Sharon (left), Chrissie, Janna and Randy Gertzen along with canine companions Jack and Chloe are a family that works and volunteers together in Williams Lake. Monica Lamb-Yorski photo

CASUAL COUNTRY 2019: Family ventures keep Gertzens together

As volunteers and business owners, they are kept busy

The reason why people venture into business or decide to volunteer for a particular organization are as varied as people themselves.

When it comes to the Gertzens -— Randy, Sharon and their daughters Chrissie and Janna — it has been the opportunity to spend time together that has driven those decisions.

Presently the family is running Adventure Charters, which has just expanded to fill the void left by the departure of Greyhound.

Chrissie and Janna purchased Adventure Charters in 2011, so Randy could spend more time with them.

It was 2011 and their dad, Randy Gertzen, was working for Interior Roads.

“We like to travel in the winter and dad couldn’t get away,” Janna said. “He was always on call and it was too much, so we bought Adventure Charters from Jerry Hanson and told dad ‘you have to come and work for us and try not to work too much.’”

Business, however, got busier and busier, and when it looked like they would slow down because of the shut down of Mount Polley Mine, in the spring of 2019, they stepped up to the plate to offer passenger service.

Read more: ‘We’re ready to roll,’ Adventure Charters and Rentals receives final approval for new bus service

“Now we are into this Greyhound thing that really keeps us hopping,” Randy said. “We’ve got three full-time and two part-time, plus myself and Janna.”

Janna said they believe they have all got to be able to do everything so she acquired her bus driver’s licence after they purchased the business.

“There were times when we’d need a driver and we just didn’t have one,” Janna said. “But you know we are desperate when you see me driving the bus.”

Chrissie and Janna owned the Dairy Queen in Williams Lake from 2009 to 2018.

In 2019, the sisters opened Poppy Home in downtown Williams Lake.

Janna and Chrissie enter the business world

Purchasing Dairy Queen was a way to move home, the sisters said.

They’d been living and working in Prince George after graduating from post-secondary school there.

Janna acquired a business degree and Chrissie a psychology degree.

“Chrissie was ready for a career change,” Janna said.

“She was working for the Ministry of Children and Family and it was a tough job,” Sharon added.

Around that time they learned Dairy Queen had shut down so they bit the bullet.

Looking back, Janna said they had a good run and were not looking to sell when an offer came along in October 2017 that seemed like the right fit.

“Chrissie was at a Dairy Queen conference and I was at home having a rough day. Three or four people approached her at the conference asking if we wanted to sell so during a break she phoned me and asked me. I told her to take their cards, because I was having a rough day.”

They’d had offers in the past, and always said no, but they had a serious discussion and talked about what they would do next if they sold it.

“We’d always talked about Williams Lake needing a home decor store and it would be great to bring a new fun store to town,” Chrissie said, adding that’s what led them to open Poppy Home in spring 2019.

Randy and Sharon

Randy moved to Beaver Valley in 1962 with his parents, and two younger brothers, Rick and Rob.

“Dad worked at Jacobson Mill out there and we lived in a camp — there were probably 40 other families there. We had our own two-room schools, two of them actually.”

He fondly remembers Friday nights going out for dinner to the Famous Cafe on Oliver Street and when the family built a home near the old airport on 11th Avenue North.

“We were the second house built there,” he recalled. “Then Columneetza was built below that and it just started growing really fast.”

After Grade 10 Randy worked at Jacobson Brothers Mill and then became a truck driver for 24 years. After that he work in forestry for Lignums and when there was a downturn in the economy he went to work for Interior Roads for a couple of years.

Sharon first arrived in the area in 1971 to visit her sister, Lucille, who had married and moved to Williams Lake.

Sharon was going to university and got a job for the summer in Williams Lake.

“I met Randy and I never went home,” Sharon said, adding they met at the bar in the Chilcotin Inn. “He had on plaid pants and a pink shirt. He was the epitome of the 70s.”

They were married the fall of 1972.

“We bought our first house in Wildwood, when Janna was in Grade 1,” Sharon said, adding they lived there for 33 years.

Sharon worked at the Royal Bank until she retired in 2006.

She and Randy sold their Wildwood house in 2017 and bought a house on the golf course, hoping they would have time to golf regularly, which she said, has not really happened yet.

Williams Lake Stampeders

Chrissie and Janna will be entering their fourth season volunteering with the Williams Lake Stampeders in the 2019/2020 season.

Four years ago their aunt, Karen Gertzen, who is a director for the Stampeders, put out a call for volunteers.

“They were really short and we thought ‘why not?’ What else are we doing on Saturday night besides working. So I said I would help, and Chrissie and dad said they would help too,” Janna said. “And they needed more than volunteers. They needed sponsorship and marketing.”

