Family ties

Gunderson's Les Schwab has supported several community causes

The third generation of a local household has joined the family business.

Kurt Gunderson, son of Rich and Stephani, now works full-time at Gunderson’s Les Schwab Tire Center, in Camas.

Kurt, 27, had previously worked there part-time since 2000.

He recalls his grandfather taking him to the tire store, when he was around the age of 6.

“I liked hanging around the other workers,” he said. “They were like brothers.

“Dad knew the customers,” Kurt added. “I thought it would be cool one day to work there.”

A framed photograph of company founder Gary Gunderson is located in the customer service area. The tire store had previously been located at 425 N.E. Birch St., in downtown Camas. In 1963, it was originally named OK Rubber, then Gunderson’s Big O Tires.

Gary Gunderson died in 1998. One year later, the tire store relocated to its current site at 2375 S.E. Eighth Ave, Camas.

Rich, 54, remembers working side-by-side with his dad, who never officially retired. Rich has worked for the family business on a full-time basis since 1983. He was there as a part-time employee for 10 years prior to that.

First names are often used at the tire center.

“It’s a small town feel still,” Rich said. “Les Schwab said, ‘treat customers like your mom and dad.’ That’s what we try to do.”

Rich remembers Schwab visiting the tire store when it was located in downtown Camas. After the business moved, Rich received a call from Schwab, and he thought one of the employees was kidding about who was on the phone.

Rich, a 1979 Camas High School graduate, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration at the University of Portland.

Kurt, a 2006 CHS graduate, has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Washington State University-Vancouver.

Gunderson’s Les Schwab Tire Center has financially supported Junior Livestock Auctions, the Camas Educational Foundation and the Washougal Schools Foundation, as well as Babe Ruth and Little League baseball.

The company’s community involvement has also included donating new tires for the tubs in the Camas Days bathtub races and assisting with the collection of food and toys for local families in need through the Christmas Activities Relief Organization Limited effort.

The tire center has been a sponsor of the Port of Camas-Washougal Riverside Concert Series and served as a collection site for the Walk and Knock food drive.

“We try to be involved with the community,” Rich said.

“We would not be here without them,” Kurt added.