Dodge clocks out for the last time

Scott Swanson

To say that Fred Dodge is one of the most-recognized faces in Sweet Home is no exaggeration.

Dodge retired Sunday, July 11, from Hoy’s Hardware, where he’s been the answer man for decades to all types of home repair and upgrade questions.

“Everybody knows me,” he said last week as he pondered the finish line. “When they come to the store, it’s ‘Where’s Fred?'” (Disclaimer: The reporter can attest; he has uttered those very words on numerous occasions.)

“He’s been the centerpiece of our store,” said Hoy’s President Greg Mahler. “He’s been the go-to person for bona fide knowledge and he’s a role model and a good man, for not only myself but for a lot of my employees over the years.”

Dodge walks through the plumbing department, which is his specialty, he says.

“This is where I spend a lot of time,” he says, glancing down and noticing that the merchandise is badly jumbled, with parts in the wrong baskets.

“This is all wrong,” he says, dropping to his knees and flipping items out onto the floor. “It looks like somebody did this deliberately.”

He eventually calls for help, since he’s trying to give an interview.

Dodge didn’t necessarily expect to become an expert in hardware when he applied for a job at Hoy’s back in 1992.

A lifelong resident of Sweet Home – he was born in Langmack Hospital, Dodge, who turned 65 on the day he retired, grew up on the upper Calapooia in a family of 13 kids and his parents, Milt and Joanne Dodge.

He attended Holley School before moving on to the Junior High and Sweet Home High School, where he played football and basketball and ran track.

He attended Linn-Benton Community College for a year after graduating, and went to work for Willamette Industries’ Sweet Home plywood plant for 18 years until it was shut down.

Along the way he “gave up my free time” for 18 years to coach local youth sports – basketball, football, softball and volleyball.

In 1985, then-Athletic Director Larry Johnson asked Dodge if he’d be interested in coaching at the high school, so he took the freshman girls basketball team to 25 straight wins before they lost to Cascade, which had a set of twin sisters who led the Cougars to three straight wins over Sweet Home that season.

“They were the only team we lost to,” Dodge said.

He coached the freshman girls for four seasons before moving to boys Coach Ed Nieman’s staff, focusing on the freshman boys, in time to help prep for the Huskies’ run to the state title in 1989.

Dodge said he enjoyed the relationships he was able to establish with many young people during those years and enjoyed coaching some talented teens: Nieman brothers “Bryce and Kyle, Scotty Johnson, the Pykes.”

“I’ve got a picture up in my bedroom of them when they graduated,” he said. “I had two kids that were on the bottom of my freshman crew that became all-state players, Brandy “Joe” Frederick and Jerry Upward.”

He still communicates with Frederick, who now lives in the Bay Area in Northern California and works for Snowflake, the fastest-growing software company on the planet.

“Fred was a great individual as we went up through the ranks,” he recalled last week. “That championship team we had, he had his fingerprints all over that team.”

Dodge “made you feel like he cared about you as an individual,” Frederick said. “The guy is just as selfless as can be. He was a younger dude who didn’t have to spend time with a bunch of kids in a gym. Fred was working a full-time job at a mill, then coming every day to coach right after work. The things he did created the foundation for that team that went on to the state championship.”

Dodge drove Frederick and Upward to the state tournament so they could watch the games, paying for their food. He took the freshman team out after each season, at T&M Pizza, Frederick recalled.

“He was working at the mill. He wasn’t making that much money. He cares about kids. He loved all the players that came through there. He taught us to be accountable, to work hard to accomplish something.

“He’s just a great individual that I stayed in contact with.”

Dodge married a widow, Joyce Garrett, with two young boys, Linus and Ryan, whom he raised as his own.

As his coaching career wound down, so did his employment at Willamette. After the mill closed, he worked an unfulfilling six months at a furniture store, and then was contacted by Sandy Green, the office manager at Hoy’s.

“She knew I was looking and came to me and asked if I wanted to come in for an interview with them and so I did.”

Owner John Mahler hired him on the spot.

“I said, ‘I don’t know a lot about the hardware business but I’ll give it a shot.’ I asked John how long this would last because I really don’t want to start over again, and he said, ‘Well, I can promise you at least eight years.'”

Early on, he learned all he could by just listening in as Mahler and other veterans helped customers.

“Whenever I didn’t know the answer, I called John over and instead of saying, ‘John, you take care of this,’ and walking away, I’d stay there and listen to what those guys would say so I could tell it to the next customer.”

“Dave Green (Sandy’s husband) helped me a lot. Eldon Pierce. These were people who were friends of John.”

Dodge’s learning curve was steep, nonetheless. Shortly after his arrival, veteran staffer Russell Miller, whose specialty was electricity, announced he was retiring and Jim Johnston, Mahler’s brother-in-law, decided he was moving to John Day.

“Within a week I was the No. 1 person there and I didn’t know squat,” Dodge said.

A lot has changed, not the least Dodge himself.

“That’s how I learned. John was the mentor. Hardware was his baby. He did everything, and that man could work in a white shirt and never get dirty. I still don’t know how he does it.

“All the advice I got came from John or Dave Green or some of those people.”

He said the store has changed from days when “we didn’t have hardly anything on the shelf, and now there’s so much stuff in overflow, we can’t keep up.”

The coronavirus pandemic has produced a huge impact at Hoy’s, he said.

“We are busier than I’ve ever been in all the years I’ve worked there, since COVID hit and we haven’t slowed down yet.”

But he has, Dodge says. He’s got health issues and he’s got a boat that he hasn’t used as much as he wants to.

“I’m gonna take the pontoon boat and go out and go fishing,” he said. “I haven’t done that in four years.”

He and Joyce have split and she’s living in Idaho, so Dodge is caring for his housemate, Harvey Hayes, who’s 97. They’ve been neighbors and friends for years.

“We adopted him as a grandpa for the kids and he would take care of the kids while we worked,” Dodge said.

He said he’s enjoyed working at the hardware store.

“I just enjoy working with the people. I know just about everybody in Sweet Home. Getting to know people, being a part of their life, this is the thing for me.

“Going through coaching and getting to know kids and their parents, once I got to working at the store, everybody coming in and then you start knowing the newer people and they come in every day and they’re glad to see you and they want to be there.”

“It’s been an enjoyable 29 years,” Dodge said. “I really don’t want to leave that, but my body’s telling me it’s time. Time to give up. Yeah.”

Said Mahler: “He’s going to be sorely missed.”