Bob Templin spent half a lifetime cultivating a tourism empire. In the space of a day in 1983, he watched it be sawed off at the stump.
So he grew another one, which, those who know him say, was as instinctive as getting up in the morning and embracing another 10- or 12-hour workday.
Through a generous mix of family, faith and some aptly timed good fortune, Templin has persevered through the splendid highs and abysmal lows that come with the tourism trade.
Last weekend, he paused from his hard work to thank some of the friends who saw him along. They gathered at Templin’s Resort to mark Templin’s 50th year of doing business in Idaho.
“You’re here because you all played an important role in my life,” Templin said Sunday night to about 150 business partners, school chums and longtime Templin employees. “The most important part of my success, if I’ve had any, has come from you.”
Seeds planted early in Ritzville
The roots of Templin’s patient rise to patriarch status reach across the state line to Ritzville, a scoop of German heritage transplanted on the fringe of the Palouse. There the first grill named Templin’s opened its doors.
Kitchen savvy developed early for Bob, recalls Jim Webb, Templin’s favorite teacher and mentor in high school.
“He’d always cook entire meals for the Future Farmers of America meetings,” Webb, now 86, recalled at the anniversary party. “He was quite a cook.”
Brothers Chet and Del preferred him in the kitchen instead of the farm, as “Bob’s favorite tool was a sledgehammer,” Del said.
The youngest of three brothers, Bob washed dishes until 1 a.m. at Lan’s Cafe in Ritzville after school. That made studies rough, but Webb took Templin aside, and gently counseled him on ways he could harness his ambition into a career.
Fresh out of Army service after World War II., 22-year-old Templin and his brother Del, 24, parlayed $11,000 into the first Templin’s Grill in Ritzville.
Top-shelf cuisine at modest prices made the first Templin’s a rousing success, even with the stingiest of Ritzville’s German families.
Word came to the Templin brothers that a Coeur d’Alene restaurant, Miller’s Cafe, was on the block. Bob had tried to work there a year earlier, only to be told that he was too young. So he and his brother bought the place in 1946, dubbed it Templin’s Grill and began a North Idaho tourism legacy.
Templin gains toehold in Idaho
Legend has it that a flip of a nickel settled who would stay in Coeur d’Alene to manage the Templin’s there and who would return to Ritzville. But Bob said Del simply wanted to spend more time with his Ritzville family.
With a rendition of his cherubic face grinning out along First Street and Sherman Avenue from the awning of Templin’s, Bob sank the foundation of his tourism domain.
Dollar-fifty T-bone steaks with all the trimmings kept customers coming back. Current Kootenai County Commissioner Dick Compton used to patronize Templin’s with his future wife, mostly for an 85-cent spaghetti dinner that arrived on a hot platter.
“Bob would see us there and give a nod to the waitress, and we wouldn’t have to pay,” Compton said. “It was only 85 cents, but he looked out for us.”
Bob also doled out free meals for servicemen, expanding his reputation for generosity. Word of his fine food spread around the region, and the business thrived.
Templin corralled cash from the restaurant and from a successful land venture and created Western Frontiers Inc., the parent company of what would become one of the area’s largest hospitality operations.
The company’s soul rose from a run-down railyard on the waterfront that was cleared in 1965 for a 44-room hotel called the North Shore.
Idaho Commerce Secretary Jim Hawkins was the loan officer for the deal. “I remember giving Bob the check for the construction,” he said from Boise this week.
“It was a pigsty,” Hawkins recalls. “They had all kinds of junk down there.”
Templin’s office walls today are framed by photos, newspaper clippings and mementos. The frame that sticks out for Templin captures Gov. Robert Smylie in 1966 proclaiming that Templin’s plans for a convention center at the North Shore signaled the beginning of a great industry that would propel Idaho forward.
“We didn’t have the money to build the center at the time,” Templin said. With no local bank willing to touch the project, a bank president from Portland in the audience that night came to Bob and loaned him the money on the spot.
The convention center blossomed, and the North Shore expanded three times in the coming years, growing to include 180 rooms, two restaurants and a lounge.
The Templins’ early success had a brush with fate in 1967. Bob’s wife, Mary, who had come to work at Templin’s in 1964 and married him within the year, went into labor with the couple’s third child, Blythe.
The date was April 17. Bob was to have flown with North Shore manager Joe Jaeger, catering manager Louise Downing and assistant Lyn Butterfield to Twin Falls and back for a conference.
But the arrival of Blythe kept him off the twin-engine Cessna, which broke apart in heavy weather over Oxbow, Ore., killing all its passengers.
“She saved my life,” he said, motioning to Blythe, who works with him at Templin & Associates. “I think about it very often.”
