EVERETT — Norm Buse grew up in Everett, proud of his blue-collar heritage.
When he died May 28 at age 93, Buse left behind a legacy of respect for the working man, as well as a Snohomish County landmark, the Buse sawmill along I-5 between Everett and Marysville.
He and his brother Delmer Buse formed a business partnership in 1946. They bought property on Smith Island for the mill and a 40-acre forest at Lake Martha near Warm Beach. They logged Douglas fir from the forest a few days a week and sawed the logs into lumber the rest of the week, while their wives made the lumber sales calls.
Norm sold his half of the company to his brother in the late 1990s and then Delmer and his family sold the company to the Buse Timber employees in 2004 through a stock-ownership plan.
Norm Buse was born April 17, 1920, at his family’s home on Pine Street in a working-class neighborhood. Norm Buse graduated in 1938 from Everett High School, where he was captain of the football team and student body president.
Norm’s father, Robert Buse, was head millwright at Eclipse Timber and that’s where his sons got their sawmill experience before heading out to serve in the Pacific during World War II.
Norm and Toni Buse and Delmer and Mary Buse expanded their company as they went along.
“Being children of the Depression, they didn’t go into debt. They built their company on profits only,” said Norm’s oldest child, Mike Buse, 65. “And they hired good, skilled people and were proud of their product.”
The Buse brothers paid their employees well and made sure they had good benefits, he said.
“They knew what it was to work hard and that was always reflected in the mill,” Mike Buse said. “If there was a decision to be made, they always thought first about how it would affect the guy on the floor, not management.”
Tom Parks, current president of Buse Timber, agreed. He worked with both Buse brothers.
“They were great guys,” Parks said. “They did it the old-fashioned way.”
Employee ownership isn’t common in lumber mills.
“I believe it was Norm’s and Del’s desire to have the mill remain operational long after their days there and that it would continue to provide for its employees,” Parks said. “In its heyday, the mill was one of the most modern on the West Coast. It’s an older mill now, but we continue to employee 68 people and we try to show our pride in the company as the Buses did.”
Parks said the current Buse Timber management also tries to emulate the Buse style.
“Norm was truly one of those owners who everyone respected. He was very fair and friendly. He had an open-door policy, and management continues to follow that example,” Parks said. “As the industry has changed, we have tried to focus on the relationships and the handshakes.”
Longtime Snohomish County residents remember the Christmas greetings the Buse brothers put up on their billboard on the east side of I-5 each year.
“They cared for their community,” Mike Buse said. “My dad never got rich. He was generous and frugal to the end.”
After retiring, Norm Buse enjoyed fishing, hunting and spending time with family at his home at Warm Beach. He was proceeded in death by his wife, Toni, and his brothers, Delmer, Frederic and August.
A memorial service for Buse was held June 8 at the church where he grew up, Immanuel Lutheran, 2521 Lombard Ave., Everett.
Survivors include his children and their spouses, all of Snohomish County: Mike and Penny Buse, Kathy and Dennis Bright, Jon and Vonda Buse, Dona Buse, Gary and GayeAnn Buse, Debbie Buse and Lori Husby. Also surviving are many nieces and nephews, 15 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests donations to the Immanuel Lutheran Church Vicar’s Fund, the Norman and Antoinette Buse Vocational Scholarships with the Stanwood Camano Area Foundation, P.O. Box 1209, Stanwood, WA 98292, or Providence Hospice of Snohomish County. Arrangements are under the direction of the Bauer Funeral Chapel in Snohomish.
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.