Giving back: Ribary honored as North Bend Citizen of the Year

His career aspirations were as diverse as gentleman farmer, professional motorcycle racer, personal trainer, and bank manager. Fritz Ribary of North Bend has held all those positions, and many more in his 65 years, but none that actually seemed like work. That’s especially true of his current employment, volunteering at the Si View Parks booth during the North Bend Farmers Market in summers, and helping his friends at Frankie’s Pizza with deliveries when they’re short-handed the rest of the year.

“I love it,” he said in a conversation last week. “It reminds me of my old days of going on the milk route… it’s really not like working, it’s like visiting.”

When Ribary visited the Mount Si Senior Center to deliver a pizza on Tuesday night, Feb. 20, he was surprised with the announcement that he was chosen the 2017 North Bend Citizen of the Year.

It’s a well-deserved honor for the lifelong North Bend resident who has served the Valley as a volunteer firefighter, president of the board for both the (now-defunct) North Bend Chamber of Commerce and the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, commissioner on the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital Board from 1994 until 2011, chair of the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital Citizen’s Advisory Board and of the Snoqualmie Valley Youth HUB, and a board member for the Snoqualmie Valley Historical Museum. He served on the North Bend Planning Commission, the North Bend City Council, and, from 1988 to 1992, as North Bend Mayor. He’s also been a winner in the Best of the Valley — Best Insurance Agency, 2004.

His non-volunteer roles included working as manager of North Bend’s former Capitol Savings and Loan, owner and operator of Ribary Allstate Insurance Agency, executive director of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, from January, 2010 to May, 2011, and as the marketing director for the hospital from 2011-14. On top of that, he’s spent 30 years total in the military reserves, 15 in the Navy, 15 in the Army.

Ribary’s long and varied career started when he was all of 4 years old, accompanying his dairy farmer father on milk delivery runs. The family farm covered 250 acres of what today is a variety of businesses and homes off I-90’s Exit 31.

“My Dad, in his words, milked cows twice a day, seven days a week… so for him there was no difference between living on a farm and working, and I guess I never made that distinction,” he said.

So, when his parents divorced and moved off the farm, he knew he had to get a summer job, but wasn’t really sure why.

“I was really at a loss, because I was a farmer,” he said.

Ribary’s stories of his life are peppered with statements such as “back when I knew everything,” and “because I was a dumb farm kid.” Don’t believe his disparaging comments. Ribary still treasures his life and experiences on that farm, and another one in Ellensburg later, owned by his mother and step-father.

Looking back on his career, which included three, count ‘em, retirements, he said, “I didn’t realize how lucky I was to be raised on a farm, and the people that have not experienced farm life, probably don’t understand that.”

Being a dumb farm kid gave Ribary the skills to do some very specific tasks, and the know-how to figure out the rest, such as adjusting ski bindings (his second paying job), working as a logger, and driving a truck for Consolidated Freightways. Each of those experiences began with Ribary thinking to himself, “Well, I can do that.”

Turns out, he could do everything he attempted, too, with the exception of becoming a dishwasher. That was his first paying job, for the Chalet (located where the North Bend Bar & Grill is today), but after a summer of that, he had dishpan hands and an itch to follow his friends to Snoqualmie Pass, to work as a lift attendant for one of the ski areas there. So, he put on all his warm ski gear and went to the pass in search of a job from Webb Moffat. He got offered a dishwashing post and made a good-faith effort, ski clothes and all, to do the job, but said after about an hour, “I was ready to retire from dishwashing.”

Before he left the pass, Ribary said he figured he might as well do some skiing, so he walked over to the rental shop operated by Mount Si High School teacher Charlie Scott and his family, he said. The shop was busy, so, after thinking “well, I can do that,” he jumped in to help with fitting skis and by the end of the rush, he had a weekend job, which lasted him seven winters.

It was a great job, Ribary recalled. “We literally laughed and joked all day long. He had a great sense of humor, and I loved talking to people.”

Ribary started college at Central Washington University, and later transferred to the University of Washington. In his college years, he had several adventures, including a break to travel through Europe for a quarter with a childhood friend, the start of his motorcycle racing career, another hiatus from school to work full-time for Consolidated Freightways, and the event that started it all, a betrayal by an employer.

The man who bought his parents’ Ellensburg farm went back on a verbal agreement the two had struck, for Ribary to work for him all spring and summer, in exchange for room and board while Ribary attended Central. It was the day before classes started, Ribary said, and he had no place to live. He ran into a friend that night who lived with a group of other young men at Central and after meeting with Ribary, they agreed to let him join their ranks.

“You remember the movie ‘Animal House’?” he asked. “That’s basically where I lived.”