Western Frontiers continued growing through the 1970s. Templin acquired the Coeur d’Alene Holiday Inn on Appleway at Highway 95, now known as the Coeur d’Alene Inn. He added the University Inn in Moscow.
With a young Jerry Jaeger, Joe’s son, he created a chain of TJ’s restaurants, where the ‘T’ stood for Templin and the ‘J’ for Jaeger.
By the early 1980s Western Frontiers encompassed 18 properties stretching as far as Fort Wayne, Ind. Enter a tough-bargaining businessman named Duane Hagadone.
Templin loses control to Hagadone
Hagadone, with a fortune from family media holdings, set his sights on Western Frontiers.
The end of May 1983 brought a fierce scramble between Duane and Bob to gobble up a majority position in the company’s privately held stock.
Jaeger, whose father ran the North Shore before the plane crash, sided with Hagadone, as did Bill Reagan, who served as legal counsel for Templin. Their defections are among the most hurtful parts of the story for Templin.
Hagadone paid a premium for the shares and bought out several minority owners. Templin acquaintance Robert Franz of Ritzville sold Hagadone the shares that pushed his stake to 51 percent of the company, which allowed him to take control on June 5, 1983.
Bitter face-to-face negotiations to buy Templin out followed. Rumor pegged the offer price at $7 million or more, but Hagadone merely called it “one of the largest private transactions in North Idaho history.”
The day Bob lost the company stands out for its sorrow, but also for its joy, Mary Templin said.
A house blessing for the Templin’s new Post Falls residence had been in the works for a while, but after the takeover the church members wondered if the Templins could open their home on such a painful day.
Reluctantly, Mary agreed. When she opened the door that evening, a line of more than a hundred people, casseroles in hand, ran back from the door. “I knew Bob was hurting,” Mary said, but being surrounded by those who loved them eased the pain.
The takeover created a rift between Hagadone and Templin that some say still exists.
Not Bob. “A few years ago I thought about it and realized that I shouldn’t dwell on it,” he said, leaning back in his office chair. “I’ve given it to God.”
Starting over in Post Falls
The second coming of Bob Templin took root on the banks of the Spokane River in Post Falls. Hagadone’s buyout prohibited Templin from competing with “Mr. Big,” as Bob refers to him, anywhere but Post Falls.
At Mary’s urging, Bob decided in 1985 to build Templin’s Resort and Conference Center. Three expansions later, the complex trails only Hagadone’s towering resort - rebuilt on the former footings of the North Shore - as a North Idaho hotel and convention destination.
As much as he pushed the pleasantries of Coeur d’Alene under Western Frontiers, Templin has become the heart of Post Falls.
His persuasion pushed through the construction of the Spokane Street/ Interstate 90 interchange, which opened up downtown Post Falls to thousands of auto travelers.
He campaigned to energize the Post Falls Chamber of Commerce, to attract manufacturers like Harpers Furniture Inc., to redevelop Seltice Way into the thriving retail area it has become.
As much as Templin continues to develop a legacy of civic boosterism for Post Falls, he’ll be best-known for his hospitality prowess.
Jim Taylor, Templin’s first employee in Ritzville who then hitch-hiked his way to Coeur d’Alene once he found out that Bob had bought Miller’s Cafe, did some estimating to honor Templin’s 50th year in business.
Templin has fed and housed 55 million people, a conservative estimate, Taylor said. He’s employed 30,000 people in his various businesses.
“I consider it a privilege to be a friend of yours,” Taylor said last Sunday. “You taught me the work ethic.”
Templin’s graceful touch with employees and willingness to promote them in his organization brought many like Taylor to his celebration. Lois Wechsler, the manager of Templin’s Resort, started as a housekeeper at the North Shore years ago, for example.
Approaching 73, Templin considers himself in good health and has no plans to stop working long days.
He’s the regional governor of Best Western hotels. His deep involvement in the Christ the King Lutheran church is just the start of his volunteerism to community causes.
“I’ve thought some about retirement,” he said. “But I’m going to have to do something that I can come to do every day, where I can interact with people. They tell me that if I can’t work, I’ll probably die.”
The new Templin empire has no clear heir, though Bob still holds out hope that one of this three children, Bobby, 38, Barbara, 37, and Blythe, who turned 29 last week, may take an interest in running the business.
“It’s been all about patience and hard work,” Templin said. “That’s the one thing I’ve used a lot - you just have to be patient.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 color)
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: ROBERT G. TEMPLIN Age: 72; married, three children Born: Ritzville, Wash. First job: Dishwasher in Ritzville restaurant in high school. Owns Best Western Templin’s Resort and Conference Center in Post Falls. Regional governor for Best Western Founding member of Christ the King Lutheran Church