building Supply located what is now know as Donkey Creek Park, across the street from the Peninsula Light Company (now Harbor History Museum).
Borgen's Building Supply, Inc.

George Borgen and his wife, Patricia, purchased the existing lumber company there in the mid-60s after a long and successful career in the construction industry.

George was born in 1926 in Baker, Oregon, and he was always proud to call Baker his hometown. I can see why, because it appears quite similar to Gig Harbor in its small town historic atmosphere. He went through school in Baker and attended Oregon State College.  George was elected Citizen of the Year 1955 by the Baker Oregon Junior Chamber of Commerce.  Just one of the many honors he received during his long career of volunteerism and community involvement.  During his college years, he paid his way by building houses.  After graduation and home building, he managed he managed a lumber supply company for 13 years.  He was also worked as a design engineer for Powder River Inc., a steel company that manufactured and built ranch equipment.  He designed cattle chutes for Carnation Farms and various rodeo grounds. While working for the steel company he had to travel extensively and felt that his family life was more meaningful.  So George moved the family to Alaska and George returned to work he knew and loved.  Once again he took over the management of a lumber yard.  He also spent more time perfecting his carpentry skills which he loved.  But as his children neared school age he started to worry that perhaps Alaska wash’t the best place to raise a family.  He also wanted to own his own business.  

During World War II George served in the US Navy, and then during the Korean Conflict  he served in the US Army.  (I believe the US Military has now changed the name to Korean War however when my father served there during the early ’50s it was referred to as a military conflict.)  George was a Second Lieutenant and he coordinated very successful educational and rehabilitation programs for the military prisoners housed at the federal penitentiary at Lompac, California.   To quote George  “We were actually educating people, they weren’t just putting in time.”

While in Alaska, at his request, his salesmen began to keep an eye out for a small lumber yard for him to purchase.  One of his salesmen told him about a small yard in Gig Harbor.  George had never heard of our town.  But when he and his wife, Patricia, came down to check out the lumber yard and the town, it was love at first sight.  

George sold everything, bought the lumber yard and started the business from scratch.  He worried about being able to support his wife and five children and about being able to build up the business.  But like any new business after the first couple years struggling things started picking up.   To his benefit, George was a skilled manager and leader which helped him as he became familiar with Gig Harbor.

And Gig Harbor was very taken with George.  He was a citizen who helped his new community in oh so many ways.  These are just a few of George’s activities on behalf of our town: Gig Harbor Councilman, Peninsula Light Company Board President, Gig Harbor Land Use Planning, Peninsula School District - too many committees to list, Greater Gig Harbor Business Association President, Gig Harbor Lions Club (1994 Annual Roast Honoree) , Gig Harbor Peninsula Area Chamber of Commerce (1993 Citizen of the Year), Gig Harbor Rotary (1996 Citizen of the Year), and Volunteer Teacher.  George taught a woodworking class at one of Gig Harbor’s middle schools claiming he was a frustrated shop teacher.  I know I have missed several other areas of George’s commitment to Gig Harbor.
Peninsula Gateway Photo/Kevin Parks, October  20, 1993

But one that can never be forgotten was his sense of humor, and his wanting to make people smile.  He was a humorist - I think of Will Rogers and Mark Twain - but George was right up there at the top filled with mirth and merriment.  And then there were his jokes.  As Glen Stenbak said “He was just kind of a family to everybody.  He wasn’t just a businessman or just a person or just George, he was like Dad or an uncle or whatever.”  And most of all, George was generous, and especially with his time.

He even founded a club that had over 2000 members in 1995:  The Norwegian Army Knife Club.  This wasn’t a pricey club - membership only required the purchase of a $6.50 knife.  What was so unique about this particular knife?  Well, according to the story, George was away and one of the employees agreed to accept a shipment of knives.  When George returned and saw them, he knew instinctively they would never be about to sell the knives.  So George put on his marketing cap and formed the Norwegian Army Knife Club.
Peninsula Gateway File Photo, December 4, 1996

Another one was the “free latex thinner, quantities unlimited” and the poor man totally taken in by the possibility of getting something for nothing.  The poor guy showed up with a pickup full of bottles to get his free thinner.  And when George took out back of the store and handed him a water hose, he didn’t catch on that you thin latex paint with water; he got angry.  

Or, the forks - no one every knew whether they would suddenly find a spoon in their pocket or not when having lunch with George.  It was just one of his favorite ways of getting a laugh out of someone - sneaking a spoon in a jacket pocket of the unknowing unaware.  But Del Stutz got even with him on the spoon tricks.  Del was at a store having a special on used silverware so he bought 8-10 spoons, drilled holes in them, and tied them on a piece of string.  George was supposed to be in a community parade that was coming up ; Del slipped the spoons around George’s neck telling him that it was his badge for the parade.  George, true to his nature, proudly wore the spoon necklace in the parade and later into a restaurant.   One of the waitresses got angry thinking he had stolen the spoons and then ruining them by drilling holes in them.  I’m sure before it was over, both George and the waitress were laughing about it.

Take a moment to think of about George Borgen the next time, and every time, you find yourself driving along Borgen Boulevard.  It’ll bring a smile to your face!

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