It has been my great privilege to be on a first-name basis with many of the West’s post-World War II lumbermen – giants in the unforgiving and mercilessly competitive world of lumber and plywood manufacturing: Milt Herbert, Aaron Jones, Duke McQueen, Bud Johnson, Fred Sohn, George Flannigan, Sam Taylor, Don Deardorf, Stub Stewart, Wiley Smith, John Hampton, Lew Krauss, Jr. and his brother, Fred, and D.R. Johnson, for whom I worked in the early 1970s.
Also, several legends on the forestry side, most notably Bill Hagenstein, who was my mentor for nearly 40 years, and Wes Rickard, an intellectual giant who was my father-in-law and is widely credited with having “invented” industrial forestry. Wes was the first forest economist Weyerhaeuser hired. 1956.
Add Ted Freres to the list. All too soon. He was only 68 when he died last Sunday, June 3, following a long and courageous battle against a particularly virulent cancer. He was too young to be part of the post-war crew that helped build the federal timber sale program, but I will nonetheless miss him. His contributions to veneer and plywood manufacturing far exceed anything his modesty would have ever allowed him to acknowledge.
Ted and I got acquainted while I was assembling the history of the Freres Lumber Company in a book we will publish later this summer. He was the fourth son of T.G. Freres, who founded his company in 1922. T.G. died in 1979, seven years before I started Evergreen, so we never met, but I certainly heard a lot about him from his peers. He was widely admired for his enormous success, but more so for who he was: a tireless worker, honest to a fault, with a devilish sense of humor; a generous man for whom nothing was more important than family and community. Theodore George Freres’ namesake son was a carbon copy of his father.
I interviewed Ted several times while researching the Freres story. I got the sense he would have preferred to be on the moon than sitting across his desk from me. But he was patient and unfailingly polite. I sensed that no one else in the company’s Lyons, Oregon office could have answered all my questions about the intricacies of veneer and plywood manufacturing, and he thankfully sensed my great desire to explain all of it in plain English, so we spent a lot of time talking about processor speeds and the tradeoffs involved in exchanging manufacturing speed for product quality. Ted preferred quality, though he was always in the hunt for ways to close the millisecond-thin gap competitors measure in square feet produced annually.
I will long remember the day my wife, Julia, and I visited with Ted’s wife, Diane. We spent the morning going through Freres family photo albums Diane had painstakingly assembled. When lunchtime arrived, we decided to drive up to the mill and see Ted. When he discovered that Julia had never seen a veneer mill in action, he whisked us away for what turned out to be the cook’s tour of a manufacturing process that still mesmerizes me.
I have no doubt Ted had better things to do that day, but, gentleman that he was, he could not bear the thought that Julia might get away without seeing and gaining some understanding of his family’s masterpiece. And then he bought lunch. It was – and is – the Freres way. You are their guest. Don’t offer to pay for anything. Period. End of story.
I will miss Ted’s genius and his kindness. Julia and I extend our condolences to Diane, their sons, Cameron, Tyler and Kyle, the entire Freres family and the 400-some men and women who work for Freres Lumber, many of them 30 and 40-year employees – a dazzling star in an industry that is revolutionizing the way homes and commercial buildings are constructed, and thus the way the world lives and works.
Ted’s life will be celebrated at a Mass of Christian Burial at Immaculate Conception Church in Stayton, Oregon on Friday, June 15 at 1:30 p.m.