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Elder Wyrsch, business pioneer, dies at 95

George A. Wyrsch, a pioneering North Bend businessman, died last weekend at age 95. - File photo
George A. Wyrsch, a pioneering North Bend businessman, died last weekend at age 95.
— image credit: File photo

George A. Wyrsch, a longtime Snoqualmie Valley resident and pioneering North Bend businessman, has died.

Wyrsch, 95, died in his sleep last Saturday, March 6. In his life, he played a pivotal role in the development of the city of North Bend, opening several thriving businesses, and was the major backer of the now-mainstay Festival at Mount Si fireworks show.

Fritz Ribary, the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce’s executive director and a former North Bend mayor, remembers Wyrsch as “a person involved in the community in every way.”

“He was dedicated to this city,” Ribary said. “He influenced the chamber, the planning commission and the city council.”

“He was an amazingly dedicated businessman,” said current North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing. “George stayed at his business every day until the book work was done; even if it took until midnight.”

Five decades ago, North Bend’s business district was its downtown block. Wyrsch and a number of partners put together the first shopping center where the North Bend QFC now stands.

“That was the first expansion of North Bend,” said Wyrsch’s son and namesake, George G. Wyrsch.

“Dad moved east and built the shopping center,” he said.

In the 1970s, as the state laid plans to move the main highway out of downtown, the elder Wyrsch and other businessmen explored an Alpine theme and a festival to reenergize the community.

“They wanted to get a jump on the freeway bypass,” George G. Wyrsch said. “They needed something to bring people downtown for the parade.”

Wyrsch, Sr., had always loved fireworks, and used his own money to create North Bend’s extravaganza. While the Festival committee has stepped up their role in fundraising for the show, Wyrsch family businesses have always contributed, and George A. Wyrsch donated until the final year of his life.

Wyrsch’s son described his parents as eternal optimists.

“They embrace change,” George Wyrsch said. “They have never seen change that resulted in something bad or unintended.”

Wyrsch, Sr., moved to the Valley in 1927 at age 7, living at the Tollgate farm and graduating from North Bend High School in 1934. Wyrsch realized early on that he did not want to work the land his entire life. According to family members, he said, “The day I graduated from high school was the day I milked my last cow.”

He attended the University of Washington on a football scholarship, but left after one season as a result of a back injury. He returned to the Valley, working for the Sorenson Ford Garage in Snoqualmie.

In 1941, Wyrsch borrowed $500 to lease his first gas station on North Bend Way. Shortly thereafter, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, eventually serving as a sergeant under General George S. Patton’s command. In 1946, he returned home and purchased a Richfield gas station on the site of the current Shell station on North Bend Way. He married Mildred Gustafson of Meadowbrook.

Wyrsch’s station soon became one of the most successful gas stations in the state, being strategically located on the main cross-state highway. Lamenting a lack of restaurants, he opened the Gateway Café near today’s QFC.

At one time, Wyrsch was president of both the Washington State Restaurant Association and the Washington State Service Station Association. These positions allowed him to play an active role in bringing the World’s Fair to Seattle in 1962. Wyrsch was named the Washington-Idaho Retailer of the Year in 1967.

Wyrsch is survived by his wife of 64 years, Mildred and his children Sally Cash, George G. Wyrsch (Sharon) and Carolyn Kriegel (Paul).

A memorial is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday, April 17, at the Mount Si Senior Center in North Bend.

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