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Mike's Meanderings

It all started with an onion... 



In 2004, I was the assistant manager of an Ace Hardware store in the tiny town of Custer, South Dakota. My wife, Terry, was stay-at-home mom, caring for our many long-term foster children. Erin, our daughter, had been out of high school for a few years, was contemplating college, but had been steady in the workforce since the age of 13.


Terry and I had purchased a small locksmith business in 2000, and I had gone to locksmith school in Denver, Colorado.  At the time the business was mostly mobile work, servicing Custer and the neighboring towns. Terry opened cars during the day while I worked at the hardware store. Statistics showed the community of 1822 people was not large enough to generate the amount of work needed for me to quit my day job and work as a full-time locksmith, even with the increased population of summer tourists.


That summer we decided it was time for a family vacation. We hadn't taken one in years, and were long overdue. We settled on visiting family in Oregon and California, planning to drive down the coast from Astoria to the Redwoods. Terry had lived in Hood River for several years before returning to Custer, where her parents lived, so this was all familiar territory. 

We put all our children, including Erin, into the family suburban, picked up Terry’s mom, Peggy, and were off for the time of our lives.


The vacation was fantastic! The kids, who had never seen the ocean, all loved the beach. Camping in Newport was fantastic…until we were rained out!


Heading down the coast with our soggy sleeping bags, Peggy became sick. Coos Bay was the first town we found with a hospital, and having Grandma checked out at the emergency room, we checked into a motel for the night.


The next morning, my sister-in-law and I left for Safeway to get some groceries before we resumed our trip. When I returned to the motel with my groceries, I asked a question that left Terry in absolute shock.


"How would you feel about moving back to Oregon?"


What in the world could have prompted him to ask a question like that?!


The answer was...a man buying an onion.


That man was John Weber. He and his wife, Carol, had purchased Phil’s Lock & Key from the original Phil 15 years earlier. Wanting to retire and do some missionary work, they had decided a year before to sell the business.


That day, Carol had asked John to go to the store and buy an onion for whatever it was she'd planned to make for supper that night. He'd put it off all day, not seeing the point of going to the store for nothing more than a single onion. He finally gave in and headed out to Safeway.


At the same time, my sister-in-law and I pulled into the Safeway parking lot, parking next to a bright yellow service van. Looking at the signs on the van, we had a good laugh, seeing the signs for Phil’s Lock & Key.


As we were getting out of our car, we met John, with infamous onion in hand. Introducing myself as a fellow locksmith, we struck up a conversation. It came out that John was looking to sell the business, and I began to seriously consider the idea. I headed back to the motel and asked Terry that awe-inducing question.


Fast forward two years… we were finally ready to move to Oregon. We’d been able to adopt or become legal guardians for all our foster kids, obtained a Small Business loan, put our house on the market, and started packing. The previous fall, I had moved to Coos Bay and was and operating the business with John, while looking for a home for my newly enlarged family to buy.  Erin had finished her first semester of college, and left multiple part-time jobs in spring of 2006, moving out to Oregon to learn the business. Doing loads of researching and putting in countless hours of on-the-job training under John and I, she developed a knack for understanding the functions of various kinds of locks, and began working full-time as a locksmith-in-training.


By June of 2006, I had found a house to buy, and Erin and I, along with Terry's older sister, Kathy, returned to South Dakota to pack up and move my family, including Terry's mom, and our oldest son, David. Our oldest daughter, Jamie, would remain in Wyoming with her kids until Erin helped move them to Coos Bay in 2011.


Eleven years after purchasing Phil's Lock & Key, our family is still going strong at what we do. I do most the outside service work and car opening, and it's been discovered that little old ladies love me. Terry had been doing the bookwork for the business at home, but has finally gotten back into the hands-on part. After graduating from Southwestern Oregon Community College in Business Management, she came on staff full time, putting what she learned at school to good use by expanding our customer relations, sales, and advertising. She is also getting a refresher course in lock rekeying and repair.  Erin is definitely not in training anymore, and does most of the in-shop jobs. She is still constantly doing research and hands-on learning, and does her best to conquer any lock thrown at her. 


Aside from being locksmiths, we are active in our church where Terry does bookkeeping and Erin is a children's pastor. Our oldest son, David, has also received pastor’s credentials, has married and has 5 children.  Jamie, our oldest daughter, also has 5 kids. Our 10 grandkids love visiting Grandpa and Grandma and Auntie Erin in the shop, and Joseph, Jamie's 8-year-old son, may just have the making of a locksmith himself...


Phil's Lock & Key remains, above all, a family owned and operated, faith-based business, knowing that without God's hand upon the whole thing, that onion would have meant nothing and the tale you just read wouldn't have happened. The Browns would still be unlocking cars in tiny Custer, SD. 

And it all started with an onion!

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