That cycle of lows and highs has been a theme in Ribary’s life. Since childhood, he’d thought driving a truck was the perfect job and then he got to do it for Consolidated Freightways, but after earning his marketing degree at UW, his boss ordered him to find a career that used his degree, or else he’d be fired. In college, he and a friend started racing motorcycles for fun and he eventually wanted to turn it into a career but couldn’t afford a bike when he returned from Vietnam. Also when he returned from the war, he and his wife, Ruth, bought a house in Greenlake, but after a couple of burglaries and a stolen car, they agreed to buy Ribary’s mother’s house in North Bend. In Vietnam, he’d hoped to stay nice and safe on a ship, but ended up posted at a supply warehouse in Danang, and later China Beach.

“We didn’t have guys shooting at us all day,” he said, “but at night, they fired rockets.”

After the war, he raised a family that includes two sons, Paul in North Bend, Kevin, Maple Valley, and Andrea, Fall City. He embarked on careers in sales, then insurance where he excelled, opening his own office in North Bend twice over the years, and banking, where he eventually developed a “common sense” corporate sales and marketing training curriculum for bankers at Seafirst.

“That was really fun,” he said. “It was creative and allowed me to use my skills.”

He ultimately returned to running his own insurance business in North Bend because he enjoyed the community connection. After a conflict with Allstate at the corporate level, he sold his office and went on to work at the Chamber and Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. But, he says, if not for that conflict, “I would have been perfectly happy to be there today… For me, with my small-town attitudes and my literal small-town life, I thought it was a perfect fit.”

North Bend is still a perfect fit for Ribary, who says he’s gotten more philosophical since fighting bladder cancer last year. He’s been through hours of surgery and days in the hospital, and has had two clean checkups since his diagnosis in June 2016.

What got him through, he says, was “My faith in God, family, and my love of community…. North Bend has given me a lot and I really wanted an opportunity to give back. …. I’m just so thankful for what (growing up on his North Bend dairy farm) gave me from a background standpoint, and I’m just so thankful for living in a small town and the personal relationships you develop — I’m just so grateful for what that’s given me.”

Following is the announcement North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing made about Ribary’s selection as Citizen of the year:

The Citizen of the Year award is meant to be given to an individual or business that has gone above and beyond to make North Bend a better place to live, through professional or volunteer efforts, or by an extraordinary contribution to the community. We want to honor those who have shown, through their initiative and actions that they truly care about the community and whose hard work, spirit and dedication make our community great.

Our town is fortunate to have a longstanding tradition of hardworking volunteers and this award aims to recognize those who have given unselfishly of themselves in service and to others.

I feel very fortunate to personally know this year’s recipient, and have the pleasure of interacting with him on a regular basis through various events in which we are involved. This person’s career is impressive, and when you think of people who have shaped our community for the better, they easily surpass many others as they have made a positive impact in our community.

This year’s recipient was born at Snoqualmie Falls Hospital and was raised on his family’s 260-acre North Bend dairy. After graduating from Mount Si High school, he attended Central Washington University where he quickly became Chairman of the Dances and a “Yell Leader.” He also attended University of Washington and received BA in Marketing. He is an avid hiker and involved in many community events and organizations. He has had many careers.

At a time when we talk about entitlement this man has a history of giving back:

He grew up on a dairy farm. His first job off the farm was washing dishes at the Little Chalet, now North Bend Bar & Grill. He was a Mount Si High School graduate and ASB President, attended Central Washington University, entered the military and is a Vietnam veteran, plus 30 years in the reserves. He was a North Bend firefighter and volunteer EMT, got his BA in marketing from the University of Washington. He was a North Bend Planning Commissioner, North Bend City Councilmember, Mayor of North Bend, and was elected a commissioner for the Snoqualmie Valley Hospital District two different times. He was Chairman of Snoqualmie Valley Youth HUB, President followed by Executive Director of the Snoqualmie Valley Chamber of Commerce, Manager of Marketing and Communications at Snoqualmie Valley Hospital. He has sold tires and insurance, washed dishes, drove truck, managed a bank, been a personal trainer and worked as a logger.

I am extremely honored and pleased to name the North Bend 2017 Citizen of the Year – Fritz Ribary.

Fritz Ribary smiles as the large audience applauds the announcement that he is the North Bend Citizen of the Year. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

Fritz Ribary smiles as the large audience applauds the announcement that he is the North Bend Citizen of the Year. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing, right, congratulates Fritz Ribary, who has been named the 2018 North Bend Citizen of the Year. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

North Bend Mayor Ken Hearing, right, congratulates Fritz Ribary, who has been named the 2018 North Bend Citizen of the Year. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

Laughing and almost speechless, Fritz Ribary thanks the city for the honor, and his family, friends, and community, for being there for him, in every way. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)

Laughing and almost speechless, Fritz Ribary thanks the city for the honor, and his family, friends, and community, for being there for him, in every way. (Carol Ladwig/Staff Photo)