When I grew up I wanted to be like Fred.
Fred was already in his late 60s when I met him. He owned a machine shop in Star, Idaho—a rural town outside Boise—manufacturing mud flap arms for semi trucks. While most of the industry focused on mass producing cheap products overseas at high volume, to Fred quality was everything.
The story I heard growing up was that there was a test to compare quality across mud flap arms. The arm was mounted on a machine that would simulate years of stress from hundreds of thousands of miles on a semi truck to try and break the mudflap arm as fast as possible in realistic circumstances. The goal was to design and manufacture an arm that would last the longest. Most broke very quickly and all the rest soon after. Not Fred’s. Eventually they had to shut off the machine. What he made never broke.
Everything Fred did was built to last. Fred’s house was next to his machine shop and my dad joked that Fred should have lived in Florida rather than Idaho since his house was so over engineered that it could survive any hurricane. The house had a massive steel frame and Fred refused to use nails (the standard practice in framing) and instead used screws for everything.
But more than quality, Fred was known for generosity. Growing up my dad ran a Christian bookstore and college ministry that was largely supported by donations. Not only were Fred and his wife Shirley faithful donors for years, but they also took care of our family in so many other ways. I remember one day an envelope showed up with dozens of gift certificates to a whole range of places with special treats. Fast food, frozen yogurt, ice cream, and more. All places that we never went because we didn’t have the money.
In addition to making sure all the essentials were taken care of, Fred wanted my siblings and I to have the special treats.
After my dad’s bookstore was taken from him through eminent domain, Fred hired my dad to do construction work on his house and then later as a manager at the machine shop. The first thing my dad built was a home theater room with a dozen lazy boy recliners as well as plenty more seating. Fred often invited us over for a movie night with pizza and drinks included.
Fred was incredibly generous with everyone. I remember being in his shop one day and the UPS driver stopped in, waved a quick hi, and went to the fridge to grab a Snickers bar and soda. He wasn’t even delivering anything to Fred that day. Fred told everyone he knew to make themselves at home and to stop by anytime and grab a snack. And he lived on a busy highway, so plenty of people did!
For all the kids in church he would make these incredibly elaborate Sunday school crafts. My favorite was a working gum ball machine made from wood and an upside down mason jar. I’m still blown away that he made the time to create such elaborate crafts for so many kids.
Fred hosted incredible family-focused New Year’s Eve parties. The main attraction was a massive bingo game with very elaborate prizes. When I was 10 or 11 I won a watch that probably cost $50 or more. There were hundreds of people at the party and he must have spent many thousands of dollars on prizes alone, not to mention the drinks, snacks, and personal pizza orders for every family.
If you talk to anyone who knew Fred they’ll have a story of his incredible generosity and how he made them feel special and cared for.
Yet, there was nothing flashy about Fred, he was more like Mike Rowe than a wealthy CEO. Just hard work, responsible saving, and building a business. He hired my older brothers as well as many other high school and college students in our church for summer jobs. They learned welding, construction, and how to operate machining equipment. But most of all, everyone around Fred learned to do hard work that they could be really proud of. Fred was a maker through and through. Even at 87 years old he was out working in his shop.
So much of how I’ve built my company and how I try to show up for my friends and family is what I saw modeled by Fred.
Create every day.
Default to generosity.
Fred’s memorial service was on New Year’s Eve. For everyone who attended his New Year’s parties there couldn’t be a more perfect day to celebrate his incredible life.
Rest in peace Fred.
Thank you for everything you did for my family. And thank you for the incredible example you set for me and so many others.
Thank you for reading.
I hope Fred’s story inspires you—as he inspired me—to live a more generous & creative life.