By JASON COX
Of the Keizertimes
Sam Orcutt, a mainstay in Keizer for decades, died Friday, Oct. 16.
He was a former training officer for the Keizer Fire District, and is perhaps best known for Orcutt’s Market, the grocery store that served as a community center of sorts long before the Keizer community became a city. The street in front of where his store used to be is named for him.
Former cohorts describe Orcutt as quiet yet funny, generous yet reserved.
“He gave of his time in such a manner that it wasn’t about him,” said Greg Frank, former Keizer Fire chief. “He didn’t do it to get notoriety or business at the store. It was about giving back to your community and making it a better place. And he did that through his actions.”
Orcutt’s Grocery “was quite an institution,” recalled Jerry McGee. “It became kind of a social center as well as a place where you pick up your bread, bananas and what not. Anything that was going on in the town was talked about, pretty much, there at the grocery store.”
“It was where my parents used to see everyone they knew,” said Jim Taylor. “Sam was always there, and knew everybody.”
Jim Trett, who worked with Orcutt at Keizer Fire, described Orcutt as an old-school firefighter. Trett joined Keizer Fire in 1974.
“When I first joined, our big thing was when you go to a burning building you put on air packs,” Trett said. “He was probably the only guy people didn’t get on about not wearing an air pack. To his face, anyway.”
Trett also grew up in the area, and described Orcutt as a man who “took care of people, both in the store and as the fire department was forming.”
Les Chapman was a firefighter alongside Orcutt for many years.
“Sam’s probably the nicest guy you’d ever know,” Chapman said. “To me, he’s a guy you had to look up to, no matter how tall you were. I can’t think of anybody that didn’t like Sam. And I’m not sure I’d want to.”
He described Orcutt’s teaching style as “down to earth and common sense,” noting the time Orcutt built a model of Keizer School out of cardboard. It had a removable roof so firefighters could see where all the halls, rooms and exits were.
“It could have been the biggest fire Keizer ever had,” Chapman said.
McGee recalled another example of both Orcutt’s giving ways.
McGee’s wife, Shirley, led a Girl Scout troop from their home on Shoreline Drive.
Orcutt was a pilot during World War II and maintained a private airplane at the airport in Independence. Shirley knew none of the other girls in her troop, besides her own daughter, had never flown, McGee said.
“By golly, he had his plane at the Independence airport, Shirley hauled all those girls over there and he took them up two at a time,” McGee said. “… And he took them up, flew them over their home in Keizer, took them back to Independence.
“Those girls have met up periodically over time, and it was Sam Orcutt’s free flight that they remember and talk about all the time. I always thought that was quite generous.”
McGee also recalled when he won a flight from Orcutt at a Keizer Rotary auction. Destination? Mount St. Helens, not too long after it erupted.
“His radio comes on, says ‘you’re approaching the red zone,’ McGee said. “Sam keeps on flying towards the mountain. The radio squawked again … I looked at Sam each time, and he was looking straight ahead … they said, ‘Cessna, you must leave the area at once’. I looked at him and said, ‘Sam is that us?’ He turned off the radio and kept flying.”
“After we got back to Independence after a wonderful flight, there were two gentlemen in suits waiting there for Sam. … It was just a risk he had to take to show us a good time.”
Mayor Lore Christopher said Sam’s dedication to serving his community seeped through to son Andy, who was Keizer’s mayor from 1989-1993.
“He started a legacy of public service … that has kept going through each generation,” she said.