About Freres Lumber Company:
Robert T. Freres Sr. - CEO
Theodore F. Freres - President
Robert T. Freres Jr. - Vice-President
Lyons, Oregon USA
Principal Products/ Services: Veneer, Lumber, Plywood, & Trucking
Continuously operated as a family business since: 1922
Total generations involved since the company began: Four
First honored as a Pioneer by Austin Family Business Program: 1999
Theodore George Freres, or TG as he was affectionately known, was born on July 24, 1898 in Stayton, Oregon to Peter and Emma Freres. He was the second of four children born into a family of grain farmers. TG and his younger brother Wendell owned a custom thrashing business between 1918-1922, operating two thrashing machines purchased with income from the family grain farms. In 1922, 'Black Pete' Etzel had a small sawmill located in the Fern Ridge area on the outskirts of Stayton that he wanted to exchange for one of the thrashing machines. The thrashing business was lucrative and the sawmill was really struggling along but TG and Wendell agreed to take the sawmill in lieu of payment. Times were tough and TG and Wendell continued thrashing and working odd jobs to keeping the mill running.
TG married Theresa Forrette of Stayton, a vivacious young girl he had met at a church social function in Jordan, in 1927. In the ensuing years, they had a daughter, Phyllis, and three sons, Robert (Bob), Harold (Bud), and Lawrence (Larry).
The depression years were in full force and times got even tougher. Wendell managed the family farm while TG took jobs further from home in order to support the fledgling business. Charlie and Trix, TG's renowned team of horses, labored with him to replace the original slick, plank roads in Newport, Oregon with better surfaces. Later, he worked for Marion County as a foreman on a road building job between Idanha and Marion Forks that would eventually connect the Willamette Valley and Bend.
In 1934 a man named Small was looking to sell his property and a water-powered sawmill up on the Little North Fork of the Santiam River. He was 75 or 80 then and was 'pretty old cuz you worked like a damn fool back in those days' (Al Archer, Millwright 1927-1961). TG pooled his finances and purchased the Small property and mill. Shortly after, he also bought out his brother Wendell's share of the company.
Theresa had been unwell starting in 1936 and during her fourth pregnancy, got progressively worse. Frances Silbernagel, a young local woman from a large farming family was hired for 75 cents a day to come take care of their older children in a log cabin on the Little North Fork during the summer of 1936. Theresa moved in with her brother Oliver Forrette and his wife Roxie while she was ill. In 1937, 6 months after the birth of their third son, Theresa Forrette died of a massive infection. The infection spread through Theresa's milk and put the baby, Larry, in jeopardy as well. Health was long coming, but Larry was eventually able to move to Stayton along with his family for better schooling.
Frances was sent for once again in the fall of 1937, when TG and the children all came down with the mumps, She continued to care for the family for the next couple of years. One day TG realized that Frances was 'the one for me,' and they were married in 1939. Over the years, Frances and TG raised a family of ten, with six more children of their own; five girls, Maryann, Patty, Joyce, Carol, and Teresa, and a son, Ted.
World War II came along, and the sawmill business was still struggling at times. With six children at home, TG always felt strapped for cash. One day, even though he was providing employment and support for his employees, he found he had no money left for groceries for himself and his family. He went to the local banker in Stayton to see about a loan, but banks were having a rough time as well. The banker said that he couldn't give him a loan but he would give him $50 out of his own pocket. As a Catholic, TG had been raised to contribute to the less fortunate. Now, as one of the less fortunate himself, he never forgot that kindness. This would create the foundation of giving that would continue throughout his life.
As the family grew, so did the mill. In 1948, with better times, the operations of the mill moved to Lyons where it remains today.
TG's oldest sons, Bob, Bud, and Larry began working for the mill at various times. Bob started there in 1948 shortly after high school graduation. In short order, Bob became the plant manager. Bud graduated from Oregon State University and served a tour in the army before working alongside Hap Ware in the logging department. Larry attended Oregon State University for a time before returning to become the office manager.
With the added assistance at the mill from his sons, TG and Frances were able to give back to their community. They donated property adjacent to theirs for the Santiam Memorial Hospital to build upon and TG was an initial member of that board. They also donated the property for the Catholic grade school, St. Mary's, and were strong supporters of the Boys and Girls clubs for years as well. TG was instrumental in developing and donating to what would become Regis High School. In 1959 the Freres Foundation was formed under the direction of the Freres Lumber Co. officers. This would facilitate the flow of donations even further.
Darker times struck in 1961 when son Larry contracted spinal meningitis and died. His wife, Doris, then served capably as the office manager and secretary of the company until her retirement in 1998. Bud, then mayor of Stayton, drowned while snorkeling in Hawaii in 1968. He left a wife and two very young daughters. Without a logging superintendent, the mill started using more gyppo loggers to fill the void. Hap Ware continued to look after the road building and the company timberlands after Bud's death. Heartrendingly, Phyllis Freres Goodman died unexpectedly in 1972 of a cerebral hemorrhage, leaving a husband and five children.
TG and Bob continued to run Freres Lumber Co. through these hard times. Ted Freres, the youngest son, came to work at Freres Lumber Co. in 1973 after graduating from Oregon State University. Ted has followed in his Father and his Brother's footsteps by showing the same determination and leadership that has come to be associated with the Freres name.
A third generation has committed themselves to an exciting future at Freres Lumber Co. Bob's son, Rob, a graduate from Southern Oregon College, began working in 1979 and now serves as Vice-President of the company. Ted's twin sons, Kyle and Tyler, have both recently entered the business after graduating from Southern Methodist University.
TG Freres, a loving family man and devoted community member, passed away in 1979 at the age of 81. TG continued working at the mill he so dearly loved until shortly before his death. Among his last wishes was for Freres Lumber Co. to continue as a family-run business. TG established a legacy of giving and leadership that continues through two subsequent generations operating Freres Lumber Co. His son Bob is now contemplating his own retirement after more than fifty years in the business. Seventeen members of the family still hold stock and seven members of the family constitute the Board of Directors, taking an active interest in the affairs of Freres Lumber Co.
'...And to think TG started out with a team of horses.' - Al Archer
Key to Success:
Freres Lumber Co. Inc. attributes its success to continuous innovation in the wood products industry, dedication to quality and safety, and a close relationship between management and employees. Providing a safe workplace for approximately 400 employees is the highest priority and stringent safety policies have helped Freres earn the distinction of one of the lowest incident rates in the industry during the last decade.
Production and profit-based incentives, as well as continuous investment in plants and equipment have brought stability and security to employees and customers alike. In addition, a monthly newsletter, daily family presence and annual company parties encourage communication and involvement with the employee's families.