June 16, 2010 in City

Spokane woman works long hours to put kids through college

Sital Gill, with three master’s degrees, tends North Side minimart
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Dan Pelle photo

Sital Gill hands back change to a customer Tuesday morning after a purchase at her Driscoll One Stop at 4203 N. Driscoll Blvd.
(Full-size photo)

Sital “Sia” Gill rises each morning at 5, showers, prays and goes to work at her North Side minimart.

Each and every day, not counting some rare time off.

Not infrequently, her workday stretches past 12 hours. Selling gas, beer and soft drinks, cigarettes and lottery tickets. Three times in the past year, she’s arrived to find the place burglarized.

“All the time I’m here, and if I’m not here for some reason, for a few hours, customers ask me what happened,” said Gill, 59.

Gill’s store, the Driscoll One Stop, has been open every day since she took it over eight years ago. And now, she says, her work is paying off.

“My dreams are about to come true,” said Gill.

Gill’s dreams don’t involve lake mansions or chromed-out Hummers or vacations in Fiji. In a year, she expects her third child to graduate from college. Access to a college education for her kids was the reason the family emigrated here from India in 1998; it was the reason she came here to work in a minimart, though she has three master’s degrees and worked in India as a school principal.

It was all for her kids, she says. And now her oldest daughter, Priyanka, is an electrical engineer in the Seattle area, after graduating in 2005 from Washington State University. Her younger daughter, Jasdeep, just graduated from medical school at Oregon Health & Science University and is set to begin her residency. And her son, Inderbir, a former standout basketball player at University High School, was named the collegiate male athlete of the year in Canada; he plays basketball and studies business at the University of Northern British Columbia.

“The reason we are where we are – the most important reason – is our mom supported us regardless of what we wanted to do in our life,” Jasdeep said.

Gill’s story is not the kind of immigrant tale that fills the airwaves these days, maybe because it sounds too much like the American dream – the work-hard-and-prosper version, not the lazy, entitled flag-waving that gluts the political conversation. She and her husband moved to the California Bay Area in 1998 with their three kids, having left behind professional jobs and a comfortable life.

They came to Spokane in 2002, drawn here by some other Indian Sikhs they knew, and leased the store for a year before buying it. Gill’s husband didn’t adjust well to life in America, and he eventually returned to India. Gill stuck it out, raising the kids, emphasizing the importance of education, and getting up every morning to run the store.

“I am just thinking about going forward. So he left the country – it is OK,” she said. “I just think it is a parent’s responsibility to support their kids, so that’s what I’m doing.”

When the family first came to Spokane in 2002, the reverberations of 9/11 were still strong, and they heard the occasional stupid insult. Invitations to “Go back to Afghanistan” were common.

Gill would say, “‘We are from India, and we love this country as you love it.’ It was a hard time for everybody.”

In 2005, she and her kids became U.S. citizens.

If you spoke to Gill for five minutes, you would notice a theme. She insists on seeing things in positive terms, dismisses the difficulties and negativity in her life. Positivity is, she says, “a great source of strength for humankind.”

I know we’re supposed to be fawning over fathers this week, but let me point out another great source of strength for humankind: Mothers who hang in there when fathers do not. Those of us who grew up in these kinds of families can assess their value with precision. We feel it every day.

Gill may have left behind a more professional, more lucrative life to come to America and run a minimart, but she gave her children an immeasurable gift: She put them first. And she says she has come to love Spokane and her work at the Driscoll One Stop, where the customers call her by name, chat and ask after the kids.

“When we bought it, it was a necessity,” she said. “Now the store is my passion. I love it. … There is satisfaction in this work.”

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com.

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