Along the way they’ve roped Randy and Sharon into helping too.

“They are always good helpful hands,” Janna said of her mom and dad. “You can always call them up and they will sell tickets. Dad does security for us, he also helps with the bus and will run around and get sponsorship and prizes.”

Their family helps each other out, Janna said.

“If one of us needs a hand someone is there.”

Read more: Downtown embraces Stampede Street Party

Why Williams Lake?

What Janna loves about Williams Lake today is what she used to hate.

“You know when you are a teenager and everybody knows who you are? They call home and say, ‘your daughter is sneaking into the bar,’. Now I love that small town feel when you go to the grocery store and you know everybody.”

When they moved to Prince George they lost that sense of community, Janna added.

“We really missed having that connection with people and places.”

Randy also loves the small-town feel of knowing everybody.

“I love the diversity of where you can go. Half an hour out of town and you are in the middle of nowhere. All the activities -—the camping. Williams Lake just has everything.”

And if people want to go to a bigger city then Kamloops or Prince George are only a couple of hours away, he added.

“You’ve got the best of everything around you and the best of everything right where you are living.”

Heck, he added, he was around when Williams Lake did not have any stop lights.

“I remember when they put the first one in at the main section on Oliver Street. It was a pain in the ass because you had to stop all the time.”

Growing up in Vancouver, then moving to Williams Lake was a relief, Sharon said.

“It was small, everybody knows you and there is no hustle and bustle. To this day I still don’t like a lineup.”

Growing up Chrissie appreciated everything the community offered .

“We did ballet, soccer, baseball, piano, theatre — there was such a broad range of activities that led to growing up well-rounded,” Chrissie said.

“Whether it was horseback riding, it was a full childhood of stuff to do.”

Mom and dad

Sharon said they tried to expose their daughters to lots of things while they were raising them.

“We encouraged them in anything that was reasonable for us to provide for them and I think in the end, and the one thing I absolutely insisted on, was that they get an education.”

Sharon and Randy told them they’d pay for university but not for weddings.

“Being married didn’t make you a person, you had to be your own person,” Randy said. “You had to be a strong person — they took after their mother in that respect.”

Chrissie did marry, but her husband Travis Hallam was killed in a car accident in 2009.

As a family it was the hardest thing they have gone through.

“Even with our parents dying, it was not as hard as going through Travis’s death,” Randy said. The tragedy did make them all assess what was important, h e added.

“As a family we chose family,” Chrissie said.

Sisters

When Chrissie and Janna moved to Prince George they forged an independent relationship separate from their parents.

“If we wanted a family Sunday dinner, we would drive to Quesnel and meet mom and dad, but if we wanted to have that piece in Prince George we had to find a way to build it with each other,” Janna said.

Chrissie said as sisters they always had each other’s backs but were two very different personalities and thinkers.

“I think when you are growing up that makes it tougher, but I think it gave us really great skills to deal with people who are different and learning how to accommodate that piece with each other kind of set us up for dealing with people in general,” Chrissie added.

When they aren’t working they love to camp and travel.

“We are wheels up kinda girls,” Janna said. “If we want to go and want to leave tomorrow, we are ready to go.”

They own a razer they like to go out in and Chrissie drives a race car.

“I went to Thunder Mountain one year and while I didn’t last year, I am going to this year,” she said.

Eyeing the future

With Poppy Home, Chrissie and Janna intend to launch an online store.

Read more: Local business women to offer more retail options downtown

As for Adventure Charters, they are hoping it will stop taking control of their lives.

“We will get there eventually and it should be good, once we get our new ticketing system in place,” Randy said. “Then we should be able to get away for a holiday here and there.”

Receiving the bus service license approval from the Transportation Safety Board was done under a “real time crunch.”

“We only had 14 days from approval to be fully operational and selling tickets,” Chrissie said. “We really had to do a lot of temporary measures. Our website is temporary, our ticket pricing is temporary, we had to meet those timelines because if we did not meet them, we would not have had a licence.”

Since then they’ve been working with a software company out of Vancouver to build the proper ticketing system.

“We still have to do a lot of fine detailed work to streamline our website and make it easier and hopefully we can move to more of an automated system,” Chrissie said.

The Gertzens really thought a big company would come in to take over for Greyhound, but it never happened. Another applicant tried to get it off the ground, but eventually could not.

“As we watched it unfold, and the phone would ring and people would ask if we offered bus services, we thought OK, we can do this,” Chrissie said.

Besides, Janna said, there were so many small communities between Williams Lake and Vancouver and all along the Fraser Canyon corridor that had nothing.

“It was not just Williams Lake,” she said.



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