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Thursday, October 17, 2019  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Front & Center: Logger Donna Godes and her husband

“Our equipment is old and tired, like us,” joked Donna Godes, posing with husband Gary in her late father’s 1995 International truck. “If my dad hadn’t got cancer,” she said, “he’d still be out here.” (MICHAEL GUILFOIL/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
“Our equipment is old and tired, like us,” joked Donna Godes, posing with husband Gary in her late father’s 1995 International truck. “If my dad hadn’t got cancer,” she said, “he’d still be out here.” (MICHAEL GUILFOIL/FOR THE SPOKESMAN-REVIEW)
By Michael Guilfoil For the Spokesman-Review

Super glue is Donna Godes’ first choice for keeping husband-cum-logging partner Gary patched together.

But Gary credits his wife with being the human super glue holding together the couple’s varied business ventures.

During a recent break while logging a private tree farm near Colville, Donna diplomatically ducks the question “Who’s the boss?”

Gary is less reticent.

“She’s more the boss than I am,” he said, smiling and nodding toward his wife, a full foot shorter in stature.

“There’s no Donna without Gary!” she retorts.

Donna Godes grew up in Northport, Washington, just south of the Canadian border.

The town sprang up in the late 1800s, and quickly earned a reputation as “one of the rowdiest mining camps in the West.”

The name Northport derived from its location – the northernmost town on the Spokane Falls and Northern Railway.

When the local smelter closed a century ago, most of the 1,500 residents scattered. Today the population is 290.

Godes does what she can to hold the community together, from serving on the town council to saving a landmark bar and grill. She even adopted a local cemetery.

“My grandfather inherited the cemetery because he helped the guy who owned it,” she said. “When my grandfather passed away, my uncle got it. He died falling down stairs at Spokane Raceway Park, so I stepped in. I didn’t want a stranger to take over who didn’t know anyone in Northport and just bury anybody there.”

During a recent interview, Godes discussed logging, marriage and restaurant menus.

S-R: What’s Northport like?

Godes: It’s a beautiful place. It’s quiet, has four seasons and there’s recreation in every direction. We have the Columbia River, Red Mountain Resort up in B.C., the golf courses, snowmobiling, horseback riding, stock car racing.

S-R: How many businesses in Northport?

Godes: Two bars, two restaurants, a grocery store and a gas station. Oh, plus two beauty salons, a pottery shop and a B&B.

S-R: Did you have a favorite class or activity in high school?

Godes: I played basketball – I wasn’t any good, but I played. And I was a Miss Northport princess. We did all the fairs and that crap.

S-R: What were some early jobs?

Godes: I started waiting tables when I was 16. Right out of high school, I worked at Pinewood Terrace nursing home in Colville, then moved on to Mount Carmel Hospital, intending to become a nurse. But things changed.

S-R: When did you start logging with your father?

Godes: In 1982, when I was 24. My older sister worked with him for two years, but then got pregnant and couldn’t do it anymore. About that same time, Mount Carmel cut back. So I thought, what the hay, I’ll try logging with my dad. And from the first day, I loved it.

S-R: What appeals to you about logging?

Godes: I like the outdoors. I like the results. And it’s very peaceful.

S-R: But isn’t it noisy?

Godes: Own a bar. Then you’ll know what noise is! (laugh)

S-R: How about dangerous. The term “widow-makers” (large, dead limbs that fall unexpectedly) comes to mind.

Godes: That’s probably one of the worst dangers. Another is trees kicking off stumps. My dad, Don Olmstead, started logging with his dad when he was 14. Three years later, a log rolled off a truck and killed my grandfather.

S-R: Have you ever been hurt?

Godes: Once I rolled a skidder (a heavy tractor used to drag logs). It did two somersaults down a hill before landing on its wheels, me sitting on the steering wheel, facing backward. It’s a good thing I wasn’t a skinny girl, or it would have thrown me out of the cage and killed me. Instead, all I got was bruised.

S-R: Did you go to work the next day?

Godes: Sure. I finished that same shift. We never missed a beat.

