My dad didn’t finish college, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a successful small business owner and community leader.
He died in 1991 at the age of 81. I was in my early 30s when he was diagnosed with leukemia, the kind that strikes older adults. While 81 may seem like a long life, my dad came from a family that lived to a very old age — his own father reached 100 and he had two aunts who lived into their 90s. I remember my mom, who was 13 years his junior, telling me she figured he would outlive her despite their age difference.
He didn’t, but so much of him still lives on in me.
He was 48 years old when I was born, the product of his marriage to my mom, Ruth — whom he married in 1956 after his first wife died of cancer. They were both widowed — he had three kids, she also had three. I was the only “ours” in the “yours, mine and ours” relationship. The closest sibling in age to me was 9 when I was born.
Maurice Wippel — he was known to many by his nickname “Mose” — was the youngest son of John Wippel, who was born in Indiana and later settled in Ellensburg, Wash., my hometown, in the early 20th century. My grandfather worked with his cousins in the sheep-herding business prior to opening several downtown Ellensburg saloons that became very successful– until Prohibition put him out of business. My dad was 12 when my grandmother died, and he ended up attending both high school and a year of college at St. Martin’s in Lacey. He quit college at age 19 so that he and a friend could open their own grocery store in Ellensburg — in the middle of the Depression. Sound crazy? Absolutely. But he was entrepreneurial — and he had a vision.
I still have a copy of an old Wippel’s Food Mart newspaper ad from the Ellensburg Daily Record. His tagline: “For Service Triple, Call Mose Wippel.” He worked long hours during his nearly three decades in the grocery store business, but he also always found time to give back to his community. He served on the Ellensburg City Council in 1938 and 1939, and again in the mid-1960s, and during that latter term he also spent six years as mayor. He volunteered for his church and for service clubs. He seldom said no to anyone who needed a hand.
After I was born, my dad sold his store and started selling life insurance. He must have been pretty good at it because every year my mom and I would accompany him to a national life insurance convention at a different nice hotel in the Western U.S. or Canada, where he would win some type of sales award. But looking back, I also understand now why he was successful. It was because he cared so much about his clients and worked hard to make sure they received the service they deserved.
I think about my dad and how hard he worked when I’m tempted to complain about my own long hours as a news publisher, or when I question the additional time it takes to serve as a community volunteer. And I do my best to remember how my dad defined success. I grew up in a comfortable home and my parents were able to send me to college, but his priority was never about how much money he made. It was about giving back — to his clients, to his community, to his family.
So if my dad were here today, I’d thank him for showing me what success really means. That perspective helps me maintain my passion for publishing online news and commentary in a community that I love as deeply as my dad loved Ellensburg. And I’d also tell my dad “thanks” for passing along the entrepreneurial spirit that gives me the courage to stay the course in this crazy business where news organizations are downsizing and closing.
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Until next time,
Teresa Wippel, publisher