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Local

Late Ottawa gas station owner was mechanic and mentor

Boe
Boe

Sometimes in play, boys would jump on the hose near the gas pumps at Jim Boe Service, ringing a bell inside the station meant to summon an attendant.

Such pranks didn't bother Jim Boe too much, because providing full service was part of doing business the old-fashioned way.

Boe, who ran Jim Boe Service for 57 years at the corner of Columbus and Washington streets in Ottawa, died Sunday at age 74.

"Jim was more a friend than a boss. He taught me more about automotive service than I thought I could ever know. One thing he really taught me was 'service sells and think about the customer.' This wasn't a corporation. It was a personally-owned business. I can't stress that enough," recalled Joe Smith of rural Streator, who worked 22 years for Boe.

Boe's brother, Gerry Boe, pointed out Jim refused to go with the times and convert his station into a mini-mart.

"Jim said 'no way' to that. He saw himself as a mechanic. He didn't want to sell beer and all that," Gerry said.

Jim's son, Mike Boe, stressed how important it was for his dad to help keep Ottawa's cars rolling.

"Being a mechanic was his calling, like a priest or a doctor. He was a mentor to so many young men training to be mechanics out of high school," Mike observed.

Mike added that one reason his father never installed self-service pumps, was so elderly ladies would always have at least one station where they would not have to fill their own tanks.

Todd Conroy, who runs Conroy's Towing in Ottawa, saw himself as a "competitor in a sense" with Jim, but found him to be much more of a colleague.

"He always had time to visit with me and genuinely wanted to see a young man like me succeed. He'd offer advice and share with me mistakes he made. I always thanked him each time, but wish I'd told him how much his help meant overall," Conroy said.

Boe was known for collecting items associated with the oil business, as well as farm implements and other vintage items, especially if they were made in Ottawa. Part of his gas station building, which originally was a Chrysler-Plymouth showroom, was used to display these artifacts.

At the time Jim passed away, he was converting the former lumber yard building at the northwest corner of Fulton and Lafayette streets, into a museum for his collection.

However, Jim always looked at people as far more important than possessions.

Joe Smith noted Boe was big on faith and family, practically treating Smith's daughters as his own. When one of Smith's daughters was born, Boe told his employee he didn't have to dip into his allotted vacation time, and instead simply gave Smith a paid week off to attend to his new addition.

"It gives me goosebumps to think of it now," Smith said.

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