S-R: How did you and Gary get together?

Godes: He was raised in Colville and used to come up to the stock car races. After the races, we’d all go out for a drink. That’s where we met.

S-R: How long was the courtship?

Godes: Both of us had been married before, and neither of us was eager to rush into it again, so we lived together for 18 years before we got married. We’ve been legally married 14 years.

S-R: What’s your typical work schedule?

Godes: We start the morning cleaning the bar, which takes about two-and-a-half hours. After that, we log for four to six hours, five days a week. Once we have a load, we take it to the mill and go back to the bar to make sure everything is running OK. The cemetery (which dates to 1922 and has about 625 graves) is pretty laid back. It only takes time when someone local needs to be buried. And we do a big cleanup for Memorial Day and the Fourth of July. Fortunately, the grass doesn’t grow real fast.

S-R: What’s the best and worst thing about always working together?

Godes: Very rarely do we ever fight out here in the woods. The bar is a different matter. (laugh)

S-R: Why did you buy the bar?

Godes: We’re people people – we love to visit. The bar, which had been open since the early ’50s, was in foreclosure, so it was cheap. And Gary and I have always dabbled in real estate. In 2009, when things went sideways, we got our contractor’s license and built a couple of homes. Then we bought the bar and absolutely gutted it.

S-R: Who are your customers?

Godes: We get people passing through, or looking for property on the river. A lot of customers we met through logging and building.

S-R: Is there a sense of community loyalty – that if people don’t shop locally, businesses will close?

Godes: Definitely. We have an older couple who come in twice a day – sometimes three times.

S-R: Do your regular customers suggest adding things to the menu?

Godes: All the time. We get texts saying, “We’re in this really cool bar in Colorado. Check out this photo of their onion-ring tree.” Our dilemma is that our menu is already too big for the cooks to handle. We do burgers, pizzas, steaks, salads, fish, oysters.

S-R: What’s the toughest part of owning a bar?

Godes: I hate to say it, but the employees – the drama! It’s hard to be out in the woods logging when we should be there babysitting.

S-R: What is your management philosophy?

Godes: I like a friendly business. I like employees to get along and do a good job. And I like to walk away proud. It’s the same thing with the logging. There are various ways of logging. We do mainly private, because small owners leave a lot nicer stands.

S-R: Do you have to educate some clients?

Godes: Sure. People who aren’t used to getting $20,000 or $30,000 in one check start looking at their trees differently, and pretty soon want to leave one tree per acre. But if you thin trees too much,, they’re vulnerable to wind and blow over. On the other hand, trees are just like people. When they get old, they’re susceptible to disease. Logging, done right – not too little, not too much – helps maintain healthy forests.

S-R: How’s business?

Godes: Prices for logs are about medium. Maintenance is our biggest expense, because our equipment is old and tired, like us. We bought the bar as a retirement thing, so we could slow down. What a joke!

S-R: How much longer can you keep logging?

Godes: Usually people log till you bury ’em. If my dad hadn’t got cancer, he’d still be out here. But it’s hard work. Everything we run bounces. Sticks poke us. Our knees are shot. Our backs are shot. We’re pushing 60, but we’d like to go another couple of years.

S-R: Do regulations make logging more difficult?

Godes: Loggers pay through the nose for state industrial (insurance). But since we don’t have employees, we’re not bothered by L&I stuff. Now, the bar is a whole different story.

S-R: What have your various careers taught you about yourself?

Godes: Don’t start anything you don’t want to do the rest of your life.

S-R: Looking back, is there anything you would have done differently?

Godes: Hmm … I wouldn’t have married my first husband. (laugh)

S-R: Do you plan to buy more businesses?

Godes: No! We have more jobs than we can do. But that’s how we survive. There’s no 401 (k). There’s no unemployment insurance. Instead, we prepare for things we know are coming, and when something unexpected happens, we fly by the seat of our pants.

S-R: And if all else fails, you own a cemetery?

Godes: Yeah! (laugh) Exactly.

Writer Michael Guilfoil can be reached at mguilfoil@comcast.net.

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