Passing the torch


Shaun Sarvis/Plainsman and courtesy photo Above: Members of the Stern family, the new owners, were in Huron Friday for a Raymond Oil meet and greet. From the left are: Kaitlyn Stern, Scott Stern, Staci Stern and Hillary Stern Christopher. Below is a photo from the 1940s. In the center is Carol “C.H.” Erling and on the right is his father Ernie, shortly after the business opened in Huron.

HURON — There was a significant shift that took place recently, when Raymond Oil, one of the longest operating family-owned businesses in Huron was purchased by another family-owned business, Stern Oil Company.

The exchange took place earlier this month and since that time Linda Ingle has been preparing to make the change from longtime bookkeeper for the business into well-deserved retirement.

“It’s bittersweet really,” Ingle said earlier this week as she reminisced about the business where she has been employed for more than 50 years.

“I still enjoy it and I could keep working. In a couple of months, I would have been at Raymond Oil for 52 years. So, it’s time for others with other ideas to step in and begin serving the customers.”

A ‘meet-and-greet’ took place Friday, with those in attendance seeing the past, present and future in the same place. “It was kinda of a ‘Goodbye Linda, Hello Scott (Stern) sort of thing,” she said with a smile in her voice. A retirement celebration for Ingle will take place from 2 to 4 p.m. this afternoon at Ryan’s Hangar Restaurant.

How it began
The business Raymond Oil began, fittingly enough, in Raymond, just a bit north of Highway 212 between Doland and Clark, in western Clark County. Ernest (Ernie) and Ena Erling began the business, and when their sons Carol (C.H.) and Jean came home from World War 2, the decision was made to move the business to Huron.

The name came with them and Raymond Oil in Huron began in 1946.

“They bought this little gas station that was located right where the business is now,” Ingle said. “The original business in Raymond was purchased by the Wegman brothers, Herb and Harrold.” Wegman Oil is still there in Raymond, on Yost Street, just a stones-throw south of Ranney Avenue.

“When Carol and Jean started here there wasn’t a propane plant, so they built their own,” Ingle said.

When Raymond Oil began in the 40s, it was common for most gas stations to have a team of employees that came out to pump gas in your vehicle, wash your windshield and visit with the customer while they were there.

While that service vanished from most stations, it is still practiced at Raymond Oil. “We were the only place that was doing that,” Ingle agreed. “We never quit pumping gas for our customers. We were located kind of off the beaten path and always felt that offering that extra service would mean something to our customers. Obviously, it did.”

Moving to the present
In 1965 the little gas station was torn down and the existing building was constructed and it has remained mostly the same ever since.

Ingle began working there as a bookkeeper in 1971 and her hiring was somewhat unorthodox.

“I was working at Bales sale barn and Martin Johnson, who ran the truck stop out there, mentioned that Carol was looking for a bookkeeper at Raymond Oil and would I be interested in talking to him. I didn’t know they existed,” she said. In a theme that continues, the previous long-time bookkeeper was retiring and Carol was seeking a replacement.

“I said, ‘Sure’ and when I met Carol he hired me on the spot!” she said. “It was different, but it worked out okay for everyone.”

Over the years, many different men have manned the pumps, driven the delivery trucks or done whatever needed to be done. Nearly all of them stayed with the company until they were due to retire. “We didn’t have a lot of turnover,” Ingle noted. “Tony Halbur has been here for more than 29 years and pretty much does whatever needs to be done. We never had a lot of turnover.”

Where at one time up to eight different men were employed at a time, the workforce has shrunk to three now as the business changes hands. Finding employees has become more of a struggle, Ingle said, as the years have gone by.

The products remain the same. They offer propane - bring in your bottle - or have it delivered. Ingle said that propane delivery for home heating along with the tank fills for farmers drying grain. Gasoline is offered at the pump, or for delivery as well, as is diesel fuel.

“To me, as it is with most business, the customers have made Raymond Oil who they are,” Ingle said. “Customers make your business. If it wasn’t for our loyal customers, Raymond Oil wouldn’t have stayed in business.”

Stern Oil, which has purchased Raymond Oil, has been in operation since 1976 in Freeman. It is family business, operated by Scott Stern with his daughters, Kaitlyn and Hillary and son-in-law Trevor. From those beginnings in Freeman, the company now has locations in Rapid City and Aberdeen, as well as Grand Island, Neb., and Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Next week - the future of Raymond Oil with the Stern Oil Company.