Charles “Chuck” Marshall Yoke, who took a struggling grocery store and expanded it into the employee-owned Yoke’s Fresh Market, died at 92 on July 21.
Involved in community-building organizations such as Future Farmers of America, friends and family say Yoke put the success and growth of the community and those close to him first.
“He made me proud to be from Spokane,” said grandson Ryan Yoke.
Although Yoke’s Fresh Market was founded by Chuck Yoke’s mother and father, it probably would not exist today without their son’s business talent.
When Chuck Yoke returned from military service in the Korean War in 1953, the first Yoke’s in Deer Park was struggling. Business was so bad that Yoke’s mother and father were planning on selling the store, according to his family.
But programs implemented by Yoke shortly after he returned paid dividends, and he told his mother that he wanted to keep the business alive under their ownership.
Yoke’s mother replied that, if he felt it was something he wanted, she would support him, according to Yoke’s obituary published on Thursday.
Fast forward a few decades to 1990, and Yoke’s Fresh Market had eight supermarkets in and around Spokane while becoming a local institution. Today, there are 17 locations in Washington and Idaho, according to the company’s website.
Notably, Yoke also trusted the business to his employees when he retired in 1990, selling it to them through an Employee-Stock Ownership Plan.
“I consulted with Chuck regularly,” said John Bole, chief executive officer of Yoke’s fresh market.
And according to Bole, Yoke came back to the business for a short time to help run operations when the company went through a rough patch after the sale. Bole said he took no compensation during that period, despite insistence from the company.
To this day, Yoke’s Fresh Market remains 100% employee owned .
Outside of work, family members say Yoke was an avid sportsman, and loving father and grandfather. Despite his busy schedule, he always made time for family.
“He would take us up to the lake house for a few days, and he would leave in the morning to go to work and come back in the afternoon to teach us how to swim,” said Marcia Harken, Yoke’s daughter.
Harken said her father had a big heart, often crying because of family matters. But along with his kind heart, he commanded respect without asking for it and valued hard work above almost anything, according to his family.
“He was a big believer in the American dream,” Ryan Yoke said. “He believed if you worked hard, you could achieve anything.”
In 1951, he married Gwendolyn Cook, who helped with the growing business. They recently celebrated 70 years of marriage, according to his obituary.
He was beloved by his family, and his legacy is cemented in the culture of Yoke’s Fresh Market company, Bole said.
“Thank you Chuck, for everything and everyone you impacted,” Bole said.
He is survived by his wife Gwendolyn, five children, 20 grandchildren, 42 great-grandchildren, five step great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter. One of Yoke’s six children, Steve Yoke, died in 2015, according to the obituary.
A Celebration of Life will be held at the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 127 E. 12th Ave. on Friday at 11:30 a.m., with masks and social distancing required. The service will be livestreamed.
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